Terror returns to Punjab’s capital


Will the first attack in PML-N’s home after three years open its eyes

Five died while 50 others were injured as a home-made explosive tore through Lahore’s crowded Old Anarkali Food Street on Saturday night. The dead included a six-year-old girl and a 20-year-old boy. Eight of the injured were said to be critical. Terror has returned to the Punjab’s capital, three years after the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) apparently heard Shahbaz Sharif’s plea to “stay away from attacking the Punjab”. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has maintained an ambivalent attitude on the issue of escalating terrorism in the country – almost happy to let the “law and order” issue affect the lives of the citizens of Pakistan’s three ‘other’ provinces.

As the blast went off between chairs at the Bukhara Restaurant, leaving a deep crater, the Punjab police chief warned “more acts of terror” could follow “within 72 hours.” Security across the city went up after the attack as details of the poor security at the packed food street were revealed. How could someone leave a bomb in the middle of a packed restaurant? Was there no intelligence to suggest such an attack was imminent? The omens were there for all but the PML-N leadership to see as the spate of terror that began at the start of the election campaign has continued to cripple life in all three provincial capitals – barring Lahore. That such an explosive was used in a high security zone which houses a number of government offices, including the IGP’s office, should cause worry. The food street is located in NA-120 where the current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself won a seat in the 2013 elections. Despite intelligence reports of a possible security threat for a month, no walkthrough gates or metal detectors had been installed at the food streets entrance.

The police have responded in a kneejerk manner, arresting 90 ‘suspects’, with most of them workers at the hotels in the food street. Clearly the attack was meant to create fear and with no claims of responsibility made yet the fingers at pointing in one direction: the TTP. Condemnations of the attack came from the President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Jamaat-i-Islaami (JI) chief Syed Munawar Hassan and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain but condemnations will not do much in absence of a clear cut national security policy. It must be remembered that no culprits have been arrested for any of the terror attacks to have hit Pakistan in the last decade. Speaking from Beijing, Sharif has said that “Pakistan will continue to combat the ‘Three Evils’ of extremism, terrorism and separatism.” But how about the real question: Does the PML-N still think talks are the way to go? Or will it use the stick? Concrete answers are needed.