No, we are not “winning this” | Pakistan Today

No, we are not “winning this”

About time security establishment is asked the real questions

The Lahore High Court had placed a ban on protest demonstrations on Mall Road last year, but the provincial government has not implemented the decision and the area is often blocked by rallies and sit-ins

The provincial capital of Punjab was under attack on Monday evening as a suicide bomber blew himself up on Mall Road near Charing Cross area where a protest demonstration by Pharmaceutical Association was in progress. 16 people are said to have lost their lives in the attack, but as per eye witnesses, the death toll is much higher than the official one.

Government officials instead of taking responsibility and accepting the criminal negligence that led to the attack conveniently shifted the blame onto those protesting at the time of the blast. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah indirectly suggested that those killed in the blast have only themselves to blame.

The attack raises some questions that the authorities need to answer. Charing Cross is one of the most sensitive areas of the city, and is home to a number of important buildings including the provincial assembly, CCPO office and WAPDA House. From the government’s statements, it seems that they had prior information about the possibility of an attack. If that was the case, why didn’t they make any efforts to stop the protests despite a court verdict ordering the same?

The Lahore High Court had placed a ban on protest demonstrations on Mall Road last year, but the provincial government has not implemented the decision and the area is often blocked by rallies and sit-ins. The authorities should have shown seriousness in enforcing the ruling of the court especially if they saw the protests as a threat to security of the city.

Meanwhile, Islamabad police showed extraordinary vigilance while implementing the recent decision of Islamabad High Court against Valentine’s Day celebrations. The Capital police were seen arresting shopkeepers for selling red balloons. It certainly is a case of misplaced priorities.

Three days after the Lahore attack, another blast targeted the Sehwan shrine in Sindh province. It claimed over 70 lives and injured several others. The blast took place at a time when thousands of pilgrims were present at the shrine.

It was disturbing to see how the locals were shifting the injured to hospitals on self-help basis because of absence of governmental help. Reportedly, some of the wounded had to be shifted to the hospitals on donkey-carts. Rescue activities were being carried out by Edhi Foundation and other private welfare organisations and the provincial government was nowhere to be seen.

Hours after the attack, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah arrived at the Karachi airport to welcome PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari who was returning from Dubai. The sheer insensitivity of the provincial government, which is on display after almost every attack, adds insult to the injury.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jam’at-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the Lahore bombing, while the Sehwan blast was claimed by the global terror group Islamic State (IS). Jam’at ul Ahrar is behind several other attacks including a recent one targeting Quetta Civil Hospital that claimed 70 lives, and the group is said to have formed an alliance with Lashkar-e-Khangvi (LeJ). According to reports, the LeJ provides logistic support to the group in Balochistan.

The government wasn’t able to stop hate speech and incitement to violence under the NAP let alone provide a counter-narrative to the narrative of the extremists

Members of the LeJ’s political wing Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jam’at (ASWJ) often hold meetings with government officials including Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, and some officials of Punjab government are allegedly in an unofficial electoral alliance with the extremist clerics of the group. Perhaps this is the reason why the government is reluctant to launch a full-fledged operation in South Punjab where most sectarian terror groups are based.

When Interior Minister Nisar was questioned by opposition for holding meetings with the extremist clerics of banned outfits, he had said that the sectarian outfits shouldn’t be equated with terrorist groups and that there is no harm in meeting the leaders of banned sectarian groups.

The interior minister is also on record denying the presence of the IS in Pakistan even though the terror group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in the country.

Where are we headed?

Civil and military leaders keep claiming that the terrorists’ backbone has been broken and that the nation is about to win the war against terrorism. Is this what winning looks like? How come the militants are able to carry out these attacks if their backbone has indeed been ‘broken’?

The fact that the militants keep proving the civilian and military leadership of the country wrong, just goes to show that we are being fed lies about the security situation of the country. The cycle of condemnations and hollow claims covers up the situation until the next attack happens. A clear strategy needs to be chalked out to deal with the deteriorating security situation. The military can fight and kill terrorists, but it is the job of the civilian leadership to work against the mindset that supports this menace.

It was decided under the National Action Plan that a counter narrative will be provided to the narrative of terrorists but none of it ever happened. The government wasn’t able to stop hate speech and incitement to violence under the NAP let alone provide a counter-narrative to the narrative of the extremists.

It is not enough to salute the victim as ‘martyrs’ because such glorification of the dead hides the incompetence and failure of the authorities. There are enough martyrs in Pakistan. More than martyrs, the country needs people who are bold enough to stand up and ask the real questions so the blood of the victims does not go in vain.

Ailia Zehra

The writer is a former staff member who writes on counterterrorism and gender equality among other issues. She tweets at @AiliaZehra and can be reached at [email protected]



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