Not that one expected the new federal and provincial dispensations to magically fix the terrorism problem but their initial handling of the discourse has not been very reassuring
More than 50 innocent people killed in one day would wake up the most somnolent of nations and their governments. June 30, 2013 started with a bomb targeting a government paramilitary convoy in the hapless Badaber area, just outside Peshawar. The terrorists chose a busy intersection to target the soldiers, killing 17 and injuring about 50, including young children. Later during the day a suicide bomb ripped through the Hazara Shia community gathered for a religious service at their Imambargah in Hazara Town, Quetta. Over 30, including at least nine women and three children, were killed and scores wounded, some of whom remain critical. It seemed, however, like just another day in Pakistan. The country behaved as if a child had fallen off a bike on a lawn, got up and moved on. But the behaviour came across neither as youthful resilience nor a nation-like resolve to recover and look the evil in the eye. It seemed like a sense of resignation to their fate. Pakistan appeared to be succumbing to the jihadist terrorism on what this newspaper has rightly called the bloody Sunday.
Immediately after the attacks, conspicuous by their collective absence were the governments of the day in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Balochistan and the Centre. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is ostensibly in charge at the Centre and a major coalition partner in Balochistan but Mr Nawaz Sharif initially said almost nothing after the tragic attacks around the country. His supposed trouble-shooter, the Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, was last heard from after the June 15 attacks and then too was more preoccupied with the Islamabad traffic than actually outlining what the promised national security and/or counter-terrorism policy may actually look like.
Two days after the Quetta attack Mr Sharif eventually took a highly commendable step and showed up in Quetta along with not just his civilian associates but the ISI chief as well. Taking along the ISI director suggests that Mr Sharif has a fairly good idea who could make or break the peace, especially in Balochistan. However, little if any specifics were given by Mr Sharif about what exactly he wants done, and against whom, as he constituted a generic task force to maintain law and order in Balochistan. Mr Sharif tasking ISI and the Intelligence Bureau to treat Hazara Town as a test case and bring the perpetrators to book is a move in the right direction. But he will have to spell out his vision to counter terrorism clearly and consistently. The state’s capacity to combat terrorism is but one aspect of the fight. But that is not what Pakistan has been missing, especially when the sacrifices of the security forces rank and file are factored in. It is the will that the state seems to have been lacking. And nothing vitiates that will more than swashbuckling at the elusive ‘foreign hands’. One cannot chase a mirage or fight the intangible. Not taking charge of the narrative sets the law enforcement agencies on a wild goose chase, effectively setting them up for failure.
Not that one expected the new federal and provincial dispensations to magically fix the terrorism problem but their initial handling of the discourse has not been very reassuring. The PML-N is treading a precarious line when its leaders present the excuse that they have been at the helm merely 20-some days. But as the government is discovering now, terrorists are not about to kick the ball out of the field to demonstrate their sportsmanship while the incumbents pull their socks up. If the leaders had time for sartorial makeovers in the years past they surely had time to firm up a plan to combat the jihadist terror. The relentless assaults on the Hazara Shia, including the Sunday carnage, have been consistently claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi but on television PML-N leaders like Mr Zafar Ali Shah were weaving conspiracy theories about foreign plots and outsiders doing it. It is an insult to the blood of the victims and disservice to his leader Mr Sharif who could do without such smokescreens.
Mr Sharif and his advisors, like the veteran politician Mr Sartaj Aziz, are keen to play a lead part in the Afghanistan peace process too. The latter is reported to have suggested to Kabul to cede a few provinces to the Taliban. One hopes that this is not the template the PML-N has for peace at home as well where the North Waziristan Agency is already under the transnational jihadists’ control. Cavalier talk like this — since denied by Pakistan — has already put the PML-N on the wrong side of the Afghanistan peace process. But it also shows a shabby understanding of where the jihadist terrorists active inside Pakistan draw their operational and logistical support from. It would be a blunder for the PML-N to buy into the security establishment’s theme that offloading the Taliban on Afghanistan will ease things at home. Rationalising the Doha-style Taliban offices as a de-radicalisation process reflects the deep state’s delusions. An ascendant Taliban in Afghanistan will only embolden their cohorts in Pakistan.
The Balochistan provincial government led by Dr Malik Baloch on the other hand has been insinuating that the killings of the Shia Hazara in Quetta are somehow part of a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Not a shred of evidence has ever been produced to link the extremely peaceful Hazara Shia to any outside power. Dr Baloch must rein in his associates or have them back their highly ludicrous yet ominous claim with hard evidence. The Balochistan government has also been presenting the continuing Hazara Shia killings as a federal problem. The law and order in Quetta is Dr Baloch and his coalition partners’ responsibility. If he does not have control over what transpires there, he should take the people into confidence forthwith. Conspiracy theories and blaming everything on the late dictator General Ziaul Haq is no way to lead a government that pledges to be different. Several Baloch killed and dumped as Mr Sharif visited Balochistan do not inspire confidence in Dr Baloch or him. Dr Baloch and, equally importantly, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s credibility is at stake. They should neither serve as a civilian human shield for the security establishment nor contribute to the confused discourse it churns out. They may or may not be able to deliver but the least they can do is to be forthright with the electorate and the victims of bloody Sunday.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets @mazdaki