Trouble in Paradise

Spearhead Analysis – 20.02.2017

By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

It’s a recurrent fever that Pakistan seems to be going through – remedied by nothing but its own good sense, which it seems to be lacking, or so the Lahore blast has shown us, which killed 13 people and wounded 85. Leaders have resorted to the usual finger pointing, this time deflecting the blame onto militant factions operating from sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan. The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility, but that’s beside the point. The point is that the incident occurred in the heart of the provincial capital, and was facilitated by a network existing inside the country – and there is little we could do about it.

Much has happened since then. A facilitator has confessed, at least 205 suspects have been arrested – mostly Afghan nationals, more than 100 ‘militants’ have been killed in intelligence-based operations, and four training camps of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have been decimated on the Pak-Afghan border. But this is not a story of success, but rather of the failure to act on a timely fashion: Why is it that the government and its security agencies pull up their socks once lives are lost and blood is spilled? And for how long?

It is an old story that can’t find a new end: a pledge against terrorism here, a committee and commission formed there, written warnings by intelligence agencies ignored by concerned ministries, and the reality of the situation is all the same – that all is forgotten, and the socks scrunch up along their ankles yet again, ready to be pulled up for yet another massacre only for a brief moment. The National Action Plan is still waiting to be implemented, with crucial points of mainstreaming madrassas, counter narrative development, rechristening of banned organizations, and obstructing terror financing left ambiguous. The federal government dodges responsibility by putting it on the provincial government’s shoulders, and the provinces grumble over the lack of resources, and support from the capital for such operations.

It is the same Jamaat-ul-Ahrar that claimed responsibility for the Easter Day bombing in Lahore, killing over 70 people in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park. And while the army demanded extra powers to tackle militant groups in the province, the ruling elites of PML-N refused to dilute their power by expanding military presence in Punjab. While the federal and provincial governments are sticking to its story of Punjab’s immunity to terrorism, the truth is that it has become a breeding ground for terrorists – with militant and sectarian networks still operating freely in districts of south Punjab.

The government’s policy of distinguishing between good types of violence, and bad, makes it even more difficult to deal with the nuisance. While scores of militant suspects have been allegedly arrested, none have been convicted, and most have been freed due to a lack of evidence. With military courts now ineffective owing to the sunset clause, and the government’s failure to improve the country’s judicial system as promised under the National Action Plan, the probability of incarcerated suspects being freed or suffering in jail without trial is high.

Considering that this blast was one for which a viral pre-warning was given, with almost every social media site displaying the letter of notification addressed to the Home Secretary, Punjab, the Provincial Officer, DG Pak Rangers Punjab, as well as the National Counterterrorism Authority – only a proper enquiry can deduce what led to the failure of agencies acting on this warning. However, given the response of the government to the Quetta report, and the redundancy of enquiry committees and commissions, the effort seems futile.

The bombing has also given power to Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s criticisms of state institutions (expressed in a commission report on the Quetta hospital bombing), in particular the federal interior ministry, for its failure of efficiently acting against banned sectarian and militant outfits operating under new banners. The report also discussed in detail the pre and post attack gaps that existed, making it easier for militant organizations to carry out attacks. While the Quetta Commission report should have been taken on board as ‘points to consider/improve upon’, it did quite the opposite. The interior minister rejected the ‘baseless’ allegations, clearly dismissing Justice Qazi Faez’s efforts of burning the midnight oil, and refused to accept any responsibility. Added to this is his apologist attitude towards sectarian organizations, and one is left to wonder how with leaders like these such carnages can be avoided.

Such skirmishes, and inconsistencies of the government have only created room for splinter groups to reorganize and regroup under different names to carry on with their terror efforts. The situation with Afghanistan on one side, and India on the other makes for an ugly sandwich, and while the cross-border blame game might have some truth to it, what’s important is to internalize the responsibility and work on our own failures, not as short-term reactionary policies, but as long-term sustainable efforts.