The Quetta attack and its aftermath
Courtesy: Malik Muhammad Ashraf
The suicide attack in Quetta on Monday, which claimed more than 70 lives, mostly lawyers, was the deadliest attack after the Karsaz tragedy of 2007 and the APS carnage in December 2014. This act of bestiality allegedly carried out by a splinter group of TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which has claimed responsibility, has sent a wave of shock and sadness among the people of Pakistan. The attack has been widely condemned not only within Pakistan but also across the world expressing solidarity with the people of Pakistan in this hour of pain and grief.
In times of adversity and tragic incidents such as this, the most important thing is to bolster the national morale and give a clear message to the perpetrators that their antics are not going to sap the morale of the nation and they will be ultimately wiped off the face of the earth. That is exactly what the civilian and military leadership did. The Prime Minister and COAS dashed to Quetta to express solidarity and sympathy with the families of the victims, held high-level meetings to discuss the issue and future course of action and expressed unflinching resolve to eliminate terrorists at all costs. A number of high-level huddles between the civilian and military leadership have taken place to review progress on the already rolled out initiatives like NAP as well as further actions required to up the ante against the terrorists. A rigorous combing operation has also been initiated.
However, it was very disappointing to see a section of the media, particularly TV channels and some analysts taking swipes at the government and agencies waging war against the terrorists, instead of boosting the morale of the nation. Some attributed it to intelligence failure, others felt that the government has failed to provide adequate security to the lawyers community in Quetta who were facing threats for quite some time, another viewpoint was that it all happened due to slackness on the part of the civilian government to implement NAP and yet another proposition and the most preposterous suggestion made by a well-known columnist in a TV programme was that the civilian government was not interested in fighting terrorism and it was even trying to sabotage the successes achieved by the security forces. This kind of flak not only plays into the hands of the terrorists but also spreads despondency and frustration among the masses.
All the foregoing suggestions, betrayed their lack of understanding of the dynamics of war against terrorism and the relevant ground realities. War against terrorism is a very complex and long drawn undertaking. It is a war against an invisible enemy hidden within the public. A phenomenon which has become well-entrenched over the last three decades cannot be subdued easily and within a short span of time. Countries like Sri Lanka and Italy took three decades to control and eliminate the menace of terrorism. In Italy, terrorists even kidnapped the Prime Minister and killed him. God forbid, attacks like this will keep on happening till the time the scourge is completely rooted out. How long this will take nobody can tell. What is needed is unswerving resolve to fight it out.
Whenever such incidents happen, people start talking about intelligence failure, conveniently forgetting the successes that they have achieved in pre-empting the enactment of several such acts. Gathering intelligence is a very arduous and complex activity and it is humanly not possible to achieve hundred percent success in knowing the plans of the terrorists. The US, with the most sophisticated and elaborate intelligence network could not prevent the tragedy of 9/11. The recent terrorist attacks in France and other European countries also make that sordid reality very clear. The invisibility of the terrorists and the element of unpredictability and surprise puts the terrorists at an advantageous position viz-a-viz the intelligence and security outfits. That is why they were able to even hit the most fortified security installations like GHQ, Naval base in Karachi and an air base in Peshawar.
Our security forces have successfully implemented Zarb-e-Azb and cleared North Waziristan of the terrorists because the targets were known and they were confined to a particular area. The implementation of NAP can in no way be compared with Zarb-e-Azb. NAP is about finding and apprehending the terrorists hidden among the public, using administrative and legal measures to fight and bring them to justice. Some of the elements of the plan such as dealing with seminaries are very sensitive issues and need to be handled very carefully. It also has an ideological aspect necessitating the evolution of a counter-narrative to change the mindset of the people involved in and supporting terrorism. This is a slow and time-consuming effort and there can be no shortcut to it.
Nevertheless, despite all the handicaps and impediments, considerable achievements have also been made under NAP. Immediately after the announcement of NAP, the government wasted no time in lifting the moratorium on death penalties and the establishing military courts through a constitutional amendment, the two most important elements of the 20-point NAP. According to details provided by NACTA Chief at a press briefing, 70,000 terrorists have been hauled up till now; 8852 militants belonging to proscribed outfits have also been apprehended from different parts of the country; law enforcement agencies have sealed 102 seminaries for fanning extremism, including 87 seminaries in Sindh, 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two in Punjab, having links with banned groups; the state bank has frozen 126 accounts of proscribed organisations with cumulative deposits of over Rs 1 billion.
The government has biometrically verified and blocked 98.3 million SIMs, dismantling the communication network of the terrorists; the police in Punjab has conducted 33772 combing operations and 5549 cases have been registered besides the arrest of 24436 suspected criminals; the Counter Terrorism Department has arrested 40 hardcore activists and 547 cases have been registered for publication of hate material; the number of terrorists killed stands at 2159; under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 332 people have been executed; at least 933 URLs and 10 websites have been blocked; in Balochistan 625 Fararis have surrendered; there has been a 27 percent decrease in crime rate in Punjab; the glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations by print and electronic media has been effectively checked through administrative measures and cooperation of the media itself, and the government has fixed 31 December as the deadline for the return of Afghan refugees. The progress of the implementation of NAP is constantly reviewed by the Apex committees and the special committee under the Prime Minister.
The decisive war against terrorists has been initiated by the present civilian government with the help of the security establishment and it has a very big stake in its success. How can it be accused of sabotaging the achievements of the security forces? The suggestion really stinks.