The monster of terrorism has once again raised its ugly head in the country. At least 140 people have been killed and over 400 others injured in seven bomb blasts last week across Pakistan as the country witnessed a deadly surge in terror attacks since the operation Zarb-e-Arb Operation brought a visible drop in the spate of suicide bombings over the last few years
The suicide bombing in Sehwan Sharif was the worst of the current wave of terrorism. A suicide bomber hit a gathering of hundreds of people at the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan town of Jamshoro district in Sindh province, killing over 90 people and leaving over 250 others injured. According to police sources, the worst incident of the year 2017 took place when a young suicide bomber exploded himself with his explosive laden jacket amid the people performing Dhamaj inside the main compound of the shrine.
The new wave of terrorist attacks spread across the country from the northwest tribal area to southern Quetta, killing and injuring hundreds. The series of bloody extremist assaults preceded a powerful Taliban suicide bomb in Lahore which killed 13 people for which TTP faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility. After Lahore, another suicide bombing took place at a government office in the Mohmand agency, followed by a suicide attack on government employees in Peshawar, killing six people in total. Two police officers were also killed two days later in the Balochistan capital of Quetta, while trying to defuse a bomb. These grisly incidents have jolted Pakistan out of its false sense of security. The year 2017 has not begun well for Pakistan, with 25 having been killed in Parachinar and 10 in January. Observers see the current upsurge of attacks as an indicator that active terrorist networks are still present despite the official claim of having eliminated the menace of terrorism.
Sehwan’s terror attack – Pakistan’s deadliest in years – stunned the nation and raised questions about the authorities’ ability to rein in militant groups despite several military offensives targeting militant hideouts. The present situation is reminiscent of the pre-Zarb-e-Azb era when terrorist violence was endemic. Available evidences point to the involvement of militant groups attached to Islamic State(ISIS). The Sunni extremist groups view Shiites as apostates and Sufi shrines as a form of idolatry.
Obviously, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy has failed to yield results, allowing groups that have been banned to remerge, and individuals on international terrorist lists to operate freely, and ignoring funding of these groups from radical Sunni Muslim charities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
Earlier, the government had downplayed the IS affiliate, insisting that only a small number of militants have pledged allegiance to the group. But its claim is belied by subsequent events. Islamic State may not have a strong organizational structure in Pakistan but there are thousands of members of banned groups sympathetic to its ideology and world view. Security experts believe that Daish or IS is using different local and regional militant groups to carry out terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
The government has no well thought out policy or strategy to deal with the new wave of insurgency. In the last few days the security forces have carried out dozens of operations killing hundreds of alleged militants in different parts of the country. But this is akin to being wise after the event. There are no signs of a coordinated plan of action. Nor any evidence that the government intends to strike at the source of the militancy, the institutions where they are brainwashed – madrassahs or religious schools that teach a radical version of Islam that reviles Shiite Muslims as well as adherents of all other beliefs other than their own. The promised judicial reform has also not yet been undertaken nor has the government choked the sources of funding to those radical religious schools operating in Pakistan.
In the current national discussion on terrorism, little has been said about the role of intelligence agencies. There is undoubtedly an element of intelligence failure which has allowed the militants to operate in such a coordinated manner in the four provinces. It is said that there is no apex body for information sharing among our dozens of intelligence agencies. There is also little coordination between intelligence and security agencies with the result that terrorists strike freely wherever they want.
It is a painful fact that although in the last two years the military has launched major offensives against militant strongholds in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, insurgents continue to carry out their lethal attacks throughout Pakistan. Clearly, something is wrong with the national counter-terrorism strategy. It is now beyond question that militancy cannot be combated through physical action alone. It is also a battle of the mind – a battle to win the hearts and minds of the people to counter the militant narrative. This aspect has been ignored so far.