Beyond their immediate death toll, the worst thing about terrorist attacks is the sense of insecurity they breed. Paralysed by fear, citizens are unable to go about their daily routine. That will be the likely impact of the attack on April 24, in the Business Express lounge at the Lahore Railway Station that killed two people and injured over 60 others. This was the first major terrorist attack in Lahore in over a year and, it has shattered whatever hopes of serenity may have begun to emerge in the country’s cultural capital. Coming as it did, just four days after the Bhoja Air crash in Islamabad, the railway attack will further engender greater fear of using transportation. Safety in public transport will now be seen as an illusion with both air and rail travel proving to be fraught with risk.
Easy though it may be to repeat platitudes about how life must go on, terrorist attacks have become so pervasive that we tend to dismiss the toll of terrorism. From the multiple check posts we have to endure every day, to the fear of going to places that might be possible targets, our quality of life is adversely affected in ways that we cannot even measure. In addition to that, there is also the significant economic impact of terrorism. In the days ahead, there will undoubtedly be fewer people willing to risk rail travel and that will have a ripple effect throughout the economy. As much as we pride ourselves on being resilient people, the psychological and emotional effects of terrorism cannot be underplayed.
What makes it even worse is that we have no confidence that the authorities will do anything, or everything, to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. In those rare cases where militants are caught, they usually end up being released by a dysfunctional court system. The government in Punjab is in denial about the problem of home-grown militancy, while the military seems to have decided it has done all it can to fight militancy in the tribal areas. We now seem to have reached the point where it has been decided that a certain amount of terrorism is a given and there is very little we can do to tackle it. It is this despondency by the authorities that allows militancy to thrive and strike seemingly at will.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.