To the surprise of no security analyst worthy of the title, another educational institution has been attacked, this time the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, about 40km from Peshawar. Despite the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a small group of terrorists has once again been able to gain access to a vulnerable soft target and reportedly kill at least 21 and injure many more than that. The raid has been claimed by a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander although the militant group later tried to distance itself from the attack. Yet again, terrorists have been able to exploit gaps and weaknesses in the security infrastructure and point unerringly to an imperfect implementation of the much-vaunted National Action Plan (NAP) that was created in the wake of the APS attack.
Hands will be raised in horror, expressions of sadness and condolence made, promises to hold an enquiry likewise — and beyond all that, there is certain knowledge that the attack will be replicated at some future date somewhere in the country. Claims that the terrorists have been put on the back foot simply do not hold water — or blood. The terrorists are still able to operate because of two key factors — many of them have relocated their operational bases to Afghanistan as they have been squeezed out by Operation Zarb-e-Azb, but even more crucially, they have well developed and deeply embedded support structures and organisations spread across the entire country; they are not limited to the mountains of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
With the unfolding presence of the Islamic State in Pakistan — it now has a national footprint of support if not an operational focus — the terrorist fabric that sustains the many groups that would seek to mount operations such as this is being strengthened by the day. The state has failed to tackle adequately some of the core elements of the NAP, particularly those that focus on challenging extremist madrassas and those who fund and run them. The festering hotspots of south Punjab remain largely untouched. Our sincere condolences to the bereaved, but a bitter criticism of the gutless politicians that allowed this to happen yet again — and the terrorists chalk up another success.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2016.