The death toll in Lahore at the time of writing is 13 with over 80 injured. In Quetta, an IED planted under a bridge detonated as a bomb disposal officer tried to defuse it. He and one other died, at least five were injured. The Lahore blast occurred during a demonstration by pharmacists and chemists protesting at a new regulation. The Quetta target is unknown. Among those who died in Lahore was the Traffic DIG. The explosion occurred close to the Punjab assembly and was quickly claimed by Jamaatul Ahrar, a faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but it is impossible to verify the claim.
Bombings in Quetta whilst not regular are less of a grim surprise than bombings in Lahore, which has escaped the bombers notice of late. What both incidents demonstrate is that despite a bitter and blood-boltered fight terrorism in Pakistan is alive and capable of striking at the national heart. Comments on social media suggested that the motive behind the Lahore bombing was to derail plans to disrupt the final of the Pakistan Super League match due to be held in the city. It is much to be hoped that it does not. We must not allow terror to dominate, to take hold and hijack, the national narrative.
Whatever the motive and whichever group carried out the attack the inescapable conclusion is that a range of terrorist organisations still have the capacity to wreak havoc virtually at will. Some groups have a provincial orientation; others see themselves as part of the global jihad movement. Diffuse and with varying degrees of cooperation and coordination, they march under several banners and have the ability to metamorphose, shape change, the better to countervail those that battle them for narrative control. Those that commit these atrocities are likely to be finding shelter and support in the wider population because terrorism does not exist in a vacuum.
The state has yet to grasp the nettle of fighting terrorism right across its bloody spectrum and the far-from-decisive implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) does no more than create the loopholes through which the bombers slip. This is not to say that the intelligence and security services are entirely ineffective because they are not, and they will have successes that the general public will never get to hear about. The failure to combat the terror threat lies within the inability of the state to craft a holistic national initiative that will create and supplant the paradigm that currently allows terrorism to live amongst us. A cancer that for many is willingly hosted.
Fingers are invariably pointed after atrocities such as this at this or that ‘foreign hand’ and although it would be unwise to entirely discount foreign actions designed to destabilise the state, there is no shortage of evidence to support the perception that much of the terror experienced today is home grown, it comes from within. The state has to own the responsibility for that up front, and eschew the disingenuous ducking and diving so often evident.
Political and military leaders were swift in their condemnation, and the assertions that this cancer will be cut out were made yet again. The prime minister said that the fight will continue…‘until we can call ourselves a free and secure people. That is a promise.’ It is a promise we wholeheartedly wish to see fulfilled in letter and in spirit. We wish to see those organisations that are the fellow-travellers of the bombers also hunted into extinction. We wish to see those groups that are ‘banned’ rent asunder as were those that died on this bloody night. We wish that the mealy-mouthed apologists for those that blight our lives are likewise silenced, and deprived of the space in which they spout their bile. We wish all of that Mr Prime Minister. So are you as good as your word? We wish.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2017.