The confusion that surrounded the explosion in Lahore on Thursday February 23 is beginning to clear, and even with a relatively brief hindsight of 24 hours there is much to learn. Although the final report of the forensic analysts is not yet in the public domain, the incident does not have the hallmarks of terrorism. No trace of explosives at the scene, no shrapnel injuries and no ball bearings found as would probably be the case with a terrorist bomb, no claim of responsibility by any group and even more tellingly eyewitness evidence regarding the presence of gas cylinders in the basement of the building. Added to this there are reports from at least one person that the lighting of a cigarette may well have been what triggered the blast in an area that already smelled strongly of gas.
The anxiety that immediately followed the incident was stoked in no small part by the electronic media, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) is entirely right to castigate channels that broadcast unverified reports, in particular those which falsely reported a second blast. The police gave conflicting statements that added to the confusion and there was an overall lack of coordination between agencies as well as poor coordination of command and control both in first response and in the immediate aftermath.
The running of the Lahore Literary Festival hangs in the balance, as does the final of the Pakistan Super League cricket match. Given what is beginning to emerge now attendees at either event are no more likely to be at risk from getting their snacks from up-market fast-food and café outlets than they are from the predations of the terrorists. This is not to in any way underplay the risks from terrorism that remain substantial and ever present, but we believe both these important events should go ahead. Security measures were anyway going to be enhanced to cover them, and these need no adjustment post to the explosion. Life has to go on alongside the fight against terrorism, anything less and the bombers consolidate their hold on the national narrative.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2017.
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