There is today a blood-drenched hole in the claim of the government to have rolled back the forces of terrorism in Pakistan. At least 20 people, among them Haroon Bilour of the Awami National Party (ANP), were killed and 63 injured when a suicide bomber targeted an ANP corner meeting in the Yakatoot area of Peshawar on the evening of July 10th. This is the second time the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has targeted the Bilour family. They killed Haroon’s father in December 2012. The attack was quickly claimed by the TTP and there is no reason to disbelieve the claim. The TTP is one of the organisations said to be in retreat as a result of sustained efforts by the police, paramilitary and military forces, but not so far in retreat as to be unable to mount lethal bombing operations. This comes against a background of warnings from the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that there is intelligence to suggest that a group of named and leading political figures from across the political spectrum were at risk from terrorist activity.
With campaigning now in full swing the attack calls into question the effectiveness of the state when it comes to countering organisations such as the TTP, which has considerable support among sections of the populace, is well-funded despite attempts to cut the flow of money into terrorist organisations and still maintains a seemingly invulnerable protective carapace of impunity. Couple this with the decision to mainstream organisations hitherto regarded as terrorist, and bring them into the political fold in the hope that the democratic process will bring them moderation over time, and there is a visible landscape of poisonous tolerance in which the bombers may reside in ease.
The caretaker government has been briefed as to the clear and present dangers faced by campaigning politicians, and at the very least ought to be extending the duty of care to encompass the security of candidates of all parties. The state has the resources at its command to provide security, and if it does not then that is a choice the state has made. The shape of things to come, perhaps.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2018.