The murder and mayhem in Mastung claimed countless lives injuring over 200 in Balochistan. A suicide bomber, camouflaged as a political worker, blew himself up to smithereens, with 15kg explosives, ripping through an election rally in Dringarh village of District Mastung, close to Quetta, the provincial capital, making Mastung’s July 13, 2018 blast the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan since the 2014’s carnage at Peshawar’s Army Public School.
Pakistan soul-shatteringly endures a slew of terror and suicide attacks, especially against political candidates in the run-up to the general elections on 25th of July. From Bannu, Peshawar and now Mastung, from ANP’s Haroon Bilour to BAP’s Siraj Raisani, and countless innocent civilians, the nation is blood-soaked. The terror attack has officially been claimed by an Afghanistan-based ISIS Khorasan Province (ISKP), the South Asian chapter of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s heinous death cult.
As ISIS is being chased out of its Syrian and Iraqi hinterland, the radicals regrouped, seeking safe sanctuary in South Asia since 2015, a terror-laden subcontinent whose arteries are already over-clogged with malevolent militancy. ISIS finds shelter in a civil war-strewn Afghanistan, especially after the Taliban’s recent ceasefire.
ISKP’s strategic re-orientation to a South Asian terror theatre poses a generational menace to Pakistan and its children, schools, hospitals and especially to the “soft targets”.
All the precious lives lost in Bannu, Peshawar and Mastung cannot become stale statistics. All condolences and heartfelt words of sympathy will ring especially hollow if not followed up by urgent action as Pakistanis bathe in blood. Political activists must be provided utmost security, especially during highly-sensitive elections.
Democracy is always the best revenge. Pakistan’s elections must be held on time and polling stations should be secure to the hilt to encourage maximum voter turnout.
Pakistan recently hosted the spy chiefs of Russia, China and Iran and top of their agenda was tackling ISKP. Kinetic and non-kinetic wide-scale Intelligence Based Operations (IBOs) such as Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad must intensify nationwide. Time to rein in the militants like the Haqqani network et al. Appeasement and armchair activism only gets innocent civilians massacred.
Pakistan’s porous border with Afghanistan, already being sealed, must be made more secure through added reinforcements. The Fata-K-P merger must radically be hastened and concluded, counter-radicalisation narratives, both curricular and extra-curricular, must institutionalised from the grass roots to de-radicalise an angry alienated youth. The tap of terrorist funding from known “regional proxies” must be shut. Pakistan’s anti-terror funding Financial Action Task Force (FATF) compliance guidelines must institutionalise. Emergency meetings at GHQ called, National Security Committee summits must be held swiftly with key deadlines and deliverables.
Odious ISIS militants and cohorts usher in new faces of cruelty and mercilessness in security-vulnerable Balochistan and K-P. They now export to this region “fantasies” of resurrecting a theoretically fascist pseudo-caliphate birthing ill-begotten alliances with dozens of local like-minded sectarian terrorists, most notoriously the Taliban.
Despite desperate disavowals from everywhere, ISKP is on a recruitment spree in South Asia. This recruitment is orchestrated for financing, geographical spread, autonomy, ideological reinforcement, to spread their distorted understanding of territorial “Dar-ul-Islam” preparing for a make-believe apocalyptic final battle of the ages.
Worse still, ISKP is likely to align its terror and become co-conspirators with the Taliban. This all transmutes the local South Asian terrorism spectre into a global epidemic likely to cancerously metastasise cross-border.
As with previous Republican administrations, purse strings are not exactly going to be lavished on Pakistan during Trump’s tenure. Though Pakistan is more than deserving of it, given the existential sacrifices it has made to counter radicalisation with over 70,000 civilian casualties in the war against terror.
ISKP’s foothold in Afghanistan entails yet more unacceptable civilian loss of life callously labelled as ‘collateral damage’ by many. Pakistan’s FATF grey-listing further strains an already belt-tightened financing, prompting Pakistan towards debt diplomacy from China and beyond.
Pakistan, by force of necessity, will have to mount a rebranding exercise for credible international messaging and more calculated and appropriate responses to the international community against known “regional proxies” importing insurgent militancy to Pakistani borders.
Our national attention is so divided and diluted with petty political point-scoring at present. The spectre of multi-national terrorism must now unite us all, irrespective of political party stripes for it represents a clear and imminent danger to Pakistan. This is a potential existential and evolutionary struggle which requires unyielding unison, cross-party appeal, coalition-building and singularity of purpose.
To defend ourselves and our coming generations from these pernicious predators, new life should be breathed into Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad; and NACTA and the NAP (National Action Plan) must sharpen their teeth. Moreover, intensified intelligence agency cross-cooperation is direly needed; our counterterrorism (CT) initiatives merit more funding; and crystal-clear clarity on CT must be sought. More joint military and CT exercises with China, Russia, Turkey and regional allies for capacity building and operational readiness are fruitful ways forward.
Most importantly, Pakistan’s counterterrorism entities — rather than only deploying hard power via bombing and droning more visible terror perpetrators — could focus on soft power with positive counter-messaging, intensifying inter-faith harmony-based development projects, sponsored by Pakistan’s military, donors and civilian authorities.
Sanitising the tribal belts via softer intelligence-based operations such as “asset co-opting”, literacy, education, outlawing sectarian hate speech at mosques, breaking informal financial linkages to terror, deploying more assets to infiltrate dubious entities and even countries seeking to use and abuse Pakistan as a playground proxy for their sectarian scourge are moves in the right direction.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2018.