The murder of the Punjab Home Minister Colonel (retd) Shuja Khanzada exposes the vulnerability of government ministers and politicians in general. He died as a result of a suicide blast, with the scale of the devastation at the site of the attack suggesting a large device, which brings into question the security arrangements that were in place at the Khanzada political office in Shadi Khan, near Attock on August 16. The minister was there reportedly with his staff to mediate a local dispute, and the bombers appear to have had excellent intelligence as to his movements and the weakness of the security apparatus surrounding him. The entire structure collapsed in on itself trapping and killing many, including Mr Khanzada. A rescue operation was launched, with at least 14 bodies having been recovered, with the final death toll as yet unconfirmed.
Responsibility for the attack is reportedly being taken by a militant group with known affiliations to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan – Lashkar-e-Islam – and is claimed to be in retaliation for military action taken against them. There are also reports that the death in a police ‘encounter’ of the prominent extremist and head of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Malik Ishaq, also played a role in the attack. It may also be a retaliatory response to the killing of a prominent al Qaeda figure a month ago.
An unmistakable message has been sent to the political leadership, not only of Punjab but every other province as well. There is no safe ground. If there are successful actions against terrorist or extremist groups, they can and will retaliate. They have the competencies and the capacity, and will exploit vulnerabilities at every opportunity. Successful as the operations may be against them, these groups remain dangerous. They are flexible and adaptable, and hide in plain sight in the communities they so often target. As with the killers who attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, they have some support in the wider population that allows them to conduct reconnaissance before they commit their crimes. This will not be the last time politicians are thus targeted, and an urgent review of their security should be a priority.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2015.