By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
In my op-ed here (December 15 last captioned “Terrorists strike again”) my warning was a wakeup call for the law-enforcing authorities to alert them to take all possible measures to protect the soft targets in Quetta that have been of frequent visitations by the terrorists in the past. This was a follow up of the Chinese advisory to its nationals and businesses that they should be extra-cautious as they could possibly be targeted by the terrorists. Except those whose job is to provide security every other person with little common sense had rightly apprehended that to get maximum media mileage internationally, terrorists would strike around the third anniversary of Army Public School massacre of December 16, 2014. And they did.
Their soft target was Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta. At least nine people were killed and 40 injured in the attack, which took place during Sunday services. Two suicide bombers had tried to intrude but were timely intercepted by the local police guards. Death toll could have been more had the security cops not performed a rare feat of valor. An unsung hero security guard Gulzar Bhatti Shaheed virtually saved dozens of lives in the church by standing up to the terrorists.
I had warned that the Chinese warning to its nationals should not be taken lightly. It had come at a time when there was a fresh wave of terrorist attacks in Balochistan and KPK despite assurances by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa that the armed forces won’t sit in peace until and unless they sort out the terrorists. The Quetta Church tragedy is real while our claims to successes in breaking the back of blood thirsty miscreants seem to be illusionary. Chinese have major stakes in CPEC project, their warning nearer APS Mayhem Anniversary should have been an eye-opener for our law-enforcers. It should have been taken as a rightful concern since it meant an expression of lack of confidence in the security arrangements that we have in Quetta, Balochistan and the country.
In an overall objective assessment of the situation one could safely claim that it is more than a manifestation of our miserable failure in addressing right-earnestly contradictions in our domestic and foreign policies. Families of the martyred APS students have a right to know why the government of Pakistan and its powerful establishment have not yet hanged TTP terrorist Ehsanullah Ehsan involved in APS tragedy and other terrorist strikes in the country killing hundreds of innocent people.
Chinese not only warned but took measures on their own to protect their people since they know that they are soft targets of various hostile players in the region and also the domestic political contradictions. While the Americans have not given up their demand to do more and are now in a more dangerous mood threatening to deal on their own with terrorists such as Haqqani Network which could obviously mean more drone strikes within especially in the bordering areas.
Before our time tested friend China becomes wary of our domestic contradictions in dealing with the terrorists and various extremist groups operating within Pakistan, the Establishment shall have to be more clearheaded. Although Army Chief General Bajwa is trying his best to deliver in the given circumstances, institutional contradictions need to be sorted out as well. Treating TTP’s Ehsanullah Ehsan as a VVIP is nothing but rubbing salt in the wounds.
What impression our foreign friends must be having of us to see a former army chief being complicit in getting former president General ® Pervez go off the hook from facing treason charges for rape of the constitution, demolishing of the apex judiciary and his involvement in the murder most foul of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. His repeated orchestration of support for internationally wanted Hafiz Saeed and extremist LeT and his threat to join hands with such lethal elements to get in power-would not carry positive messages to the Americans, Chinese and other friends. Besides one cannot over look the mysterious re-emergence of father of Taliban Maulana Samiul Haq in Pakistani politics on the shoulders of PTI’s Imran Khan. Entry into electoral politics of Tehrik-e-Labaik, Milli Muslim League of Hafiz Saeed and revival of MMA-reminds one of Musharraf era.
Not only that, despite clarifications, government has not been successful in minimizing the impression in the diplomatic community of Establishment’s hostility towards democratic dispensation as seen in the deal brokered with the protesting clerics in the recent Faizabad dharna. Last act has been responsible for the perception that the PML-N government-lame duck as it is-would not last long. People are either talking of a government of technocrats soon or early elections.
Targeting of minorities is part of the method in the madness of the terrorists. What makes the matter more complicated is lack of preparedness on the part of the law enforcers is their sheer criminal negligence or perhaps there could possibly be an element of connivance or expediency. Whether it is Hazaras, Christians, Shias or Ahmadis-in places like garrison town of Quetta, Lahore, Sialkot, Peshawar, Charshadda or Karachi–how can terrorists hood wink the law enforcers who are supposed to be on round the clock vigil nearer, on or about any religious or popular occasion for celebration. Last year on Easter Sunday a public park was targeted, killing over 100 in Lahore. The Punjab government is scared to touch these elements since they carry a huge radical vote bank.
There could not be two views about the failure of National Action Plan. It is high time it is either buried or revived in a manner that it could deliver. As regards Quetta is concerned frequency of attacks (Killing of 72 lawyers, attack on police academy, assassination of DIG, attack on church, shrine etc) call for drastic action within the law enforcers since it is their failure that accounts for growing insecurity in the province that has been under total control of the Commander Southern Command since ages and its constant vulnerability is censure of its performance. What needs to be underscored here is that the provincial government is perfunctory and its Interior Minister is there just to read out a statement pointing an instant finger at outside involvement-a task easier than done.
(The author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)