Terrorism is back or was it never gone?

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Recent terrorist suicide attack at Data Darbar Dargah in Lahore has exposed the hollowness of the claims of law-enforcers of a successful war against terrorism. The question that has raised its ugly head is: are they back or they had never gone? The Data Darbar bombing seems to be part of a series of attacks starting from massacre of 20 members of Shia Hazara community in Quetta following by blowing up of a truck carrying law enforcers. Indeed, it is a clear message from the militant groups that they are very much operative and notwithstanding the astounding claims of the government and its law-enforcing agencies, the terrorists seems to have a blank cheque to strike with impunity where-ever it pleases them.

In case of Dargah bombing the target was Punjab’s Elite Force posted on surveillance and security duty outside the shrine.  According to media reports, Hizbul Ahrar, said to be a splinter faction of the local Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. Much as attacking of Sufi shrines seems to have become easy and part of militants’ crusade for enforcing their bigoted religious moorings that have no place in Islam, total failure of law-enforcers and intelligence agencies has given them the incentive they need to strike as per their scheme of things.

Sufi Islam is anathema to barbarianism that the extremist market to impose Salafism over various religious sects especially the Shias. It may be recalled that these Salafi terrorists had in 2010 also targeted Data Sahib along with shrines of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Rehman Baba in Peshawar, and Baba Farid in Pakpattan. It is not exactly entirely the bigoted conflict to expose Sufi shrines to the Salafi pillage,  much goes to the failure of law-enforcers to safe guard Sufi shrines that have been obvious and easy targets of the vandals.

The organisation that has claimed responsibility of the Data Sahib Bomb blast is alleged to be Hizbul Ahrar with a previous catalogue of being involved in acts of sectarian terrorism in other parts of the country too. The phrase running with the hare and hunting with the hounds seems to be true as manifested in the freedom enjoyed by the militants. Much like other claims of wiping out the ‘scourge of terrorism’ made since what are called as successful operations in Waziristan, Fata and elsewhere, the la-enforcers had claimed that Hibzul Ahrar too had been eliminated.

Every time there are recurrence of cases of suicide bombing fingers are raised over the performance or lack of performance of the National Action Plan (NAP) that was enforced after much orchestration following mayhem of 150 students and others on December 16, 2014 at the Army Public School. More than often, sincerity of the government in implementing it has been questioned especially now. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has been time and again calling upon the government to be serious about it, take the opposition into confidence and make it truly a national action plan to combat terrorism.

Data Sahib Dargah suicide bombing has explicitly exposed the professional capacity of the Elite Force specifically created to combat terrorism. Disgusting is the fact that the entire country being on high alert for the purpose of security due to the month of Ramazan and increased religious activities, holiest of the Sufi shrines was allowed to be made easy target by the suicide bomber. Obviously it means that Elite force lacks intelligence, its personnel are more busy in criminal activities such as Sahiwal massacre rather than a co-ordinated operation against suspects in collaboration with other law enforcing agencies, as well as between the provinces and the centre. It is high time NAP is either made effective or buried to rest in peace.

Indeed, Dargah Data Sahib suicide bombing incident plus others soon after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘confession’ to Iranian President Rouhani during his last visit to Teheran, that Pakistan’s territory was abused by terrorists to attack Iranian security personnel –sends out a dismal message to the world and lends credence to the view in many capitals regarding as to who is the villain of the piece. Our law enforcers shall have to rise to the challenge and go after the militants indiscriminately in an effective manner so that our institutions are not considered hostage to militants, as is the continued perception worldwide.

Last but not the least, police, Elite Force and intelligence agencies shall have to be revamped and trained to combat terrorism. Changing of uniform and not substance to be more effective—won’t help improve in the performance. Moreover, the shoddy manner police is being dealt with by the PTI provincial government needs to be stopped. One has lost the count as to how many IGs or other senior officers have been shunted out on whims of powerful individuals in PTI’s pecking order. One is not opposed to accountability in police and bureaucracy. Those found at fault should be punished and sent back home. However, the growing perception that needs to be dispelled is about the silent war that is on between PTI and the bureaucracy leading to a go slow in action.

(The author is veteran journalist and former High Commissioner for Pakistan to Britain.)