05th Feb, 2023. 09:05 am
The Peshawar blast
At least 101 killed, over 150 injured! Hands tremble, the face pales, and the heart bleeds at the much-circulated picture of scores of coffins, wrapped in the national flag. Most of those resting in the coffins were the men and officers belonging to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Police. A suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines area, earlier this week, where hundreds of worshippers had gathered to offer afternoon prayers. The savage terrorist attack is yet another gruesome reminder of the devastation that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) can wreak. It is also a depressing reminder of the repeated failure of Pakistan’s Taliban policy, especially of holding talks with them despite the carnage they had subjected the country to in the past. It is unfair that 101 more innocent Pakistanis and their families have had to pay the price of those policy failures.
The horrifying scenes of a half-collapsed mosque, bloodied victims being shifted to hospitals dominated every Pakistani household’s TV screen this week. People watched in horror, fear and anger. Routine condemnations poured in from all state quarters. The same old hollow vows of ‘rooting out terrorism’, ‘bringing Peshawar blast perpetrators to exemplary justice’ were made. And finally began our political leaders’ most favourite game: who is to blame? From an incumbent prime minister to a former one, both traded accusations on national television merely days after the attack. There could not have been a worse time to exhibit such poor and petty political disunity. Criticism is welcome and required, but it need not be in the public eye. A lack of political cohesion at this hour will only benefit the enemy, making the country an easy target.
The names of the people and institutions responsible for the short-sighted Taliban policy are all too clear; they always have been. If our national leaders think singling out one politician or military officer over the other will fool the citizens, then they are mistaken, once again. The people of Pakistan do not need to be explained the situation. It is bad, and they know it. Many living in the erstwhile tribal regions – the former and current base of the TTP – warned about it well in time too. It is the entire state apparatus that needs to sit together, revisit and acknowledge its failures that has led to the resurgence of terrorism in the country. Answers must also be provided against claims of deadly militants being provided a safe passage back into the country, with their guns. The incapability of the state to initiate a political and administrative reform process in the ex-FATA region when it could have – after operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad – must also be brought into question.
As per the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement, issued following the corps commander conference, held a day after the attack, the top army brass was briefed about the intelligence-based operations being undertaken by the army and law enforcement agencies to end the nexus between the terrorists and their support mechanisms. This could perhaps also be a tacit admission of the needful change in Pakistan’s policy towards the Afghan Taliban – who have yet to deliver on their promise of barring the TTP from operating against Pakistan from its soil.
It is a relief to know that intelligence operations are a focus of the military and LEAs. However, a broader policy regarding tackling terrorism needs to be discussed and undertaken on a national level – one that is endorsed by the parliament. This is where the current government, instead of engaging in blame games, might want to pull up its socks and bring the much-touted National Action Plan (NAP) back to life. The holistic 20-point action plan was drawn up in the aftermath of the horrendous Army Public School attack in 2014. At some unfortunate point it was shoved aside and forgotten. The foreign minister’s recent statement terming NAP the ‘only solution’ is most welcome. It must not, however, only remain a statement. The government and the opposition must seriously put their heads and energies together in fighting the menace of terrorism lest the people of this country run out of patience for both of them.