Lahore terror attack belies Pak Army boasts


Farooq Ganderbali

Less than a week after Pakistan Army claimed to have launched another `all-out` war against terrorists in the tribal areas, terrorists attacked the heart of Pakistan, Lahore, to expose the lies and fabrications which the army has been doling out to its people and the world. It was a big tragedy for the people of Lahore, and Pakistan, who have been misled by the army and its leadership for years. This year, it is the fourth such attack in Lahore.

Words of well-known journalist, Zahid Hussain, in an article which he wrote in Dawn in the aftermath of the February 2017 attack in Lahore are worth repeating here for the simple reason: not a thing has changed despite boastful claims of the Generals and beleaguered politicians. To quote Hussain, “it doesn’t matter which militant faction operating from the sanctuary across the border in Afghanistan claims responsibility; the fact is that the attack was facilitated by a network working inside the country. The Lahore attack is yet another example of our failure to act in a timely fashion on an intelligence warning and avert tragedy…It happened at a time we are trying to convince the world that terrorists are on the run and our major cities are safe to hold international sporting and cultural events…the latest attack shows how easy it is for the militants to regroup and launch spectacular attacks with the state still reluctant to act against the major sources of militancy without exception.’’

In his article, Hussain went on to remind where the blame lay quite categorically. He quoted the Justice QaziFaez Isa commission report to clearly blame the federal government for its colossal failure to act against banned terrorist and extremist groups. The report said these groups were openly operating, mostly in Punjab, under different banners and the government was aware of their functioning. The Justice Isa Commission was set up after the terrorist bombing in a Quetta hospital in August 2016 which wiped out `almost an entire generation of senior lawyers` in Quetta.

Hussain wrote, and this is amplified by several other reports over the years, that “ though the federal and the provincial governments deny the threat, Punjab is sitting on a powder keg. The province is the hub of violent extremism with banned outfits operating freely. What is most dangerous is the ostrich-like attitude of the provincial government in the face of the grave threat.“

Hussain, of course for obvious reasons of safety, chose not to mention the failure of Pakistan Army which claims to be the sole defender of Pakistani people. It is common knowledge that many of the terrorists who roam about freely recruiting, raising funds and training others enjoy the patronage of the army. Otherwise they should have by now faced the gallows. It is the same army which, after every major attack, runs around like a chicken without a neck claiming that it will finish off the terrorists. The Generals then strut around in their khakis and fool the people again, and again.

The Generals are not only good at this public deception but are equally good at coining new names for every operation they so boastfully conduct. This time it is called Operation Khyber IV. In the name of this operation, launched in mid-July, the army has been killing several unknown persons, quite possibly not terrorists (they could be criminals) not only in the tribal areas but also in Balochistan. In fact, the hidden story is that under the guise of such operations, the army has been targeting the Baloch people. This saves them from any possible scrutiny of disappeared persons in Balochistan. So instead of `dump and kill` policy, the army has adopted a straightforward `shoot and kill` policy in Balochistan, and in some parts of the tribal areas.

The question which the army needs to be asked is whether such “operations“ have done anything to deter terrorists from challenging the authority of the Generals. The repeated assaults on Lahore are a clear pointer that the Generals have failed to measure up to the terrorists they claim to have defeated. Their skulduggery is also exposed by another simple deduction. The army and other security agencies for instance, have been claiming that several thousand militants have been arrested in Punjab but there has been no evidence of even one of them being tried and punished in any court of law, leave aside the anti-terrorism courts run by the Generals.

There are even more chinks which the Generals are trying to hide. Pakistani media reports have quoted intelligence reports from their security agencies to indicate the possibility, an alarming one, of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) members working with the global terrorist group, Islamic State (IS).  Though the army has been denying the possibility of even IS getting a foothold in Pakistan, there have been media reports which pointed at the increasing “footprints“ of IS in several terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

With terrorist attacks mounting in the heart of Pakistan, the Generals are now finally admitting that IS could find a foothold in the country ; this is one of the objectives of Operation Khyber IV. It is also an admission of failure on the part of the army in keeping terrorist groups like the IS at bay. The fact that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and many of its offshoots, active in Punjab, have since long claimed allegiance to the IS was enough of an evidence to have been taken seriously. Perhaps the army did and many of its still-born and failed operations could have been triggered this fear. But since the Generals had to protect their “strategic assets“, read the Haqqani Network in the tribal areas and the LeT-JeM combine in Punjab, besides a cluster of extremist groups, they went and killed the innocent Baloch and Pakthun men who had nothing do with the IS or TTP.

But the enemy, if the Generals had chosen to notice, was not very far from their comfort zones, right there in Punjab. In fact, there is almost unanimous opinion among those who track militancy in Pakistan that it is in south Punjab, home to LeT and JeM, “ with thousands of seminaries and a history of having provided foot soldiers to militant and sectarian outfits for decades, now offers a promising opportunity for the Islamic State to strengthen its network in the region.“

But then, it is too much to expect from the Generals to go after their proxies—it will be a nightmare for them, feeling handicapped without their “dogs of war“. Attacks like Lahore and deaths of a few hundred, or even thousand, Pakistanis are only but a small price to pay for the Generals to rule the country from the safety of their plush villas.