Explosives packed with ball bearings, nails, iron filings, etc ripped through the families gathered in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore to celebrate Easter Sunday on March 27, taking more than 70 lives (including 29 children) and 300 injured, among them an unusually high number of women and children. Claiming responsibility for the horror, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said it had targeted Christians “celebrating Easter”. The irony was that those killed and injured were mostly Muslims. If an “intelligence alert” about suicide bombers targetting soft targets had not been ignored by the Provincial authorities, this tragedy could possibly have been prevented.
The horrific slaughter underscored the fact of proper security arrangements not being in place. Notwithstanding such acts of terrorism having decreased considerably because of “Operation Zarb-e-Azb”, this incident raises some disturbing questions about our commitment for rooting out the large militant presence in the Punjab. To quote my Jan 3 article “Resolutions for 2016,” “The grey area about PML (N)’s commitment to root out those practicing and/or feeding the terrorism in their own backyard must be dispelled in public perception. PML (N) must not falter in eliminating terrorism at its roots even though the campaign may encroach upon their own preserve,” unquote. Can a small fraction of the billions being spent on high profile transportation projects in Lahore be diverted towards providing CCTVs and other essential security related equipment for the safety of the people?
Rampaging sympathizers of the former Punjab police commando Mumtaz Qadri, hanged last month for murdering Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, went berserk ransacking Islamabad. The hoodlums damaged public and private property without any resistance from law enforcers, how did they get into the “Red Zone” in the first place? The situation could have been pre-empted from going out of control. The Army and the Rangers were called out to protect sensitive buildings and installations, clearing the protestors is the work of the police, luckily the matter was resolved before it could spiral into anarchy. On the other hand the government is reluctant to allow the Army and Rangers free rein in the Punjab, even after the Lahore tragedy.
The provincial govt has failed to act against more than 60 banned groups active in Punjab. Fearing the presence of terrorists groups, influential political elements in the Punjab nevertheless depend upon them for their electability in their constituencies. The Sharifs fear that an operation against militant groups could possibly destabilize the Provincial govt. Terrorists have no qualms about killing soft targets like women and children without mercy or discrimination. If members of a popular government support and/or placate/appease terrorists, our democracy which is already a farce becomes a curse.
Senior members of the govt were strangely silent about the Indian Intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) arrested by security forces in Balochistan. Kulbushan Yadav was “handled” directly by the National Security Advisor Ajit Duval, the RAW Chief and the Joint Secretary RAW. Having extensive contacts with separatist groups in the Balochistan province he was specially tasked to disrupt development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), particularly targetting Gwadar port while directing terror activities in Balochistan and Karachi. Despite Yadav’s confirming being a serving Indian Naval officer (he will retire in 2022), the Indian Foreign Office blatantly claimed he was a retired Navy officer on his own. Yadav’s pointations led immediately to the arrest of at least 13 more of his accomplices involved in acts of terrorism, sectarian clashes, etc. Yadav’s high profile has given credible evidence about RAW’s interference in Pakistan. India regularly accuses Pakistan for supporting terrorism through “non-State actors”, given that such a senior officer could not be sent without approval of the Indian PM, what about “State-actor” Yadav? Spying for the Soviets Lt Col Abel was caught by the FBI in the US in 1967, the Yadav “smoking gun” is the most high profile spymaster caught in any country in nearly 60 years. We must showcase Yadav forcefully at every possible forum to reinforce the evidence about India using terror as a means to destabilise Pakistan.
My article in the Pakistan Army’s GREEN BOOK 2014, “Achieving National Security through Democratic Dispensation” states, “In a situation where Pakistan’s security is threatened by a weakened state, bad governance, rising militancy and multiple other problems, the idea and practice of ‘democracy’ surely needs to be updated and adjusted to ground realties, amended so that it improves the governance of the country, restores the rule of law and enables the institutions of the state to function effectively, in particular the government and the military, to cooperate more efficiently coalescing the development of an effective working national security concept that both are able to implement jointly. The caveat is that the Army must put in place an effective check and balance mechanism, so that those who come to right the wrong things don’t themselves end up doing the wrong things,” unquote.
A few months ago, Corps Comd Karachi Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar emphatically stated a hometruth, calling the politicians and political govts “incompetent and failures”, and going on to say “we are living in defining times and failure is not an option. We must act decisively to translate our policies into meaningful and coordinated tangible measures that can lead to a stable environment secure from fear, extremism and militancy with a firmly established writ of state and rule of law.” A clear message that anyone crossing the failsafe line to criminality must be held accountable.
The deaths of 75 innocent people triggered the Army’s unilateral decision for an operation in the Punjab. A number of suspected terrorists and facilitators were arrested during the initial five raids conducted and then subsequent operations in Lahore. Faisalabad and Multan after the Lahore blast, among them 2 RAW agents on Yadav’s pointation from a sugar mill in Punjab. From his body language and demeanor sitting next to ISPR Chief Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, Federal Information Minister Pervez Rasheed reflected the government’s acute discomfort about both the Army’s action and the RAW discovery. Why? The operation must continue relentlessly to root out the menace of terrorism, with or without government sanction, with paramilitary Rangers given extraordinary powers similar to that in place in Karachi for more than two years. Given the nexus between corruption, organized crime and terrorism a cleansing operation in the Punjab against the criminal and the corrupt, whoever they may be, is the “now or never” moment for eliminating the barbarians inside the gates.
(The writer is a defense and security analyst).