Mar 25, 2009

Militancy on the march

It could have been much, much worse. But for the extraordinary bravery of a police guard, Monday’s suicide attack in Islamabad may have taken a far heavier toll. A fearless constable, Faysal Jan, lost his life as he grappled with the assailant but probably saved many others present that night at the headquarters of the Special Branch police. In the end the death toll was limited to Faysal himself — and of course the suicide bomber.
The police department owes the deceased constable a huge debt of gratitude, as does the nation as a whole. Monday’s incident was the first suicide attack in the federal capital in four months but across the country such bombings occur every other day. We have in our midst both local and foreign fanatics who are bent on mayhem. Taliban militias are gaining strength in some areas and the enemy is closing in.
Unable to dictate terms, the state is capitulating and striking deals with militants from a position of weakness. It is the Taliban who are calling the shots, not the government or its security apparatus. Little wonder that there is no stopping the march of militancy which threatens to butcher our core values. According to recent intelligence reports, some 20 foreign militants, most of them Uzbeks, have been dispatched by Tehrik-i-Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud to carry out terrorist strikes in major cities. Needless to say, ceaseless vigilance is required if catastrophe is to be avoided. Suicide attacks must necessarily be prevented in advance, for thwarting a bomber once he has reached the scene of the crime is next to impossible.
All available police resources should be diverted immediately to monitoring suspicious movement and intercepting potential bombers and other attackers. One option: the police posses placed at the disposal of VIPs, largely for the latter’s self-glorification, need to be stripped to the bare minimum and put to better use. Intelligence-gathering efforts must also be boosted. The challenge ahead is daunting in the extreme. There are disturbing reports that the rocket launchers and explosives used in the attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team were standard-issue weapons used by Indian forces. If true, these findings suggest that genuine regional cooperation in the fight against militancy and terrorism may still be a distant dream.
Finally, a word on the Pakistani political scene. It is encouraging that the country’s two main political parties seem to be pulling together in the name of stability and national harmony. But political stability is not an end in itself and neither is power-sharing or the allocation of ministerial posts. True cooperation will be evident only when the major players unite to tackle the principal problems facing the country. Militancy and the causes behind it head the list.

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