Lahore Is Lahore now a front line in the war against militancy? Yet another devastating strike against a security target yesterday would appear to suggest so.
But with so little known for certain in this murkiest of wars against the most shadowy of enemies, it is exceedingly difficult to say with any certainty what lies in store for the Punjab capital — or indeed other towns and cities across the country — in the months ahead. Here’s what the balance of evidence suggests, notwithstanding the almost pathological, knee-jerk denialism of many politicians and officials: the militants, most likely the TTP, are striking back against the state where they can to avenge the losses they have suffered in the tribal areas, both from Pakistani military operations and American drone strikes. But it isn’t clear whether these are the last dregs of militancy or whether the militants are adapting and evolving into a terrorist threat hiding among urban populations.
What is clear, though, is that the state is nowhere near prepared enough to take on the threat in the cities. The orgy of violence that has engulfed the country since roughly the time of the Lal Masjid operation in 2007 has now gone on for almost three years. The state has done some things right — the very fact that secretive intelligence groups have been targeted by the militants suggests they are seen as a threat — but it has done so at a pace that is too slow and with results that are certainly inadequate. The biggest problem appears to be a matter of mindset: approaching the militancy problem in Punjab as a narrow counter-terrorism issue rather than a wider counter-insurgency. What this means is the focus is entirely on tracking and killing or capturing the enemy attacking the state. Everything else is secondary or incidental. In reality, however, there is a thriving infrastructure of jihad and extremism in the province that the ‘bad’ militants can tap into and exploit when they need to.
What precisely has the state done about shutting down that infrastructure of hate? Clearly, with a sub-optimal state and an inefficient administration, there was simply no way violence could have been driven to zero, or near to zero, in the face of a threat from a determined foe. But it is certainly possible that violence could have been much lower if the state had acted forcefully against the gamut of groups and individuals preaching hate and violence and in many cases covertly, or even overtly, supporting the militants attacking the state. It’s time the state began to dismantle that infrastructure of jihad.