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EDITORIAL: There have clearly been enough terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the last five or six months to prove that we are at war again. Yet the lack of clarity about the terrorists behind the bomb blast in Lahore’s Anarkali bazaar on Thursday is strange, to say the least.

It was promptly claimed, on social media, by a new terrorist entity — the Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA) — that was formed after the merger between the so-called Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) and the United Baloch Army (UBA), yet Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid still claimed on a TV show later in the evening that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had taken responsibility. Either way, we’re told that intelligence agencies are hard at work and more will be known when they finish putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Regardless of who exactly carried out the most recent attack, there is now a feeling that in all the time that terrorism seemed defeated in Pakistan, and then when the government tried pursuing talks with TTP, it was the state, more than the enemy, that took its eye off the ball.

Most security analysts predicted that the loss of patronage, and the chaos, that came with the return of the Taliban to Kabul would force TTP and its splinter groups to stage attacks inside Pakistan. Yet Islamabad still preferred, for some reason, to give Kabul’s advice of negotiating with TTP a chance. And it is now turning out that TTP used that time only to sharpen its knives and give final touches to its plans for Pakistan.

Even if some Baloch separatist outfit did carry out the latest hit, it does not change the fact that TTP is still the greatest security threat for the country. If anything, it should worry security agencies about a possible tactical alliance between the two. That’s why the government’s strategy of dealing with TTP is also becoming a worry.

First, we asked the Taliban to deal with them. Then, we banked on their assurance that no outfit would be allowed to use their land for terrorism elsewhere and gave their advice of talking to TTP a try. But we’ve heard very little about the state’s strategy since TTP unilaterally ended the temporary ceasefire that was agreed for the talks and began attacks in Pakistan. And even though the Taliban aren’t exactly honouring their promise of keeping all militias on their side of the border in check, the Pakistan government continues to go out on a limb to lobby for aid and recognition for them.

Since we have all seen the vicious cycle of violence that TTP was able to unleash in Pakistan from its base in Waziristan and its hideout across the Durand Line, and remember very well the kind of sacrifices it took to eventually crush the enemy, we also know just how quickly these scattered attacks can once again snowball into a full-blown insurgency.

Let’s not forget that almost the entire country’s population is reeling from the high prices and low wages of the country’s broken economy, and more terrorism and uncertainty leave us vulnerable to not just bombs and bullets, but also terrible economic and social capitulation. That ought to make the government, and the military, move with far greater urgency than they seem to be at the moment.

It’s also being said that the success of earlier military operations against TTP made stakeholders wrap the whole thing up without fully implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) that was hammered out in the immediate aftermath of the Peshawar school catastrophe in 2014. And one of its key features was facilitating greater intel-sharing between the dozens of agencies that litter the security landscape.

The reason was that since different agencies pick up different sorts of chatter, piecing them together in time can prevent things like smuggling bomb parts into any one place, etc., and make deterrence more effective.

As security agencies hunt down the perpetrators of Thursday’s hit, they must also revisit the finer points of the NAP. They must, in short, do whatever is necessary to nip this evil in the bud before any more Pakistanis are sent to early graves.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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