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EDITORIAL: The two back-to-back bloody incidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are a horrific reminder that terrorism remains a core issue in this country. On Sunday morning, two retailers belonging to the Sikh community were shot dead, one inside his shop and the other outside his shop by two motorcycle riders in a suburban locality of Peshawar, not far from the troubled Bara area of Khyber tribal district.

Grieving over senseless killings and worried about their community’s security, many staged protest demonstrations carrying national and black flags and placards, demanding justice and “protection to religious minorities.” The evening before that outrage, three soldiers and as many children, aged between four and 11 years, were martyred when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Mirali tehsil of North Waziristan district as a security forces’ vehicle passed by.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for either incident. However, IS-K is believed to be behind targeting of the two Sikhs. Last October, it took credit for murdering a Sikh hakim.

According to media reports, the police were investigating whether the attack was retaliation for a police operation a day earlier in which two terrorists, an IS-K commander and mastermind of the recent suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Koocha Resaldar of Peshawar, was killed along with a would-be suicide bomber.

Regarding the Mirali tehsil incident, it is worth noting that for a while there has been a significant reduction in attacks by TTP militants on security forces amid reports that the Afghan Taliban had mediated a truce between Pakistan and the terror outfit. In fact, TTP is said to have warned its fighters via a letter “not to violate the decision taken by the central command.”

The suspect in the latest attack could be some TTP splinter group. Not without significance is the fact that the TTP has had a close working relationship with different terrorist groups, including the Afghanistan-based IS-K. Many of its disaffected members are known to have joined the latter group. It would not be surprising, therefore, if the perpetrators of the two latest acts of terrorism are linked.

Deeply disturbing as the killing of Sikhs has been, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, KP Chief Minster Mahmood Khan, as well as civil society groups have expressed shock and horror urging the police to arrest the killers, also vowing not to allow anyone to disturb interfaith harmony. But Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah chose to use the tragic loss of life to criticise the opposition PTI government in the province, accusing it of “failure to protect minorities”.

The issue needs to be seen in its proper context and addressed accordingly. The tribal districts of KP – until not long ago the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - served as the operational base of TTP and some other terrorist groups before they were ousted in military operations. They took refuge in the neighbouring Afghan provinces, from where TTP militants kept launching cross-border attacks.

Various violent extremists still have their facilitators and handlers of suicide bombers in those areas, and beyond. The police, frequently targeted by these anti-state and anti-people elements, cannot be expected to deal with them on their own. What is needed is a joint effort by all civil and military agencies with a focus on intelligence-based action, across the country, against violent extremists of all stripes.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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