By: Adnan Adil
Surge in terrorism is manifest in five horrific suicide attacks that killed more than 160 people during the last three months. Lahore and Parachinar were drenched in blood twice this year while one attacked was carried out at Sehwan Sharif. Lahore has been on high security alert for several months.
It is evident that despite military operations, Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasad, terrorists still possess formidable capacity. They have logistics, means of transporting ammunition, capability of penetrating far ends of the country, and above all they have motivated manpower to give life in the way of their mission. The military campaigns in the northwestern tribal region did eliminate lot of terrorists but not all of them. Those survived have moved to neighboring districts of Afghanistan and set up their bases there.
Thousands of Afghan nationals live in Lahore and constitute a challenge for the security agencies. When the police started collecting information about them by checking the identity cards meant for legal Afghan refugees, Pakhtun politicians started raising hue and cry against this action. True, most Afghans are peaceful people, but among them are also the ones who aid and abet terrorist activities. Given the gravity of security threat, law-enforcement agencies have the right to check credentials of foreigners. To eradicate terrorist networks and those providing logistical and other support to bombers, the issue of illegal Afghan refugees needs to be sorted out.
A major factor behind unabated terrorism is the perennial issue of police department’s poor capacity. It is incompetence of the police that terrorists carrying arms and ammunitions could travel vast distances within the country without being intercepted by the security services. The Lahore police have proved to be incompetent at interdicting suicide bombers. The Punjab Police and the Counter-Terrorism Department received two red alerts during the two weeks prior to the April 5 bombing but could not prevent the attack on the census team on Bedian Road in Lahore. The same was the case in February when the bombing took place on The Mall amidst high threat level.
The April 5 attack occurred when the officers of the Punjab police were publicizing their new olive green uniform substituting the grey one that cost the provincial kitty billions of rupees. In these difficult times, the Punjab police would have better spent these funds on beefing up its intelligence and other urgent operations. To keep an eye on suspicious activities and track down terrorists we need more police officials in plain clothes at the street level. Human intelligence is the best way to foil terrorist plans.
Even the available police force is mostly dedicated to the elite’s protection. The Punjab Police have become more a political force than a professional one. More police officials are busy in doing security duties for the rulers and guarding their houses and offices than providing safety to general public. For example, more than half of the Lahore police force is deployed on VVIP and VIP duties. A year ago, a new Dolphin force was created with much fanfare and a huge budget but a large number of so-called Dolphins are deputed on the protection of high government officials.
The seriousness of the government in combating terrorism can be seen from the fact that only two convicts of death penalty in terrorism cases were sent to gallows after the APS attack and the announcement of the National Action Plan; all other executions, more than 400, pertained to either army-related cases or murders not related to terrorism. The reason is that after two terrorists were hanged to death, a militant sectarian organization issued death threats to the rulers in case more executions were carried out. The rulers caved in and stopped the execution of death penalties to the rest languishing in death cells.
This also explains why security establishment takes down suspected terrorists in so-called police encounters. The suspects of the Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Lahore massacre were killed last year and this year the suspects involved in the bombing on The Mall has recently been bumped off in a so-called exchange of fire. In 2015, security agencies had shot dead sectarian-jihadi Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) leader Malik Ishaq along with his two sons and 11 colleagues in a suburb of Muzaffargarh. Police and the normal criminal justice system have failed in either convicting terrorists or carrying out punishments given to them.
Without making the police department independent of political interference and organizing it on professional lines, it cannot effectively combat terrorism. In the fight against terrorism, a holistic approach is missing the cost of which the people are paying with their lives.