The terrorist onslaught

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has embarked upon a concerted campaign of actions to weaken the state. Apart from attacks on the army, security forces and citizens, it has particularly focused on the anti-polio drive. One day after three anti-polio workers were killed in Karachi, the terrorists switched their attention to the security detail on its way to be deployed on protection of the polio vaccinators in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The toll of the bomb attack on their police van was six policemen and a child killed, 11 others injured. In Bhakkar district, Punjab, a polio vaccination team was attacked by militants. Fortunately no one was killed, although a lady health supervisor and her driver were injured. To understand why the anti-polio drive is attracting the unwanted attention of the terrorists of late, it is not enough to refer to the earlier explanations of the terrorists regarding the vaccination campaign as a cover for spying (the Dr Shakil Afridi affair should be kept in mind) or a western conspiracy to make Muslims infertile. As a tactical manoeuvre, it make sense to the terrorists to target the polio campaign since it helps highlight Pakistan’s dubious status as one of only three countries still polio-endemic (along with Nigeria and Afghanistan). The World Health Organisation has come out with a devastating report that describes Peshawar as the world’s largest reservoir of the poliovirus. The perception globally that militancy and terrorism are causing the Pakistani polio campaign to falter, if not fail, encourages the terrorists to redouble their efforts so that Pakistan is cast into a pariah status, implying travel bans and perhaps worse. The bad press Pakistan is accumulating on this score could vitally damage Pakistan’s image and bring on sanctions on health grounds that could have a crippling effect on Pakistan’s ability to function internationally. While Karachi bleeds and burns because of its plethora of terrorist, political and criminal militias engaged in targeted killings, the police raid in Qayumabad area of Karachi seeking the killers of the polio workers killed the other day evoked an outcry from residents since the sweep netted over a hundred people, most probably on suspicion rather than evidence. The police justify the action by arguing that the killers may have come from the area or definitely had local help in targeting the polio workers. However, the indiscriminate and wide scope of the dragnet suggests the police are shooting in the dark. Despite the announcement by the polio workers after the deaths of their colleagues that they would not work unless provided adequate security, the Sindh government has reiterated its commitment to continuing the anti-polio drive. Commendable as the statement is, the government must soberly examine the risks to polio workers and make proper arrangements to keep them safe. After all, the polio ‘front’ is now part of the anti-terrorist struggle.
While knowledgeable observers have been arguing since this government took office that the terrorists must be taken on without hesitation or delay while keeping the door for negotiations open, the opposite has been in evidence. The government still seems to be hoping against hope that its talks strategy will bear dividends, despite the lack of a partner to talk to or any sign of one emerging. Maulana Samiul Haq, charged with persuading the Taliban to come to the negotiation table, has used the excuse of the bombing in North Waziristan the other day that killed 40 terrorists including foreign fighters to announce his withdrawal from a mediatory role. The Maulana’s heart clearly bleeds for the terrorists killed in the bombing, but not for the victims of the terrorists. So much for such ‘mediators’. Even Imran Khan seems to have been compelled by developments and the criticism mounting against his party and KP government for its almost exclusive focus on talks as the only panacea to declare that the PTI will be with the army when the time comes to mount a military operation. Someone needs to inform Imran that that time has not just arrived, it is past due. In the same breath, Imran has scored points against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for not taking his party on board whether the talks strategy has failed and a military operation is impending. Again, someone needs to inform the PTI chief that the talks strategy never got off the ground and if a military operation is being contemplated, it needs to be kept secret, particularly from a party that has made no bones about its sympathies for the Taliban. Slowly, gradually, inexorably, circumstances are forcing all the ‘talkers’ to a recognititon that the terrorists only understand the language of force. Without employing it, the state will continue to appear supine and at the mercy of the butchers.  *

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Aaj Kal