From the apex judiciary in Kabul to the provincial legislature in Lahore, the militants have in the span of a week targeted the pivotal organs of putative democracy in a volatile swathe of South Asia. And the change in labels scarcely conceals the calculated malevolence. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a relatively little known outfit that is linked to the Pakistan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for Monday’s blast that ripped through a rally in the vicinity of the Punjab assembly, killing 16 and wounding at least 83 people. It is a measure of the severity of the carnage that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief and no less, has stepped in to instruct the local military commanders ~ Lahore is the headquarters of a corps ~ to assist the civilian authorities in rescue operations and arrest those responsible. Neither the military nor the police have thus far been able to track down the culprits. Much as Gen Bajwa is said to be in favour of civil-military cooperation, the intervention by the highest level of the military has somewhat overshadowed the efforts of the Punjab government, helmed by Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of the Prime Minister. Both the Nawaz Sharif administration and the Rawalpindi GHQ must be acutely aware of the Intelligence failure despite alerts advanced on 7 February in the immediate aftermath of the outrage near the Afghan Supreme Court. Both the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and the Pak Rangers had warned of a possible terrorist attack in Lahore. It has materialised, after all. Indeed, NACTA had even directed that all vital installations, including important buildings, hospitals, and schools be kept under “strict vigilance”. It is hard not to wonder whether the outrage signifies a civilian failure to respond suitably to the red signal that was flagged by the military. Palpably enough, GHQ is not convinced with the Punjab law minister’s assurance that maximum preparations had been made after the threat alert was received.
The lesson cannot but be unnerving to the authorities. The Pakistan Taliban and its affiliates are far from subdued despite the offensive carried out by the army during the previous Chief’s tenure, the purported negotiations with the moderate factions of the insurgents, and the rough-and-ready justice meted out by the military courts… as often as not even without a fair trial. Of course for the past few months, Pakistan, unlike Afghanistan was relatively free of mortal fundamentalism.
On Monday, Lahore has emitted the signal that for every militant killed ~ or hanged ~ two are born. The capital of Pakistan’s dominant province of Punjab is now under emergency. “Terrorism isn’t a novelty for us. Our story has been one of constant struggle against its grasp and a fight for the soul of Pakistan,” was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s rhetorical response to an ugly truth.