The shameless act of bombing the Ziarat Residency of the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and brazen suicide and gun and grenade attacks in Quetta, which left many girls and government officials dead, have come as an eye opener for the administration that has been harping on the out of tune chorus of talks with the terrorists. The astute Interior Minister of Pakistan, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, however, felt the enormity of the situation and gave the much needed statement to tackle the miscreants with iron hands. He immediately flew to Quetta to demonstrate his resolve to tackle the odious terrorism head on unlike the jugglers of bygone days, who used to see a foreign hand in all such attacks perpetrated by homegrown militants. Earlier on, the persistent official overtures to hold peace talks with terrorists were not only a righteous attempt aimed at providing relief to the peace-starved public, but also a good tactic to expose the terrorists’ intentions to carry out their heinous activities. But the government was, probably, a bit too serious about talks and had a skewed thinking that terrorists could be contained through talks only. Rather the untimely display of desire to talk with terrorists was counterproductive. Had the government kept the track record of past peace agreements with these elements in view, it could be seen with half an eye that talks alone would never work. Out of context example of successful talks with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was being given with great confidence. It was not realised that phony advisors were not looking at entire British strategy that made IRA crumble; that too after three decades of struggle. The British strategy against the IRA was multi-pronged; negotiations just one part of it that fluctuated as per rise and fall of the IRA. The British intelligence agencies and civil LEAs employed all tactics, harsh and tough, to annihilate the IRA campaign. After the Quetta carnage, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has strongly hinted at adopting tough policy to tackle the militants. Surely, once he goes back to his office, he will summon his aides to formulate strategies according to his vision. But before that, he will like to peruse the report of the carnage. In his new found seriousness and sincerity, he would not be misled by discreet words and sugar-coated conclusions to note that the sad incidents at Quetta strongly point fingers towards the utter failure of the intelligence and the police. It cannot be denied that the intentions, capabilities and even the identities of terrorists were not unknown to intelligence and the police. This was not the virgin attack. Quetta has been bombed and bruised repeatedly. The carnage just exposed once again the conspicuous chasms in the coordination between the intelligence and the police, which is a glaring cause of the failure to pre-empt and prevent the latest incidents. It is unfortunate but true that the police does not own counterterrorism as its job and mandate. They consider themselves as the crime controllers only. Some police officers have been clinging to the notion that terrorism is a passing phase, which would soon be over, therefore, much attention is not paid to it. They may not be very off the mark in thinking on these lines, since they have not been tasked and made answerable in any counterterrorism strategy. Rather there is no national counterterrorism strategy at all, which would task them to tackle it and take them to task for not doing it. Intelligence has a major role in countering terrorism, but it is equally disoriented and placid. The uptight government might like to take stern action in retaliation to the Quetta incidents, but it is better to realign our security priorities and organisations before reacting harshly without any proper strategy in place. The problem is that despite facing terrorism for so many years, we still do not know how best to respond to terrorism like the incidents in Quetta. The lack of coordination and weaknesses among our intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be reviewed, plugged and replenished to fight a pitched and protracted battle. It is only possible when we have a well thought out national counterterrorism strategy that could enable us to take the bull by the horn in a planned and sustained manner. The national counterterrorism strategy would require lot of introspection, but it has to be formulated swiftly, as it will require massive changes in approaches, policies and organisations that might take some time to be made operational. The existing arrangements have miserably failed to address and counter suicide bombings, gun and grenade attacks, hostage taking, etc. Appallingly, the Quetta carnage has reminded us of not only our dismal capacity to counter these activities, but have also ignited the fear of unprecedented escalation in terrorism or even catastrophic terrorism, involving use of unconventional weapons and methods that can shatter us economically, socially and politically. Furthermore, with the level and nature of terrorism changing rapidly the critical infrastructure is in greater danger, which needs renewed and reinforced protection. Thus, the counter-terrorism strategy must be comprehensive, coherent and realistic enough to cover all four corners of the threat, take all departments on board, make them part of the battle and assign them clear-cut responsibilities to fight on all fronts.The reconstruction and restoration of the Quaid’s residence at Ziarat till August 14, 2013, will send a message of our resilience and renewed vow to stand united against all odds. More importantly, the murderers of innocent girls and government officials must be brought to book by then. Let the Quetta carnage be the starting point of a united struggle against the terrorists till they are vanquished on our soil.

The writer holds Master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security from War Studies Department, King’s College London.