On Friday, the enemies of Pakistan launched coordinated terrorist attacks in Quetta and Parachinar (two places that have become all too familiar with the sounds and sirens of terrorism), killing 63 people and injuring dozens of others. As is now customary in the aftermath of such attacks, the Islamic State and Jamat-ul-Ahrar (a splinter group of TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks. And our corrupt leaders (from all political parties) tendered their disingenuous token condemnations.

However, despite five dozens coffins having been interred into the earth, on this Eid weekend, there has been no talk (amidst our political elite) about the National Action Plan and its (failed?) implementation. In fact, after a brief interlude of ‘Breaking News’ concerning this tragedy, most of our media chatter also went back to Panama Leaks. And almost instantaneously, in Pakistan, the sensationalism of politics trumped all concerns of human agony, security failure, and institutional responsibility.

Why is terrorism, and our failure to acknowledge it as the foremost issue of our age, such a repetitive phenomenon in Pakistan? Despite khaki successes (mostly as a credit to Raheel Sharif), why has there been no real implementation of the National Action Plan by our civilian government? Why are we, as a people, eager to ignore terrorism, each time a (juicier) political issue appears on the horizon? Why are we still fragmented in our understanding and approach to terrorism? Why do we continue to resist calling all forms of violence – be it political, sectarian, or religious – as terrorism?

In Pakistan, terrorism is a multi-headed dragon; one that cannot be killed with a single swing of the sword. Over the course of the last three decades, we have deluded ourselves as to how deep and entrenched the scrooge of terrorism festers in our society. Hiding behind the nomenclature of ‘sectarianism’, ‘provincialism’, ‘wahabism’, and a pristine image of noble ‘mujahideen’ fighters, we have avoided calling terrorists by their name. And for this reason, above all – this inertia towards confronting all forms of militancy as terrorism – over the past many years we have struggled to devise and implement a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that acknowledges the various heads of terrorism, and attempts to eradicate each on its own turf.

In broad strokes, terrorism activities in Pakistan can be bucketed into five distinct categories: 1) religious and ideological terrorism against the State of Pakistan (e.g. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State); 2) religious sectarian terrorism (e.g. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi); 3) sectarian/provincial warfare (militant wings of MQM and Baloch Liberation Front); 4) Cross border militant outfits (e.g. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba); and 5) the apparatus of religious, social and ideological intolerance (e.g. Lal Masjid and other hate-spewing madrassahs).

Any talk of a comprehensive national counterterrorism strategy must incorporate a State and societal offensive against each of these categories.

After a long and murky history of duplicitous State policies (such as ‘doctrine of strategic depth’) and brittle political will (which was all too eager to kneel at the altar of religious rhetoric), in the aftermath of the unprecedented horrors at Army Public School, Peshawar, it seemed that political will had caught up with the resolve and might of the then army leadership. Consequently, for the first time in our history, there seemed to be a real possibility of forging and implementing a sustainable and effective national action plan to forever expunge this cancer of militancy from our collective souls.

This national action plan, which effectively is a noun for counterterrorism strategy, was articulated to extend far beyond the military action in our mountainous border regions. It required the elusive ‘political will’ to be brought into action.

However, under the tainted leadership of Nawaz Sharif (which continues to nurture despicable individuals such as Rana Sanaullah) this political will has been almost entirely caught in that mousetrap we call Panama Leaks.

During the past three years, owing primarily to the steel resolve of General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan military has focused its efforts on fighting two kinds of terrorist outfits: first, operation Zarb-e-Azb (now Radd-ul-Fassad) against the religious and ideological militant outfits, based mostly on the Pak-Afghan border; and second, against political militancy in the urban sprawl of Karachi. While these efforts of General Raheel Sharif were commendable, his three-year tenure did not allow enough time to complete the job. To this end, despite the killing of Malik Ishaaq, our law enforcement agencies have not yet expanded the arena of war against terror in a manner that includes sectarian terror outfits.

Unfortunately, under the leadership of General Bajwa, there seems to have been no palpable uptick in counter-terrorism operations. Despite the capture of Kalbushan Yadav and Ehsanullah Ehsan (who was presented as a ‘reformed’ militant during the ISPR press-conference), there has been no tangible surge in military operations.

The initial talks of a search and combing operation, across Punjab, were quickly hushed by the Punjab government. And till date – despite attacks on Wagah Border, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Mall Road and Bedian – the repulsive Law Minister of Punjab is on the record for having said that there are “no militant networks in Punjab.” In fact, the (un)worthy Minister is on the record for having had close ties with Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and (the late) Malik Ishaq. And to make matters worse, who can forget the time that Chief Minster of Punjab asked the militant not to carry out attacks in Punjab because ‘Punjab Government was not against them’. In fact, dilating upon PML-N leadership’s implicit support of sectarian militancy, the Quetta Commission Report, authored by Mr. Justice Qazi Faez Isa, also elaborated on how the Interior Minister had resisted banning sectarian militant outfits, and seemingly enjoyed cordial relations with Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, leader of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ).

In the circumstances, is there any surprise that the PML(N) leadership could not care less about terrorism… and are focused entirely on getting another lifeline from the Supreme Court in Panama Leaks case. In fact, I would reckon that if there was some way that PML-N’s success in Panama Leaks case could be tied to their effectiveness in countering terrorism, our country would be rid of all forms of militancy, before the honourable Court gets around to making a decision.

It is not that we do not have the weapons and soldiers to fight terrorism. It is not that we do not have the manpower and technology to wipe out these dastardly creatures. It is simply that we do not have the political leadership that is willing to sever its own ties with these militants. We do not need our political leaders to launch a crusade against terrorism (that would be too much to ask); we just need them to get out of the way, and stop providing refuge to those who sympathise with terrorists, so that our institutions can carry the counter-terrorism effort to its logical end.

And so, on this Eid, let us pray for the souls that were lost in these (and other) terrorist attacks. Let us pray for their families, and for the injured. And, above all, let us pray that we find the democratic and constitutional courage to rid ourselves of all such political leaders who remain sympathetic to militants in our land. Ameen.


The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.