Pakistan performed well in its internal war against terrorism in recent years, but this challenge has never been completely over for the country. Internal contradictions, coupled with the proxy war thrust on Pakistan from across the eastern and western frontiers, have kept the pot simmering. In recent months, there has been a spike in incidents of terrorism yet again, especially in southwestern Balochistan and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.
According to the assessments and predictions made by government officials and security analysts, 2021 is likely to see an increase in the number of terrorist attacks that are directly or indirectly linked with India, which is sponsoring, aiding, financing and training various fringe ethnic, sectarian and religious terrorist groups.
2021 began on an ominous note, with the killing of 11 Hazara coalminers in Balochistan’s Mach area on January 3, leading to protests in major cities like Karachi, Lahore and Quetta. Following this horrific incident, an unfortunate debate began in the country on the issue of whether Prime Minister Imran Khan should or should not have yielded to the demands of protestors, who were refusing to bury the bodies of the Mach victims until he personally visited them.
The bitter debate was fought not just on social media, but also in the traditional mainstream media. Political heavyweights, veteran media personalities and opinion-makers heaped scorn on the prime minister, the government and the state, instead of taking to task the terrorists and their sponsors.
This meaningless debate might have been good for settling political scores, but it will certainly not help in the fight against terrorism.
As the social and mainstream media ignited emotions and protestors blocked roads in the major cities, the terrorists achieved their objective of disrupting normal life, stoking fear and tension and pitting one set against the other.
The government must state, loudly and clearly, that there is no “genocide” of any particular ethnic or sectarian group taking place in Pakistan; the truth is that every community, ethnic group, sect and segment of society has borne the brunt of terrorism
While tripping over each other to knock the PM, the politicians, media veterans and opinion-makers failed to ask some very critical questions: What is the government’s immediate and long-term strategy to curb and overcome the threat of terrorism? Why has the National Action Plan been put on the backburner? Why is there an undeclared moratorium on the death penalty since December 2019 when heinous crimes, from child rape and murder to terrorist attacks, are occurring regularly? What is the government doing to reform the judicial and prosecution system, which allows hardened criminals and terrorists to get away scot-free? Is there a need for military courts, which were scrapped by the honourable parliament without creating an alternative? What is the government’s strategy to de-radicalise society and confront the homegrown challenges of extremism and intolerance, which often prove to be the precursors to violence and terrorism?
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s performance should not be judged by how many funerals he has or has not attended. Rather than demanding symbolic and meaningless gestures of the PM, he and his government should be pushed into taking those steps that really matter.
There will always be two opinions on whether the Prime Minister did the right thing by refusing to be “blackmailed,” to quote him, by politically-motivated elements within the Quetta protestors, as it would have set a wrong precedent. Yes, the government, the state and the entire nation stand in solidarity with the families of the Mach victims, who have every right to demand justice. The government, in turn, remains responsible to help them as much as possible — and that is being done, says the government. But a terrorist incident should not become a pretext to block roads and disrupt life or be used to tarnish the image of the state and hold the government hostage.
And lastly, the government must state, loudly and clearly, that there is no “genocide” of any particular ethnic or sectarian group taking place in Pakistan; the truth is that every community, ethnic group, sect and segment of society has borne the brunt of terrorism. We have to fight this challenge together by maintaining unity and discipline in our ranks, rather than turning our guns on each other. The government must play its due role by aggressively pursuing and punishing terrorists and, at the same time, establish its writ by ensuring that no one is allowed to disrupt the citizen’s daily life, on one pretext or another.