University attack a blow but resolute Pakistan on course

Opinion Saturday 23/January/2016 14:53 PM
By: Times News Service
University attack a blow but resolute Pakistan on course

The linear conclusion to draw from the shocking attack on the Bacha Khan University in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is that Pakistan is far from done in the war to nix terrorism.
It also makes light of sweeping claims made about winning this war by both the civilian and military leadership, including Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, who,notwithstanding his outstanding contribution, declared at the beginning of the New Year that 2016 would be the year when the menace is wiped out.
A familiar refrain is about having “broken the back” of terrorist networks: go back to the archives and you will find even Rehman Malik, the former interior minister in the Pakistan People’s Party government, making such claims until the party’s term ended in 2013!
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also resorted to the same mantra at the World Economic Forum in Davos just one day after the latest chilling episode. All this was being said whilst making the usual pitch for foreign direct investment with a reading of improved economic indicators and conducive environment!
The university attack, which was reminiscent of the horrific assault on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, brought the death toll to 61 in five militant attacks in the first 20 days of January.
While General Sharif has ledthe ongoing military operation to root out terrorism with credit, the alarming resurgence this month alone offers no small chastening experience. It’s going to be a long haul as was suspected and there should be no two opinions about it now.
The second such attack on an educational institute perhaps, calls for rethinking the old paradigm. Pakistan has traced back the route to safe havens that militants enjoy in Afghanistan with General Sharif speaking to the top Afghan civilian and military leadership for necessary cooperation.
Since the APS attack was also hatched from Afghan soil, it’s a cinch a strong message would have been delivered after the army chief dialled Kabul.
But Islamabad needs to go beyond that as Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English broadsheet, suggested editorially last week.
“Quite simply, the time has come for Pakistan to stop merely talking about better border management and demanding the eradication of militant safe havens in Afghanistan, and get serious work done on both fronts,” the paper wrote as it called for turning the page. “Fifteen years since a new war came to Afghanistan is a long enough period to force some change. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has always been porous. But must it remain so?”
The attack on the university named after Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (nicknamed Bacha Khan) — a great pacifist whose 28th death anniversary was being observed at the time when it happened — cannot be easily bracketed with other militant attacks even though all innocent lives lost are just as precious.
Pakistan has still not fully recovered from the emotional scars of seeing schoolkids as young as six butchered by the Taliban in broad daylight at the APS last winter. To be sure, the first anniversary of the attack last monthreignited old wounds, with a broad sweep of emotional current evidentwhen the PM vowed again to avenge every drop of bloodshed!
The university attack therefore, assumes greater significance in the national psyche. The pain and horror finds an immediate and easy connect withparticularly those parents sending their children to an educational institute. It is not too difficult to imagine the sense of insecurity following a second successive attack, and mere suggestionsthat such assaults are a ‘last gasp reaction from terrorists on the run’ does nothing for their confidence.
If at all, a report oncasualties and frequency of educational institutes hit by terrorism from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at the University of Maryland (US), should be chastening. With 450 fatalities, Pakistan tops the list, followed by Russia with 361 in the period 1970-2014. It also trumps every other country with 850 attacks so far that mostly damaged infrastructure (before the military drove out the Taliban from Swat valley in 2009) and hits taken in urban centres. According to the GTD, 60 per cent of all such attacks in South Asia in the past four decades have taken place in Pakistan!
But while these statistics round off 2014 and do not serve as an absolute barometer for the present — there has been considerable overall improvement in the security situation since — it does call for the singular need to relentlessly pursue the bad guys and modify strategies where needed (since terrorists are increasingly zeroing in on soft targets) till the ends are achieved.
Pakistan has indeed paid a heavy price for fighting the terror war on the world’s behalf. The battle is now for its own integrity and soul; hence the need to resolutely stay the course.
• The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad.