Pakistan’s Easter tragedy highlights failed state status

Pakistan’s Easter tragedy highlights failed state status

Pakistan’s latest terrorist attack merely re-confirms that Islamabad’s decades of dabbling with jihadists is coming back to destroy the country.

The gruesome attack in Lahore on Easter Sunday is sadly one more instance of the heinous crimes perpetrated by radical groups in Pakistan. Even though the fatalities from terror attacks have come down last year, the threat posed by the alphabet soup of Islamist outfits continues to pose grave danger to the stability of the Pakistani state and the safety of its citizens; particularly its religious and sectarian minorities.

Decades of radicalism

Pakistan is a veritable tinderbox. What the world is witnessing today is an outcome of decades of radicalism nurtured by a state that has been struggling to establish an identity since its tumultuous inception seven decades before.

For decades, the Pakistani army unleashed a proxy war against India using jihadist groups. The war in Afghanistan opened up a new phase of terrorism in Pakistan, as the tribal regions in the hazy border with Afghanistan rose in revolt. Even as Pakistan’s role in countering terrorism in Afghanistan remains suspect, the operations that it took to secure its tribal regions from Pashtun nationalism resulted in heavy civilian casualties.

A new terror outfit called Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) comprising thirteen tribal groups rose to prominence in 2007, primarily demanding an end to operations in Waziristan. The TTP grew in strength as it expanded its reach to all four provinces in Pakistan, establishing local chapters. It was involved in several terror attacks, including on Pakistani defence force installations, raising concerns about the possibility of sympathisers inside the forces. Despite these attacks, there were calls from the conservative elements in Pakistan for peace talks, which the government accepted. However, these attempts failed to takeoff as the demands made by the TTP were anything but acceptable.

Pakistan’s self-inflicted wounds

The Pakistani army launched a major counter-offensive called Operation Zarb-e-Azb in July 2014 to eliminate the TTP from the restive tribal regions. More than 50,000 troops were committed, which were aided by targeted airstrikes. The official claim is that close to 3,000 militants were killed, which is difficult to verify as independent media was not allowed to cover the operations. Moreover, most of the leadership of the TTP has moved across into Afghanistan. Around the same time the massive counter terror operations were launched, a faction split from the TTP to form the Jamaat-al-Ahrar (JA). Like other groups, the group aims to overthrow the Pakistani state and establish Sharia rule.

After the heinous attack on the army public school in Peshawar in December 2014, the federal government formulated a 20 point National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism. These included the removal of a moratorium on the death penalty, army supervised special courts, a proscription of extremist groups, and countering the crime-militancy nexus in the commercial capital Karachi. More than a year later, the amount of terror attacks did go down. But the attacks on Shias and Christians have continued unabated. Last year, the same group attacked a church in Lahore killing dozens of people.

In a country where Islamic fundamentalism was sown into the sociopolitical structures, the ability of the state to effectively counter and terminate terror networks becomes very difficult. As there are innumerable groups and extremist leaders heading them, factions and names have become meaningless in Pakistan. Terror networks and their bases are present in all provinces, including Punjab. Despite claims by JA, the attack on Easter Sunday should not be considered as the handiwork of one faction or group. The Jihadist factory instituted by the Pakistani army to bleed its neighbours with a thousand cuts is now excoriating the nation from within.

Two recent events convey the state of affairs in Pakistan. Three weeks before the Easter attack, nearly 100,000 people attended the funeral of a former security guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged after convicted for assassinating the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer. Qadri killed Taseer as the Governor wanted to liberalize the blasphemy law. The second event happened two days after the horrific attack in Lahore.

The video confession of an alleged Indian spook caught in Balochistan was staged to deflect public attention from the failure, yet again, of the State to counter the enemy across the border. Unless the Pakistani army changes its policy of using jihadist groups as instruments to pursue its geopolitical interests, and until there is comprehensive reform in social policies, Pakistan’s fate as a state will continue to hang in the balance.

About Author

Sundar Nathan

Sundar is currently a contributing analyst for IHS. Prior to that, Sundar was a project member at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. He also worked at the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy where he helped launch a comprehensive study of urban governance in India. He has a Masters in International Public Policy from University College London.