The terrifying Peshawar attack seemed, in many ways, like deja vu all over again – devastating death toll, desperate pleas by the hospital for blood for victims, terrified survivors marking themselves safe, and helpless families trying to locate the bodies of their loved ones. The world may be moving forward, but Pakistan seems to still be stuck in a limbo where sounds of explosions are, unfortunately, more frequent. On Monday (January 30), Peshawar shook with fear when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque. Estimates suggest that scores of people have been killed in the carnage which took place in a highly secured area. A day later (on Tuesday night), terrorists attacked a police station in Mianwali. Thankfully, the situation was brought under control, with no injuries to the police officers present. Even though the TTP denied involvement in the Peshawar attack, it was quick to verify that it was behind the Mianwali attack. Officials from Punjab say that smugglers bringing goods from Darra Adam Khel in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) frequently use this route. The attack in Punjab is an example of what analysts had been saying for some time: that the TTP’s resurgence will not remain limited to KP and that the group has all the potential – and resources – to wreak havoc in major cities and urban centres of the country.
Our political class seems to finally be waking up to a reality people from KP had been highlighting for some time. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that we need to combat terrorism and the TTP even more strongly. The PPP’s Senator Raza Rabbani has also requested for a joint parliament session to draft an anti-terror policy. Questions have also been raised on the highly contentious decision to enter into talks with the TTP during the time of the previous government. It is widely believed that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan only ended up strengthening the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan must now learn from its past and realize that deals and talks with the TTP lead nowhere. We also now need to take stock of whatever security loopholes led to such a devastating attack. How was a suicide bomber able to enter the area with 12-16kgs of TNT? CCTV footage has suggested that the attacker was in a police uniform. Could this have been a reason for the security failure?
Now that parliament has taken up the matter, we need a new pact involving all parties, preferably including the PTI, on how to combat terrorism and how to put together a plan to do so. Strategies formed in the past such as the 2015 National Action Plan have not been owned in their entirety. The latest chain of events shows that something has to happen and that policies aimed at appeasing the TTP will not work. Which is why a NAP 2.0 is needed – one that keeps ibn mind all the lessons learnt but also ensures that it doesn’t remain relegated to paper alone, and that any new government that takes over after any election does not ignore this one document. The state of Pakistan must realize that for far too long have voices of concern from the peripheral areas of the country been ignored. Instead of gaslighting them, listening to them is important. How many police officers must lose their lives before the terror threat is taken head-on?