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August 21, 2016

The Quetta tragedy: a wakeup call


August 21, 2016

The Quetta blast deprived Balochistan of the cream of its educated people, many of whom had the intention and the potential of playing important roles in politics at the provincial and national levels.

Almost half the lawyer community was wiped out in that blast; a blow of devastating proportions not easy to forget or to recover from in the near future. One does not have the heart to mention the long-term consequences that it will have for the wives and children of those who lost their lives.

The tragic incident demonstrated that the country is still vulnerable to acts of terrorism despite all claims by official quarters to the contrary. What happened there belittled the argument that intelligence-based operations have brought acts of violence under control, in Balochistan in particular.

Although the tragedy saddened everybody in Pakistan, being directly affected the people of Balochistan felt the shock much more than any of us. It was against the background of the people of the province still reeling from its effects that Mehmood Khan Achakzai, chairman of the Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PkMAP), a veteran politician well-respected for his honesty and consistently principled views, raised his voice in the National Assembly and demanded stern action against those responsible for the negligence that cost the nation this tragedy.

Achakzai thereby articulated not only the views of the bereaved families but also those of tens of thousands of others in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata who had suffered similar tragedies earlier. His speech also hinted for a probe into formulation of the policies that led to the creation of non-state actors who have now become out of control and are responsible for such tragedies. It is a great pity that for some reason his full speech was not allowed to be telecast to the public. Had the full text been made public selected extracts would not have been taken out of context and this distinguished parliamentarian unjustly demonised.

Instead of trying to understand or appreciate what he had said, some TV anchors and self-proclaimed analysts lent controversy to his statement and even went to the extent of calling him an enemy agent and traitor. One wonders who has given these people the right to issue certificates of patriotism or otherwise. Others started demanding penal action against him. That prerogative lies solely with the state, one it does not exercise without proof. Common sense demanded that restraint should have been exercised rather than jumping to irrational conclusions.

According to media reports, on a petition being filed, Achakzai is being summoned by the Election Commission of Pakistan for action against him for making that speech. It makes me sick that such shoddy dramas are being enacted for cheap publicity – or to please those working in the shadows. It is clearly laid down in our constitution that no action can be taken under any law for anything that a sitting member of parliament says in the assembly. I can safely predict that no harm will come to Mahmood Khan Achakzai if the commission acts according to the letter of the law.

Demanding accountability of those who are responsible for stopping would-be-bombers from entering such places is a right that cannot be denied to us. The nation has rendered lots of sacrifices and provided all possible legal and material resources that it could to security personnel all over the country. And in return it expected that possible acts of terror would be taken care of beforehand.

One is aware of the fact that no intelligence agency is perfect and the odd lapse is possible in a country not used to terrorism such as that in New York on 9/11, the attack in central London on 7/7 and more recently the blasts in Paris and Brussels. But those were one-off terrorist acts and not permitted to be repeated as effective measures were taken immediately by their governments. Ours is a different world. Here we have been fighting a war against terrorism for the last 15 years and at the same time are victims of violence that takes place regularly with impunity. This is the worst thing that can happen to a nation.

Our agencies are, no doubt, working overtime and must have averted many incidents but violence still takes place, showing the shortcomings in our system. This needs to be addressed by tightening any loopholes if we are serious about stopping this menace. Shying away from facing realities is tantamount to complicity. That should not be allowed at any cost if we have to live together as a strong nation capable of repelling all enemies, within and abroad.

This is in no way an attempt to denigrate the image of our security forces and intelligence agencies or cast aspersions on their performance; we all belong to each other, to the same state and to the same land. Belittling one is belittling the other but hiding our shortcomings is also not right. Unless we probe and identify our shortcomings we will not be able to rectify them, and only we will be the ultimate losers.

Our leaders get together only when a catastrophe strikes the nation. Then they hold meetings, repeat the usual timeworn clichés, make tall claims to eliminate militancy, constitute committees – and with that the circus comes to an end. Nothing concrete ever takes place. And after a few days this so-called resolve fades and is overtaken by another catastrophe and we forget about the previous one. And then the futile exercise of meetings, platitudes, claims starts all over again.

This is what the nation has been witnessing for the past so many years since becoming a partner of the West in the war on terror. Unless we change this attitude and give a narrative in line with policies that the public wants we are bound to make mistakes again and suffer from more tragedies.

Although the situation is still not so stable, particularly in areas near the border, we have the mammoth task of the CPEC before us to accomplish. We have to guard it against the designs of our enemies who surround us. And we can only do that if we are united in the fight against militancy, initiate genuine action on the National Action Plan, allocate national assets equally to the provinces and above all have good governance and genuine democracy. The seeds of discord and discontent that have been sown over the years have to be addressed.

Unilateral decisions are often taken in faraway Islamabad or Rawalpindi. How can a Pakhtun family sleeping under the open sky as IDPs and a Baloch family not having access to drinking water in Gwadar think like their fellow citizens elsewhere in the country who have everything available to them?

The gap is widening with every passing day and it needs to be bridged if we want to be on the same page for fighting the war against terror and other problems that are eroding the foundations of the country.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: [email protected]

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