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July 12, 2018

Familiar terror


July 12, 2018

The militancy menace has affected every Pakistani in some shape of form. Tens of thousands have been killed and injured in militant attacks; many more have had to live with the sorrow and anger of losing their loved ones. Few have had to sacrifice as much as the ANP’s Bilour family. In 2012, senior party leader Bashir Bilour was killed by the TTP in a suicide attack in Peshawar. Now his son Haroon Bilour and 19 others have also lost their lives after a suicide bomber targeted an election gathering in Peshawar on Tuesday. Once again it is the TTP that has claimed responsibility. The ANP has had to pay a terrible price for supporting action against militant groups. Hundreds of its members have been killed in militant attacks, most of them coming in the months leading up to the 2008 and 2013 elections. That severely curtailed the party’s electioneering activity back then and contributed to its heavy defeat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is difficult to see how democracy can survive or political parties function effectively where their leaders are systematically assassinated from time to time, decimating the structure of parties and their ability to carry on political campaigns. The election for the provincial assembly seat for which Haroon Bilour was running has been postponed but it leaves a question on how anyone who is in the crosshairs of militant groups can expect to campaign knowing they could be targeted at anytime.

Last week, the National Counter Terrorism Authority had released the names of political leaders it believed are potential targets for militants during the election campaign. But the horrifying truth is that virtually every politician is a target. For all the successes we have had in the war against militancy, groups like the TTP remain a potent threat and there is nothing they prefer more than high-profile attacks like the one on Haroon Bilour. It is the responsibility of the state to provide every election candidate with the same level of security without playing any favourites. Even more important is that it show a zero tolerance policy towards militants and their ideological allies. Extremist parties with a sectarian agenda and even those suspected of militant ties have been allowed to take part in the elections. This gives them space to propagate their hateful message and draws recruits to the militant cause. Being sanctioned by the Financial Action Task Force wasn’t enough to finally wake us up to the severity of the threat. Extremists could shut down the capital for months but they were appeased and their demands heard. The killing of Haroon Bilour needs to be the final straw.

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