More than 135 children were killed in the Peshawar Army Public School carnage of December 2014. The subsequent promulgation of Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) to combat terrorism, as well as the lifting of the moratorium on death penalties, has shown no sign of decreasing terror attacks throughout the country.
On January 20, 2016, the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, just 50 kilometres away from the Army Public School, was attacked. Dozens were injured, while 21 persons were reported dead. A brave chemistry teacher was all that the students had to protect them. Dr. Syed Hamid Hussain, assistant professor, died while fighting the gunmen.
Who is responsible for the lapse in security that caused 21 lives to be lost? The responsibilities start with the military as the Peshawar Army Public School was under the control of the Army and situated inside the cantonment area.
The state intelligence agencies must also take responsibility for utterly failing in their duty to protect Pakistani citizens from threats and attacks.
Despite having information ten days prior to the attack that a school would be targeted, the state failed to respond to the threats.
While Pakistan remains incapacitated, terrorists will continue to undermine the legitimacy and authority of a state groping in the dark to address this menace. Irrespective of having a heavy military presence throughout the country, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where no street is without military or paramilitary check-posts, terrorist attacks continue. In fact, there is a military check-post just 500 meters away from the Bacha Khan University; terrorists still managed to sneak into the university and fulfil their designs of attacking educational institutions.
Their strategy of “Low cost – high impact terrorism”, acts of terrorism carried out through the use of unsophisticated equipment and small arms against softer targets, usually places where the casualty rate or collateral damage will be increasingly high, cultivates an atmosphere of fear and anarchy.
How long must our children pay for the fault of the state? Merely labelling them as martyrs and naming schools after them will neither help their families, nor lessen the tenacity of the terrorists.
Within the first 20 days of 2016, Pakistan has lost 91 citizens in different acts of terrorism, and witnessed 10 bomb blasts. The state needs to urgently put its house in order; it can no longer afford to play the double game of fighting militant organizations while supporting them under the table. This duality allows extremists to penetrate government bodies, and ensures that the state can never deliver security to its citizens. Policy makers need to ask what military courts and the reinstatement of the death penalty have actually achieved: Has it broken the back of militancy? Has it curbed the tide of militarization and fundamentalism?
The government itself acknowledges that the implementation of NAP is faltering, leading to widespread public dissatisfaction. The former chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, called the National Action Plan ‘a big joke and a plan worked out just to throw dust in the eyes of people’. After the Supreme Court reprimanded the government for the non-implementation of NAP, the Interior Ministry issued a statement contending that, “there are some internal as well as external obstacles in the way of speedy progress on these issues”.
The statement does not define these issues however. The commitment of the federal and provincial governments towards eradicating terrorism can be gauged from their silence and inaction; even after formulating the NAP, no ban is imposed on organizations like Daesh (ISIS), which continues to operate within Pakistan with full impunity as the state continues to deny its existence. Sadly, Pakistan’s political leadership has yet to take complete ownership of the country’s war on terrorism.
Political will is crucial to effectively implement the 20-point NAP, to regenerate the related institutions and departments and foster coordination and cooperation among civil and military intelligence agencies. The earnest implementation of NAP, however faulty, can yield results.
The government must conduct high powered judicial inquiry in the killing of innocent children and the staff of the Army Public School and Bacha Khan University. All terrorist organizations should be banned and uprooted, and discrimination and hate speech must not be tolerated. The challenge of terrorism is indeed considerable, but it is possible to overcome through clear threat perception and a coordinated strategy.