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Reassessing the attack

Last week’s attack in Lahore, killing 26 people, exposes the vulnerability of the city to terrorism

Reassessing the attack

The July 24 terror attack off Ferozepur Road in Lahore killed at least 26 and injured nearly 50. The suicide bomber struck while a number of government officials, along with law enforcement contingents, were evacuating encroached fruit and vegetable market at one of the busiest points on the Ferozepur Road.

The place was not far from the official residence of the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, and the party secretariat of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). The attack was so intense that the city police chief confirmed the death of nearly 24 people, including nine policemen, within half an hour of the tragedy. A private close circuit television (CCTV) footage aired on electronic and social media showed people panicking after the blast with dead bodies lying on the road, and many vehicles damaged severely.

The official CCTV cameras installed in the area were not functioning at the time of the attack, according to police investigations.

This was the third terrorist attack in Lahore in 2017. On April 5, two terrorists targeted a military van guarding a census team, killing at least six and injuring several. Earlier, in February, an explosion outside the Punjab Assembly killed at least 13 people including two senior police officials when they were negotiating with the protestors, pharmacists, to end the strike.

The latest attack in Lahore occurred a few hours after a suicide blast in a private university in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing more than 30 people. Both countries claim that Taliban groups on the other side are behind terrorism on their soil, blaming the  military establishment of both countries for backing these terrorist groups. Kabul has witnessed the worst bombing in recent months. A day after the university blast, Afghan Taliban in an attack on military base in Kandahar, killed more than 24 Afghan soldiers.

In the current situation, more attacks are feared in big cities like Lahore, which has been witnessing a couple of major terror attacks for the past many years.

According to media reports, two different versions of Taliban claimed responsibility for the July 24 attacks in both the countries — the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Lahore and Afghan Taliban in Kabul. Contrary to the previous attacks in Lahore and other parts of the country claimed by Jamaat ul Ahrar, a TTP faction claimed the  last two attacks in 2017.

Law enforcement agencies report that a new group of TTP is carrying out attacks in Lahore. The ‘Taliban Special Group’ has trained suicide bombers and well-entrenched network of local facilitators, the Punjab Counterterrorism Department believes.

“It often happens that a Taliban attack or blast on one side of the Afghan border is followed by another one on the other side of the border,” says senior journalist and analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai.

He says there are intelligence reports that some terrorist groups held a meeting in Afghanistan’s Paktika province and some attacks were planned for Pakistan. While, “some sections of forces and intelligence agencies believe these attacks in Pakistan is a reaction to Operation Khyber-4 by Pakistani forces in tribal areas next to Afghan border,” he adds, continuing that in the absence of a new US policy for Afghanistan, Pakistan does not have a clear strategy.

“Also, the militants are able to attack places like Lahore because they have local facilitators. With less number of attacks in the past several months and because of political issues, attention on the National Action Plan (NAP) seems diverted. The government seems less focused on NAP in the current political situation,” says Yusufzai.

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After the attack. Photos by Rahat Dar

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who inquired after the injured victims a day after the attack, held a high-level security review meeting – to unearth connections between terrorist masterminds and their facilitators.

In the security review meeting, while discussing recent exchanges between Pakistan and Afghanistan regarding the presence of militant groups on each side, the army chief stated: “Concurrent blasts in Kabul and Lahore are a testimony of Pakistan’s stance that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are victims of terrorism and will continue to suffer if these actors are able to use Afghanistan’s territory with impunity.”

He reiterated that Pakistan is ready to help Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist safe havens in their border areas.

“It is difficult to say that the Monday attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan are inter-linked because I think tit-for-tat takes time for planning, identifying target and execution. But, primarily, this situation of terrorism remains very much part of proxy war that Pakistan is caught in,” expresses political and security analyst Imtiaz Gul, adding that according to Pakistani intelligence agencies India is also part of this proxy via Kabul.

“There is realisation of the issue within the military establishment but elected government is paralysed at the moment and there is no implementer of policy or strategy and military itself cannot do this. So long as we have apologists in parliament advocating religious ideologies, local networks and facilitators are no surprise,” says Gul.

In the current situation, more attacks are feared in big cities like Lahore, which has been witnessing a couple of major terror attacks for the past many years.

In 2016, a terrifying attack on Easter Sunday at the entrance of one of the busiest public parks killed more than 80, including many women and children, many from Christian community. In March 2015, terrorists hit two churches in a Christian-majority locality Yohannabad in Lahore, killing more than 15 people. Earlier, in February 2015, a blast outside Police Lines in the city took at least five lives and injured many. In November 2014, a suicide bombing at the Wagah border after daily flag hoisting ceremony on the Pakistan side, took more than 50 lives.

In previous years, terrorists and militant groups targeted public places, minorities’ worship places, police stations, elite force training schools, armed forces, offices of Inter Services Intelligence and Federal Investigation Agency, killing scores in these incidents, including many law enforcement personnel, mainly policemen.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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