A suicide attack at a hospital in Balochistan on Monday, which killed at least 70, has yet again exposed the complex nature of terrorism in Pakistan and the fault-lines in its war against terror.
Bilal Anwar Kasi, a prominent lawyer, was gunned down on Monday morning as he was on his way to work. Later a suicide attack took place outside a hospital as scores of people had gathered to mourn Kasi’s death.
A splinter faction of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed to carry out more such attacks. Interestingly, the Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Quetta attack, primarily points to two things: There is an increasing rivalry among terror groups to establish supremacy, and it is ironic for the Pakistan government to condemn terror attacks when terrorists often roam freely within the country.
It is not uncommon for different terror groups to claim responsibility for an attack. There were multiple claimants for the 2014 Wagah border bombing. As seen in neighbouring Afghanistan, there is a growing fight among terror groups in Pakistan to establish supremacy. The Monday attack, if carried out by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, is a sign that the outfit can operate in a deadly manner even after its leader Omar Mansoor was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan in July. The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is known to pick soft targets — its attack on a Peshawar school in 2014 and on churches in Lahore in 2015 and this March prove this.
The Islamic State is trying to increase its presence in the country and a Quetta-like attack cannot be ruled out.
A reason for terror groups spreading has been Pakistan’s double-faced response to terrorism. The Pakistani establishment speaks about combating terror and defeating such forces while at the same time lending space and supporting jihadi groups — groups whose ideologies often align with the State’s position. And that’s no coincidence. Speaking from both sides of the mouth has made Pakistan an unreliable ally on the war on terror and has misled the world about its true intentions.
In March, after a Taliban attack outside a local court in Charsadda killed 17 people, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that for Pakistan “fighting the war against terrorism is the moral obligation” it was necessary for “a peaceful tomorrow for the country and our future generations”. But without concrete actions these words have little resonance.
Moreover, his silence towards some terror leaders and groups exposes his earlier statements as hollow. During the recent Saarc home/interior ministers meet in Islamabad, terrorists were out on the streets protesting, barely a few kilometres from the venue. Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, a designated terrorist by India and the EU, was seen leading the protests in Islamabad. Then there is the question of Islamabad and Rawalpndi shielding Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed.
In an ideal world, after an attack like the one in Quetta, one would expect Pakistan to act responsibly, to act tough on terror groups and ensure the safety of its people. But the Balochistan chief minister, Sanaullah Zehri, has blamed India’s Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) for the attack. Blaming India has been the easiest and laziest route the Pakistani establishment takes to divert public attention from blaming its failures in combating terror.
If Pakistan is serious about eliminating the threat terror poses, it cannot cherry-pick terror groups — it cannot nurture some and attack some. Then US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, bluntly put across this message at a press conference in Pakistan in 2011: “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”