It was a revisiting of the scenes of gruesome death and disconsolate weeping that we were beginning to forget. A young suicide bomber wreaked havoc in Pakistan again detonating 25 kg of explosives among a crowd who had come to see the India-Pakistan flag ceremony on a Sunday evening at the Wagah border.
The blast left 61 people dead and injured more than 200 others, providing another grim reminder of extremism’s heartless ways and its twisted understanding of life and politics.
The attack, claimed by three splinter groups of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was supposedly a reaction to the Pakistan army’s operation Zarb-i-Azb, which has been pursuing militants in North Waziristan in recent months. Militant groups have targeted the Pakistan military for years but the fact that they would choose the site of a nationalist ceremony underscores the disconnect between the Pakistani state and extremist groups within its borders.
The suicide bomber was intercepted around 350 metres from the international border, some distance away from Indian visitors witnessing the ceremony. But it is not inconceivable that the bomber wanted to inflict damage on the Indian side too and potentially set off a fresh India-Pakistan crisis. A wave of successive suicide bombers could have certainly created more carnage.
This is the reality that the Pakistani political and military leaderships have to contend with. Terrorists are an existential threat to Pakistan and they continually sap the nation’s confidence. And seeing war as an instrument to achieve their apocalyptic fantasies, they are capable of creating conflict between India and Pakistan.
The Pakistani establishment must, as their liberals have been imploring for years, have a more coordinated stratergy to deal with this problem. Extremism and terrorism grew in Pakistan as a by-product of the geopolitics dating back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and their ambitions have grown internally and externally over the years. They have struck deep root in Pakistani society, developing powerful networks and allies, and are thus politically difficult to eviscerate.
Pakistan’s leaders must, however, reckon that their country faces no greater danger. A piecemeal strategy to suppress extremism’s violent manifestations will simply not be enough. Tough political decisions have to be taken now to secure the country’s future and there has to be a concerted effort to counter the conditioning that generates and recruits radicals.
Islamabad must see all jihadis as enemies of the state; it must be willing to sacrifice the short-term strategic utility of some militant groups for the sake of investing in the country’s future. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly expressed his shock and condemnation of the attack. Empathy must not be a casualty of candour.