You hit us in Swat and we’ll kill you in Lahore and Peshawar. That’s the message Taliban strikes sent to the people, government and army of Pakistan. And, there’s no doubt in our minds, if the military operation intensifies, Pakistan’s cities will be major targets. Lahore has been hit three times in as many months. On Thursday, four persons were killed and over 30 wounded in attacks in Peshawar. The March strike on the Sri Lankan cricket team close to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore was intended to send the signal that Pakistan is a dysfunctional State, which should be avoided by international sporting teams. Yet again, in March, recruits at the Manawan police academy, a little outside Lahore, were attacked in an early-morning attack. Striking at the city police chief’s office as well as that of the ISI on Wednesday, like in the case of Manawan, seems part of a plot to cripple Pakistan’s security establishment.
When militancy began in Jammu & Kashmir, the first targets of the ISI-backed militants in the Valley were the local police and intelligence operatives. What the ISI tried in Kashmir has now come to haunt them in their own land. As tanks roll in and artillery booms in Swat and other parts of northwestern Pakistan, General Headquarters in Rawalpindi must make a distinction between the ‘show’ and actual operations. In the first and final analysis, dealing with militancy and terrorism is a police job. In Pakistan, you can argue that militants are armed to the teeth and a larger dose of firepower is needed during the initial stages. But howitzers can’t be a substitute for boots on the ground.
Every operation against militancy must limit civilian casualties. You don’t want more suicide bombers emerging from the families of those who have suffered at the hands of the security forces. Pakistan needs to do more to secure its people and installations in Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and NWFP. If this is a fight to the finish, more attacks can be expected from the Taliban, which has brazenly claimed responsibility for the death of nearly 30 persons. Army operations against the Taliban will automatically empower the people of Pakistan in resisting the militants. There is a wide spectrum of Pakistanis who want to live under the country’s constitution, not under some version of an Islamist wild west. The army seems to have joined the battle. It must stay the course.