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Daily Times Editorials – 25th March 2016

Brussels attacks

A series of attacks in Brussels has once again jolted the world leading to a heated debate over the security situation globally. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. Two suicide bombers, brothers, have been named by Belgian government as the main suspects, while a massive manhunt is underway for a third suspect seen in the CCTV footage shortly before they struck Brussels’ airport in the first of the two attacks, one at a metro station, killing 31 people and wounding 261. Governments in Europe and beyond quickly responded to the Brussels attacks, calling emergency national security meetings and stepping up controls at airports and other sensitive sites. People around the world have also shown solidarity with the victims of the attacks. It has been confirmed that at least one alleged attacker is still on the loose as investigators race to piece together details about the attackers behind Tuesday’s deadly bombings in Belgium’s capital: were these men acting alone, or were other members of a terror cell supporting them? Raids, arrests and forensic analyses are some of the tools investigators are using to get to the bottom of who was behind the attacks in Brussels.

With pressure mounting on Europe to improve cooperation against terrorism, signs are growing that the Belgium government failed to address security lapses that might have contributed to Tuesday’s bombings. Reportedly, the European Union had told Belgian authorities to remedy gaps in their border security just weeks before suicide bombers attacked the Brussels airport and a metro station. The attack on Belgium’s capital is sadly a part of a pattern that has been repeating itself in several countries around the world in recent months. Fears are growing that no place is safe from the reach of terrorists. It is a horrible situation that needs measures on a war footing. There is no need for the IS to reach the lands of its opponents physically, as reportedly, it employs the help of its native affiliates to let loose hell in any part of the world. There is no room for complacency. What governments can do is to take preventive measures to thwart these terrorist attacks. In order to prevent such attacks, security agencies need to employ better intelligence mechanisms, and more effective sharing of information to tackle this common enemy. Moreover, unity at the international level is necessary to defeat these terrorists who are using religion as their shield and justification. Terrorism has become a common issue and global challenge that needs to be addressed using an international platform to defeat the threat of militancy.

Terror in KP

Bands of unidentified assailants claimed four lives, including two police officers and a former intelligence official, in separate episodes of violence in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The two policemen, Muhammad Imran and Muhammad Faisal, were shot at near the agriculture workshop on the Dera-Bannu Road, Dera Ismail Khan, on Wednesday, while on their way to perform security duty at the Horse and Cattle Show. In an isolated incident, a retired regional director of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Abdul Latif, was attacked by gunmen on motorcycles in Hayatabad, Peshawar, on Tuesday, while going to meet his relatives. Latif, a professor at the Qurtaba University, had retired from his post at the ISI three years ago. The ex-ISI director was to soon fly to Afghanistan to assume the position of dean at a Mazar-e-Sharif university. Even though no group has claimed responsibility for the murder yet, police forces are suspecting it to be a case of targeted killing with a strong Afghan link. In addition, a shopkeeper was killed in a similar manner in Shabqadar area on Tuesday, according to local officials.

In the wake of such incidents, the security forces are being heavily criticised for a continuous failure in dealing with the spiking rate of targeted killings as well as extortions in the country. Lawmakers have already expressed concern over the deteriorating law and order situation by repeatedly discussing the issue of killings of political and religious workers. In addition, an increasing number of local families are also facing threats of extortion money from unnamed agencies, according to police sources. Haji Haleem Jan, a trader in Peshawar, allegedly became a victim of these gangs recently when he was killed in his own shop over his non-compliance to demand for money.

The law-enforcing agencies seem over-exhausted, having had to offer security to major educational institutions, hospitals, and private and public sector offices in the province, following the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. In such arduous times, when not only prominent landmarks but also members of security forces, religious elders of Shia communities, eminent journalists and other high-profile leaders are under a constant threat, posed by extremist forces, police officials appear ill-equipped to counter the growing violence in the province.

The armed forces in Pakistan should be applauded for claiming significant successes in the remote areas. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has resulted in a phenomenal success against militants in Pakistan, killing almost 3,400 terrorists, according to a tweet by Inter-Services Public Relations Director Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the major cities in Pakistan are still not safe from episodes of violence. The risk posed by these activities to the masses is greatly intensified by the inadequacy of rescue forces, for which both provincial administration as well as agencies is to be blamed. Even though the vigour with which Pakistani army is combating the callous extremism prevalent in Pakistan is worthy of much praise, many miles still need to be covered to ensure Pakistanis remain safe from the forces of militancy.

Two parades

On March 23, the occasion of Pakistan Resolution Day was passionately celebrated throughout the country, and various organs of the state came out in full force to mark the national holiday and lead the festivities. March 23 is always an opportunity for both the state and the people to assert their patriotism, delineating what the term connotes for them. Given that definitions and understandings of abstract concepts vary from person to person, or even institution to institution, it is to be expected that the celebrations to mark the date on which the idea of Pakistan was first properly articulated would be equally varied in their orientation. Consider, then, the stark contrast, in terms of both form and content, between two of the most prominent parades organised on the date.

The first Pakistan Day parade under consideration was held in Islamabad and was attended by members of the federal government and the leadership of the army, with President Mamnoon Hussain being the chief guest. A majority of the parade consisted of military showcasing its strength. There were flypasts of the air force, as well as streams of soldiers, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, military engineering equipment, air defence systems, drones, telecommunication hardware and ballistic missiles on show. The military-heavy parade also flirted with representing the cultural aspects of Pakistan, with the main showpiece being a model of a floating restaurant in Dar Lake, which is situated in Kashmir’s Indian-held region. Following these displays, the president took to the stage and delivered an expansive speech that was consistent with the tone and theme of the events preceding it. The speech had pointed messages for Pakistan’s neighbouring India and assorted ‘enemies’, in addition to being full of vociferous praise for the capabilities of the army.

Meanwhile, at the same time in Lahore, the city where the eponymous Pakistan Resolution was passed, a parade of an entirely different nature, called Azam-e-Pakistan (greatness of Pakistan), was held that celebrated something more inherent to Pakistan’s identity than the strength of its arsenal. In this parade, there were songs, dancing and exhibition of different cultures and heritage of Pakistan’s diverse areas. From a parade of horse carriages to one of auto rickshaws to a fireworks programme, anything that could be considered a part of Pakistani culture was on display. In other words, it was an occasion that simultaneously paid tribute to many different people, traditions and practices — both modern and ancient — present in Pakistan while still bringing much needed joy to the people of Lahore. This is what national holidays ought to feel like, especially those that are meant to celebrate the ideology and creation of Pakistan: to move away from an overly militarised and jingoistic worldview towards a celebration of diversity and harmony.

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