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Pakistan Today Editorial – 28th March 2016

Lahore attack

More black days

With almost 60 confirmed deaths till the time of writing, and most of the hundreds injured fighting for their lives, Sunday’s attack is already one of the worst of this long war, especially for Lahore. The CTD had been on a bit of a roll recently – taking out terrorists up and down the country – but it seems Punjab police left a little to be desired regarding security of vulnerable public places. That people throng to parks across Lahore on holidays is well known; yet Iqbal Park was without even minimum security. It had no guards, according to press reports, even the walls were without mandatory barbed wire, and there were no CCTV cameras.

That is precisely why the official machinery’s initial explanation is unacceptable. The DIG and DCO simply said such attacks cannot really be ruled out in such wars. While that is partially true, government officials do not look good falling back on such excuses when they have not put minimum deterrence protocols in place. True, the country has come a long way since Zarb-e-Azb. But when war-time preparedness is such that the enemy can simply walk into a public place filled with women and children – with almost 10kgs of explosives – and blow himself up, the government has much to answer for. The chief minister was nowhere to be seen throughout the crisis – apart from announcing the three-day mourning, of course – and it is little surprise that the military had to be called in.

Things are not much rosier in Islamabad, where law enforcement agencies were again caught off guard as the mob rampaged through the city, setting fire to a number of containers as well as a metro station, besides injuring a good two dozen police and Rangers officials. There, too, the military had to be called in to put a lid on things. The political government has been repeatedly reminded of its inability to implement NAP in letter in spirit. Sunday provided yet another confirmation of its being behind the curve, as usual. It must pull its act together otherwise its negligence will cause the people to suffer more black days.

Rouhani’s visit

An opportunity that could have been much more

President Rouhani visited Islamabad at a time when the Middle East is facing destabilising terrorist threats and the Gulf is reeling under the impact of shrinking oil revenues while Iran has emerged as an island of stability with a great economic potential. Top Western leaders and representatives of multinational companies are visiting Tehran to benefit from the opportunities offered by the lifting of the sanctions. Pakistan which has the advantage of being a neighbour should have been the first to gain from the situation.

As Nawaz Sharif had already visited Iran thrice during his present tenure, one hoped he had understood the need to upgrade Pak-Iran relations at this juncture. In view of the importance attached to President Rouhani’s visit, it would have been more politic if the news about the arrest of the Indian spy who had entered from Iran had been withheld till after the visit. That the news was made public just two days before Rouhani’s visit indicated a conscious effort to synchronise it with the event. That an Indian spy had entered Pakistan from Iran was no doubt a serious matter. The best way was to hand over the issue to the FO which would have taken it up at the proper forum with better results than produced by the untimely announcement. The rest of the damage was done by the ISPR tweets which led to denial from Rouhani regarding any discussion with Pakistani leadership on RAW’s involvement in Balochistan. There is a need to realise that diplomatic matters should better be left to cool headed diplomats.

Rouhani had talked about helping in the development of the economic infrastructure of Pakistan and fulfilling its total energy needs. The visit which could have produced better results ended up in an exchange of fraternal rhetoric with little substance other than a joint task force to strengthen security, efforts to expand mutual trade to $5 b in five years and increase in the supply of electricity from Iran.

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