The butcher’s bill


The butcher’s bill

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Symbolism is as important to terrorists as the body count resulting from their attacks, and in the devastating bombing of the police lines mosque in Peshawar this week, an atrocity that has claimed close to 100 lives thus far, the terrorists have drawn blood on both counts.

Consider the target: the police lines area is named after Malik Muhammad Saad Khan, a courageous police officer who was martyred in 2007 in a suicide blast during Muharram. The Mosque where the attack took place has seen hundreds of funeral prayers for police officers who were killed in the line of duty, the vast majority of them victims of the same terror that struck the mosque itself. And while the butcher’s bill is still being tallied, it is already clear that this is one of the deadliest terror attacks in the history of Pakistan; It is a knife thrust into the heart of the very structures meant to fight terror, as the headquarters of the counter-terrorism department, the Elite police force, the Special combat Unit, the Capital City Police and the Frontier reserve police are all in this area.

A short distance away is the Chief Minister’s house, the governor’s residence, the KP assembly, the corps commander’s house, the Serena hotel, the Peshawar high court and the provincial secretariat. When General Faiz was Peshawar Corps Commander, he established a NACTA-style intelligence center in the Home Department, reportedly at the cost of billions of rupees. That office is still not functional, as per local journalists. 

For terrorists to successfully strike in such a place, in broad daylight and with full impunity, means that each and every one of these systems had to fail in unison.

Zarrar Khuhro

This was a high security zone which ordinary civilians could not access with ease; of the two routes leading in, one contains no less than three check posts – complete with scanners — you have to pass through, and the area is monitored by CCTV cameras capable of face-recognition. 

For terrorists to successfully strike in such a place, in broad daylight and with full impunity, means that each and every one of these systems had to fail in unison.

But then, failure is something we are used to just as we are used to the empty platitudes doled out by politicians and security personnel after every such tragedy; they talk of resolve while shifting blame, they talk of resilience and faith so often and so insincerely that the words are rendered meaningless by empty repetition. All we are left with are empty metaphors and impotent analogies.

For the rest of us, there is the hopeless feeling that we have returned to the carnage of the not-so-distant past without having learned a single lesson or worse, having forgotten the lessons learned. Those of us who saw those days remember the fear, the anger and the confusion. We remember the apologia, the obfuscations and the justifications. 

It’s worse this time around because this is a cancer we thought we had beaten. We had suffered through pain, blood and fire to get here and now we see that very malignancy return with a vengeance. Worse yet, it’s not back just because we stopped the treatment and reverted to our old lifestyle. No, we went a step further and tried to negotiate. We tried peace talks with our cancer, ended the treatments as a goodwill gesture, tried to resettle its cells in our body, ignored its slow metastasis and now we are shocked – shocked– that it has spread once more.

There’ll be worse to come. With a secure base in Afghanistan and seeing absolute chaos in Pakistan, the TTP and its affiliates will strike again and again. Having learned their lessons far better than the state of Pakistan has and being flush with money and cutting-edge weapons as a result of the chaotic US withdrawal, the terrorists have a coherent narrative aimed at dividing opinion in Pakistan and preventing any consensus against them. In this they are helped by a polity that is constantly at each other’s throats, strategic planners who threw away victory in pursuit of a mirage and a public whose much-trumpeted ‘resilience’ has long been exhausted. 

- Zarrar Khuhro is a Pakistani journalist who has worked extensively in both the print and electronic media industry. He is currently hosting a talk show on Dawn News. Twitter: @ZarrarKhuhro

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