To defeat terrorism, Pakistan must stop coddling Islamic extremists for political ends
Easter attack in Lahore that left dozens dead, many of them children, shows the futility of trying to play both sides of the game
Aconflict has reached its barbaric worst when one side deliberately kills the most vulnerable of the other. Christians in Pakistan celebrating Easter would not expect Islamic militants to strike at such a time and certainly not at a playground in Lahore, the country’s cultural heartland and political stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Yet that is the time and place a suicide bomber from a Taliban splinter group chose to set off explosives, wreaking a horrific toll that has rightly been condemned the world over. Promises by authorities to defeat extremism have been repeated, but the half-hearted approach taken so far is no longer acceptable.
Dozens of people, 29 of them children, were killed. From a terrorist standpoint, there could not have been a softer target: families in a holiday spirit having fun together, threats far from their minds. Two churches in Lahore were hit by explosions last year, but most of the country’s extremist violence is in northwestern border areas with Afghanistan. Without an apparent threat, there was minimal security oversight and as a result, devastating consequences.
The Muslim-majority country has been plagued by militant violence since it joined with the US in the fight against Islamic extremism in 2001. The army, police and the government have borne the brunt of the attacks, but militants have in recent years been increasingly turning their attention to civilians. The Pakistani Taliban caused outrage in December 2014 by killing 144 students and teachers at an army school in Peshawar, prompting the leadership to draw up a 20-point national action plan against extremists. There have since been hundreds of arrests of suspects, but no let-up to the unrest; Sunday’s tragedy was the worst since the students’ lives were so senselessly taken.
Ridding the country of extremism is not so simple, though. The military and successive governments have used militants as a counterbalance to India and to push foreign policy interests in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Extremist Muslim groups like al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State have caused complications and the creation of factions with political, sectarian and anti-Christian missions. They get funding from overseas and weapons across the porous Afghan border.
Promises of a crackdown are meaningless without resolute action. Working with other governments to cut off the militants’ support is a start. But turmoil will continue until those in positions of power stop making use of extremism to attain goals.