The first high profile attack against the PML-N government in Punjab in the ongoing war against terrorism has claimed the life of Home Minister Shuja Khanzada and 18 others, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Hazro, Shaukat Ali Shah, underscoring the horrid reality that no one is safe from this scourge.
From the Prime Minister to the army chief and heads of almost all political parties have expressed the resolve to pursue the terrorists to their last hideouts and eliminate them. Khanzada led the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) in his province with exceptional courage.
It was on his watch that the chief of the most fearsome sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) Malik Ishaq, his two sons, and nearly a dozen other sectarian terrorists were killed last month in a police encounter. For the last few days, he had been receiving threats from an unnamed terrorist group.
Yet on the day of his assassination, his security comprised a small contingent of the policemen. The Elite Force protecting various family members of the ruling party leaders was not there for him.
A Taliban affiliated group, the so-called Lashkar-e-Islam, claimed credit for the attack. Initial reports though said LeJ was responsible. In fact, they are one and the same. LeJ with its home base in Punjab for long has had a nexus with the Taliban.
The CoAS, General Raheel Sharif, has directed intelligence agencies to track down the perpetrators. Unfortunately, the PML-N has tolerated, had even solicited the support of, this most ruthless sectarian terror organisation for electoral purposes.
The provincial Law Minister and a close lieutenant of the Chief Minister, Rana Sanaullah, publicly defended the association as normal to access voters who may be LeJ sympathizers. Hopefully, the party leadership now realises the gravity of the situation and will do all that is necessary to stamp out all types of violent sectarian and other extremist groups operating in the province.
Physical elimination of terrorists is only one part of the challenge confronting this society. It is equally important to address the sources of trouble that include flow of foreign as well as local funds to extremist organisations.
The financial and curriculum matters of seminaries, whether registered and unregistered, need to be streamlined and curricula of regular schools purged of texts that promote social and religious intolerance in society. Unfortunately, even mainstream religious parties have been offering resistance to seminary reform.
Yet leaders of JUI-F and JI too have come under extremist attacks, surviving out of sheer luck. Also, when in the past the PPP and the ANP lost its leaders and activists to terrorism, the Nawaz League and others stayed more or less indifferent in terms of taking practical measures to eliminate violent extremism. All politicians must understand that anyone and everyone of them could be a target.
They must join hands to confront the brutal enemy. And it will not be enough for the government to express resolve to fight the terrorists till end; it must also walk the talk.