Lahore was the scene on Wednesday of yet another suicide bombing targeted at a civilian van carrying soldiers on census duty. Seven people were killed, four of them Army soldiers, an Air Force employee and two passers-by, while another 18 were injured.
This was the third major terrorist attack in the city since February 13, when 15 people, including two senior police officers, were killed in a suicide bombing in front of the Punjab Assembly; and ten days later, an unexplained explosion in a DHA market claimed ten lives.
The city clearly has been in the terrorists’ crosshairs. In fact, the Interior Ministry is reported to have passed on intelligence information to the provincial authorities about the impending attack. Yet it happened. Most likely, the information was not properly utilised. For, since August 2015, when the then home minister Shuja Khanzada was killed in a terrorist attack, Punjab has had no home minister; the Chief Minister has been in charge of the home portfolio in addition to nearly a dozen others. Had there been a full-time minister paying undivided attention to the intelligence alert, there would be a greater chance of a preemptive action taking place to save the situation.
Unfortunately, the Punjab government’s attitude towards the clear and present threat of terrorism has been non-serious. The province has been the home base of some of the major terrorists groups, such as the Punjabi Taliban, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi and other violent sectarian organizations. Yet the government either chose to remain in denial or claim, as the provincial police chief recently did, that Punjab has been cleansed of all extremist groups.
In a somewhat similar vein government spokesman Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has now claimed that “we knew” the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, ensconced on Afghan soil, was planning to launch terrorist attack in Lahore. The purpose of the statement of course was to shift the blame from his government to the Afghan authorities for sheltering Pakistani terrorists of different hues.
It is possible that the atrocity was planned in Afghanistan; that though does not absolve the Punjab government of its responsibility. For the attack on the van carrying military personnel could not have been possible without the involvement of local facilitators. Several people must have been involved in it identifying the target, providing the bomber and his handler(s) place to stay also the explosives-laden jacket, and taking the bomber to his destination. Where these facilitators come from is not difficult to discover. In fact the National Action Plan, formulated more than two years ago, contains several points that mention the sources of trouble that need to be effectively neutralized. So far, it has remained a mere talking point, and the result devastating terrorist strikes. As regards the latest atrocity, even if the Ahrar or some other faction of the TTP planned it in Afghanistan, perhaps, it could have been averted if only the home ministry had done its part of the job.