Climate of fear
IT may be time for a collective sigh of relief — though one that recognises what terrorism has done to life in Pakistan. Despite our worst fears, this Ashura passed without major incidents of terrorism. While two blasts did take place in D.I. Khan, the particularly sensitive 9th and 10th of the month passed without large-scale casualties and for once we got the sense that a functioning government was in place and was actually addressing the terrorist threat. Strong intelligence-gathering was used to support specific security measures. The centre and provinces worked in concert, with the provinces taking some security measures on their own and funnelling more sensitive decisions, such as motorcycle and cellphone service bans, through the federal government. The centre also communicated frequently with the public, explaining the threat and rationale behind the steps taken. Combined with the stringent security measures on the ground over the weekend, all of this was a rare and welcome instance of the government demonstrating that it does place a value on citizens’ lives.
The flip side of all this, though, is that Pakistan has become a nation under siege. An atmosphere of tense fear pervaded the country, and the bans on cellphone service and pillion riding were both an inconvenience to millions of people and a danger in times of medical or other emergencies. Both the media and the federal government provided much-needed information by communicating with the public about the threat and the measures taken (though at times the media could have toned itself down a notch, such as during the hysterical coverage of the chemical explosion in a Karachi apartment), but the side effect of this coverage is that Pakistanis spent the weekend constantly wondering when and where they might be caught in a terrorist attack. The government did well to handle the Ashura threat proactively. But unless long-term measures are taken to tackle the roots and infrastructure of terrorism, the people will continue to live in a climate of fear.