AN audacious strike on a military installation and a cruel attack on worshippers at Friday prayers — what ought to be the unacceptable exception appears to have become the norm in Pakistan’s insurgency-hit areas. Lakki Marwat and Hangu have been hit by terrorism before, were hit by terrorism over the weekend — and the unhappy truth is, those towns, and many other places, are almost sure to be hit by terrorism and militancy again. By now it has also become clear that defensive tactics have gone as far as they can. Body searches and security perimeters outside mosques during Friday prayers are common across Pakistan. But mosques are by definition venues that have to allow the public in — and so can only be secured up to a point from suicide or other attacks. The same goes for military installations — the more high-profile and sensitive sites can have layers and layers of security, but when located in remote areas and on the frontline in the fight against militancy, there will be vulnerabilities that cannot be fully protected. The problem, then, is really of how to build a more proactive and aggressive strategy to fight militancy.
Both attacks have been owned by the Pakistani Taliban — and it’s clear where the centre of gravity of the Taliban now lies: North Waziristan Agency. And yet, North Waziristan appears to have slipped off the to-do list in the fight against militancy, a victim of the security establishment’s sympathetic approach towards the Haqqanis and reluctance to be seen succumbing to American diktat. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata, Pata and parts of Punjab will fundamentally remain vulnerable while the Agency stands lost — but where is the conversation, let alone action, on what needs to be done to recover North Waziristan?
With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hit hard, yet again, by violence in recent months, the ANP is trying to mobilise political support and public opinion to create a new consensus on the need to fight militancy. But the response to the ANP’s efforts has been less than encouraging. Politicians are wary of courting controversy ahead of a general election and the army has failed to clear apprehensions about its true intentions. Little support, no plan — the upshot is, sadly, that Pakistan must brace itself for more violence.