by Mashaal Gauhar
With over 26 people dead and 30 injured, Lahore’s recent suicide attack is the latest in a long list of militant assaults on the capital of Punjab. In February, a suicide blast near Punjab Assembly left 13 people dead and 70 others wounded. Last year’s terrorist attack in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park killed 72 people and left hundreds injured.
What is new about this attack is that investigators have concluded that it was carried out by the Taliban Special Group (TSG), a newly formed wing of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) comprising highly trained suicide attackers.
With a mission to destabilise the state and implement their own brand of shariah law, TTP attacks have a discernible pattern of focusing on security forces, educational institutions, minorities and sacred places of worship. This latest assault is believed to have targeted the police. Of the 26 killed in the attack, nine were policemen.
Though army counter-terrorism operations Zarb-e-Azb and more recently Radd-ul-Fassad have significantly weakened the TTP, the recent attack in Lahore shows that the group is still capable of causing serious harm through the proliferation of offshoots and splinter groups.
The TTP’s systematic use of suicidal warfare has proven particularly problematic. Inexpensive and requiring low levels of technology, human bombs are the preferred weapon of choice for groups like the TTP. “It is an alternative technology — the systematic mechanisation of human beings — that confers upon militant groups many of the same capabilities of the sophisticated weapon systems of advanced states,” explains Jeffrey William Lewis and academic author of The Business of Martyrdom, A History of Suicide Bombing.
Strong military action is critical but cannot be the only solution. The formation of the new TSG wing indicates that insurgent groups can find ready adherents among the socially and economically marginalised segments of the society. This disturbing new development underscores the need to ensure that strong military action is supported by a long-term strategy centred on economic and social uplift to effectively eliminate the TTP and its affiliated groups.
Resources must be directed towards striking at the recruitment capabilities of these groups including a crackdown on militant propaganda, dismantling centres for radicalisation and closing down sources of terrorist financing. Additionally, the government must strengthen its institutions such as the police force and criminal justice system. It is hoped that the National Action Plan proposed by the government to root out terrorism can make progress towards achieving these goals.
Lahore’s magical past is beautifully rendered in the Sanskrit epic The Ramayana, which details how Prince Lava, son of Lord Rama and his beloved wife Sita, founded the city of Lahore. Indeed, the word ‘Lahore’ is derived from his name
Suicidal warfare exacts a profound psychological toll on society. The damage on Pakistan’s society is all too evident: intolerance and violent prejudice in the name of religion abounds. Pakistan’s media must take a stand against hardline voices claiming to speak on behalf of Islam. The taking of an innocent life is among the gravest of sins and can never be justified. Any attempt to do so represents a violation of the very essence of the religion.
Government, media and civil society must ensure that militant organisations purportedly acting in the name of Islam are exposed for the ruthless mercenaries that they are. The tolerance and diversity that once flourished must be reclaimed as part of Pakistan’s identity. A city where Hindu, Sikh and Muslim empires flourished for centuries, Lahore’s rich heritage cultural heritage is a symbol of this diversity. Representing the second most populous city in the country after Karachi, Lahore is recognised as one of the oldest living cities in the world. Its primordial past can be seen and felt across the city from the pre-enlightenment statue of ‘Fasting Buddha’ in Lahore’s National Museum to the ancient Old City.
Lahore’s magical past is beautifully rendered in the Sanskrit epic The Ramayana which details how Prince Lava, son of Lord Rama and his beloved wife Sita, founded the city of Lahore. Hence the word ‘Lahore’ is derived from his name. Today, the temple at Lahore Fort stands as an enduring tribute to Prince Lava. Home to Pakistan’s great mystics like Madho Lal Hussain and Bulleh Shah, Lahore traditions of poetry and art continues to flourish. Though battered by this recent assault, Lahore’s spirit remains unassailable
The writer is the founding editor of Blue Chip magazine. She tweets @MashaalGauhar