ISLAMABAD -- Five years after democratic rule was restored in Pakistan, the country is still without a policy to confront its huge terrorism problem, leaving this nuclear-armed country vulnerable to ever more punishing bloodshed.
The civilian government seems all but certain to complete its term in office next week – the first time in Pakistani history that that’s happened. But there’s still no consensus on how to deal with terrorist attacks, which take a nearly daily toll.
The bombing of a residential street last weekend in Karachi, the country’s biggest city, killed at least 50 people and injured well over 100. But instead of statements of unity against the attack, which targeted the country’s minority Shiite Muslim community, the result was political discord, with politicians blaming each other for the terrorism menace.
And many are anticipating more mayhem, even as the government marks a moment unprecedented in Pakistan – the completion of a civilian government’s term in office, without a military coup – on March 16. Yet the election campaign that milestone ushers in – elections are likely in May – is expected to be violent and chaotic.
In a country with a poisonous history of civilian-military relations, the military blames the lack of political consensus on terrorism for its inability to take action against extremists, while politicians suspect that the armed forces continue to see value in working with some militant Islamist groups.
There is a heavy doze of cynicism. Every major political party already has backed unconditional peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, an al Qaida-linked group that works closely with the sectarian outfit likely to have carried out the attack in Karachi. Privately, military officials, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, regard the politicians’ desire for talks with the Pakistani Taliban as an ill-considered attempt to prevent their candidates from coming under attack in the election campaign.
Analysts say the broad failing to confront terrorism head on simply means that bombings, attempted assassinations and mayhem will continue – even as a democratic transition takes place.
“The courts have failed to convict terrorists, the police have failed to prevent attacks, the intelligence services have failed to pre-empt attacks, the military has failed to see through a counterinsurgency strategy, the politicians have failed to lead on this,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, an analyst who was formerly a senior government adviser.
“There’s no end in sight to this problem because there’s no leadership.”
Events like the three bombings this year against Pakistan’s Shiites, which claimed at least 250 lives, and last year’s shooting by the Pakistani Taliban of a schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, because she campaigned for education for girls, has brought public revulsion but no mass movement against the violence.
Military operations are piecemeal and have not tackled the region of North Waziristan, where domestic and international extremist groups are based.
The dysfunction of the state is such that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, led by President Asif Zardari, admits that it has not been able to bring to justice the conspirators behind the assassination of its former leader and Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was killed by a suicide bomber in December 2007.