Attack on Ismaili community

5/14/2015

IT is the vibrancy and plurality of Pakistan that the militants wish to destroy. In targeting Ismailis in Karachi, the militants have grotesquely reiterated their message to the country: no one absolutely no one who exists outside the narrow, distorted version of Islam that the militants propagate is safe in Pakistan.

The Aga Khan has spoken of `a senseless act of violence against a peaceful community`. In their hour of desolation, it is only right that the Shia Ismaili community`s supreme leader has taken a dignified line and sought to comfort what will surely be a deeply anxious community. There is though clear sense recognisable in the attack. As the Peshawar school massacre delivered a devastating psychological blow to the country, so will the Karachi attack prove to be an immensely demoralising episode. And as the Peshawar school massacre forever altered the basic school-day routine of tens of millions of Pakistanis, so yesterday`s attack will tighten the already suffocating blanket of fear over various Muslim sects and non Muslims. The darkness continues to engulf this country.

The brutal attack against the Ismaili community also raises some very specific questions in the context of Karachi and the security policy being pursued in the provincial capital. Clearly, whatever the state has done over the last 18 months in Karachi, there is no rational expectation that no more terrorist attacks will occur or that all terrorist attacks will be foiled. But there is a sense that the militarised strategy being pursued in Karachi is the wrong one and that the focus of that militarised strategy, ie the MQM`s militant elements is too narrow. There are still areas several ethnic ghettoes in Karachi that remain effectively cut off from the rest of the city and where law-enforcement personnel only enter on occasion.

A strategy based on raids, arrests and, if necessary, killings can never rescue such neighbor hoods from the militants. Then, there has been virtually no discernible action against the extremist mosque-madressah-social welfare network that serves as an indoctrination and recruitment nexus for militants. Simply breaking up existing cells of militants does little to ensure the next generation of militant cells and groups are not being created.

In addition, what of the capacity of an intelligence apparatus that has to keep track of a wide spectrum of threats in Karachi? Surely, that is a task too far for the military-run intelligence agencies alone.

There are occasional noises about the civilian-run intelligence and law-enforcement apparatus being part of the operational and strategic loop, but few believe that to be the case anymore. Finally, for all the problems with a military-dominated security policy in Karachi, why has the Sindh government allowed itself to become near irrelevant? The civilian side of the state needs to be more influential and assertive in the security domain, but in Sindh it appears that the government has nil interest in such an endeavour.

Published in Dawn