Pakistan: Terrorism is sparking panic; security forces are indiscriminately targeting Sindhis
Pakistan is the grip of terror in the wake of a series of suicide bombings and killings. The most devastating of all the attacks was the one at the Sufi shrine of Lal Shabaz Qalandar in Sehwan in southern Pakistan, which killed 88 and injured hundreds of people.
The Pakistani security establishment has been jolted as never before. It is evident that panic has set in, glaringly demonstrated by indiscriminate killing of hundreds of alleged terrorists all over Pakistan and even in Afghanistan through cross-border military actions.
Crucially, this offensive came within 24 hours of the terror attacks. Sindhis, among others, are being targeted, which has led to several human rights groups leveling serious charges against security forces.
More than 100 Sindhi activists have been rounded up. Their whereabouts continue to be shrouded in mystery. Nine family members, including one minor, of Shafi Muhammad Burfat, the exiled leader of Jeay Sindh Mutheda Mahaj (JSMM) have been disappeared. Sindhis in Pakistan are in a perpetual state of fear.
In a separate incident, Sindh's nationalist groups held a protest strike on 19 February against the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as the continuous undeclared operations against ethnic Sindhis, their forced abductions and disappearances, torture in illegal detention centres and even extra-judicial killings.
During the strike, security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown on the secular Sindhi nationalist activists. Hundreds of house were raided and women and children were mercilessly beaten up. Meanwhile, the JSMM has further alleged that the Burfat clan was targeted and key members of the community were arrested.
On 20 February, Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz ( JSQM) leader Hameed Sindhi and student leader Yawar Meheser were apprehended. Their whereabouts remain unknown. The spate of extra-judicial killings has given rise to suspicion of them being killed in custody.
The atrocities do not end here. Ustad Muhammad Rahimoon, 82, the senior most Sindhi nationalist and intellectual has been missing since 23 November, 2016. Sindhis fear the worst amid numerous cases of encounters exterminating those considered as political adversaries.
Reverting to terrorism in Pakistan, which has resurfaced with immense fury, it appears pertinent to point out that the Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa is being closely watched to determine whether his actions, if any, will reduce terrorism.
Academics and experts have started comparing Bajwa with his predecessor general Raheel Sharif. By default, Sharif is now seen as a kind of hero who made visible attempts to come down heavily on the terrorists through his ambitions and much trumpeted Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Questions are now being asked about Bajwa being unable or unwilling to deal with this problem.
With the election approaching in the not-so-distant future, skeptics feel that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cohorts may be cautious in taking extreme measures against terrorists as many may be party cadres or enjoy an affiliation with the party. Any action against them may endanger Sharif's electoral prospects.
In this context, the present anti-terror operation Radd-ul-Fasaad has also come under scrutiny for its agenda to "indiscriminately eliminate residual threat of terrorism , consolidate gains of operations made this far and further ensure security of our borders".
It is being questioned if the word " indiscriminately " indicates that in earlier operations, some terrorists were spared, but could now be possible targets. If the basic blueprint and intention of the new anti-terror operation stands challenged at its very inception, its prospects of success do indeed look bleak.
Sharif's actions would augur well if anti-terror steps remain apolitical and fair and not minority specific. The Pakistani public is fraught with fear and insecurity. It is the responsibility of the state to raise their confidence level and comfort. Any failure here would mean sure doom.
Islamic State has already claimed responsibility for the Sehwan terror attacks. Hundreds of Pakistani terrorists must be preparing to wrap-up fighting in Islamic State-controlled areas in Syria and Iraq and return to Pakistan. One must remember they are fully indoctrinated, radicalised and battle-hardened.
Their participation in abetting terror on their home turf is likely to defy any operation. Only a carefully crafted intelligence system and dedicated counter-terror mechanism may work .