Pakistan, no stranger to terror attacks, has just witnessed yet another particularly ghastly one in Lahore. There might be, as someone said, a peculiar place reserved in hell for those who deliberately target women and children, even in acute conflict situations. And Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists seem to have made a habitual practice of that hell-inducing perversity. The immediate aftermath seems to be that the army has announced the start of an operation against terror groups and their networks in Punjab. This, actually, displays some of the problems of dealing with militancy and extremism in Pakistan. Under the National Action Plan, formulated after the terrible attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, it was envisaged that a comprehensive (including socio-economic aspects) campaign would be conducted against extremism. Yet, due to reasons of political expediency, for example because Punjab remains the bastion of the Nawaz Sharif led Muslim League, this area was left largely untouched even as massive, and quite successful, campaigns were carried out in the Tribal Areas. The utterly wrong sort of political patronage, in short, coupled with an unreformed polity, has greatly added to Pakistan’s problems.
One basic aspect of the unreformed polity, even as forms of democracy and rule of law take root, is the feudal nature of Pakistan’s politics. When something as medieval as feudalism continues to thrive, law and justice become an immediate casualty. The dispossessed and marginalised, then become targets for movements like the TTP, which hold out the promise of effective justice as part of their campaign against the status quo. It is, it must be remembered, the retreat of the state from vast swathes and sections that enables the extremists to wade in and claim to be agents of social justice and change. This aspect will take time to reform, as the middle and lower classes gain ascendancy, with their attendant claims on basic forms of systemic governance and justice, democratic politics in Pakistan will effect a wider change. Military might alone simply cannot effectively deal with deep issues of deprivation and extremism.
Sure, terrorists striking at children also underlines the desperate attempt to cause as much trauma as possible; but that also means an inability to hit anything but the softest targets. But that, again, is looking at things militarily. Despite the success of the campaign in the Tribal Areas, and the decidedly lower levels of violence, it is Pakistani politics that must reform for this war to be won.