Sunday’s terrorist attack in Parachinar that left at least 25 people dead and 62 others injured comes as a horrific reminder of the scourge of sectarian terrorism.
A sack containing about 35 to 40 kilograms of explosives placed in crowded market, meant to cause maximum loss of life, was detonated as people were buying second-hand clothes.
The usual suspect in such cases, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and also a Taliban group calling itself Ansarul Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for the atrocity. Considering that the LeJ is closely linked to the TTP, the two might have joined hands to evade checkpoints set up by the Army and Levies on all routes leading to the town to search incoming visitors and vehicles.
In Parachinar, located in the Kurram Agency next to the Afghan border, both Shias and Sunnis lived side-by-side in peace until 2006 when the Taliban started exploiting the sectarian fissures to cause mayhem and destruction, putting a siege around the Shia-dominated area.
For several years, people who needed to travel to the settled areas had to go through the adjoining Afghanistan territory to reach destinations in Pakistan. The siege was lifted about four years ago after a grand jirga organized by the government brokered a peace agreement between the two sides.
That though came after tens of thousands innocent people had become victims of sectarian terrorism. The episode underscores the fact that certain sectarian outfits and the Taliban militants are two sides of the same coin.
The present attack in Parachinar came a day after ISPR spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa issued an update on the Zarb-e-Azb, saying the operation has been a “phenomenal success”.
According to him, the Shawal Valley, the last Taliban holdout, except for a small pocket in the north-west of the valley, has been cleared of all terrorist organizations, including the TTP, ETIM, IMU, the Haqqani Network and their affiliates.
Indeed, the military operation has managed to restore peace to a large extent, but purging this society of sectarian terrorists remains a challenge. Various known sectarian organizations remain active in almost every part of the country.
The Punjab-based leadership of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was decapitated a few months ago, but over the years it has branched out in all the other provinces as well as Fata. This though is not the only sectarian terror outfit.
Some of the others are not only tolerated, political parties in the country, particularly in Punjab, use them for their narrow political ends. During the recent local government elections, for instance, many candidates belonging to almost all parties were seen advertising their loyalties to one or the other sectarian outfit.
Unless the political parties and federal as well as provincial governments completely distance themselves from violent religious extremists, terrorism will not be rooted out. Alongside Zarb-e-Azb, the military has been carrying out intelligence-based operations (IBOs) in different parts of the country against what the ISPR statement described as individuals and groups linked with entities based in the tribal agencies.
The task, of course, will take time but it has to be accomplished without laxity towards any of the groups purveying hate and violence.