Editorial: Shrines’ security

WEB DESK: The suicide bombing at the Shah Noorani shrine in Balochistan has once again focused attention on what is an obvious target.

Obvious because Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups of its ilk hate the syncretic tradition of the Sufi culture that is so much a part of South Asia’s life and also because, as in any public gathering, the annual urs (commemoration) or weekly dhamaal (dancing) sessions at such shrines attract large crowds.

For reasons of difficult access to the shrine, the Balochistan government has decided to place the shrine under the control of the Sindh Auqaf Department. This indicates that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of such shrines throughout the country that are locally managed and not under the control of any provincial Auqaf department. It may be wise to see that all, or as many as possible of such shrines are brought into the Auqaf net to ensure their security as shrines being soft targets have attracted the unwanted attention of the terrorists in the past too.

Counterterrorism has its own best practices, based on experience. Europe too reeled from the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Paris and other locations. The exception in Europe appears to be Spain. Forty years of combating the Basque separatists had already honed the Spanish counterterrorism capability.

The bombings of Madrid trains therefore did not require more than a further vamping up of the counterterrorism capability. Essentially, the Spanish counterterrorism model is one long advocated by experts in Pakistan too, but with only halting progress. Counterterrorism cannot succeed without intelligence-based pre-emptive strikes on terrorist organisations.

There is no other efficacious way to prevent suicide bombers from plying their horrendous trade, especially not after a suicide bomber is launched. Even if he/she is taken down before reaching the intended target, there will always be considerable collateral damage. But all is not darkness.

The Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab on November 14 foiled a plot to attack a shrine in Gujranwala, arresting in their pre-emptive raid the three terrorists, a treasure trove of explosives and IS literature. This is precisely the kind of operation required to scotch terrorism.

However, no one should be sanguine that this will be a quick or easy task. What is important is not only this kind of intelligence-based pre-emptive action but close co-ordination amongst the provinces and the Centre, preferably under the umbrella of one organisation with a centralised data base.

Source: Business Recorder