Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s beleaguered southwestern Balochistan Province, is in mourning after a suicide attack at the main gate of a hospital killed 71 civilians.
The August 8 bombing, claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, targeted lawyers who had gathered to collect the dead body of a colleague assassinated earlier in the day.
Local lawyers said more than 40 of their colleagues were killed in the attack while a majority of the 110 injured are also lawyers.
The attack has prompted politicians and critics to question Islamabad’s sincerity in going after all the Islamist militant factions operating out of Pakistan.
Some of them have claimed credit for attacks on Pakistani state and security forces while others mainly fight insurgencies or launch attacks in neighboring India, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Critics accuse Pakistan’s powerful security institutions of aiding and protecting the “good” militants -- those who launch attacks in India and Afghanistan -- while going after the “bad” terrorists whose attacks have killed more than 60,000 civilians and soldiers since 2004.
“Does the security establishment exist to protect Pakistan, or does Pakistan exist to [perpetuate] the security establishment?” asked lawmaker Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, employing a common euphemism for Pakistan’s powerful army.
“We deserve to know the truth. Powers within this country are backing the terrorists. These people attacking us are from among us,” he told the National Assembly or lower house of Pakistani Parliament, where he represents Balochistan.
Sherani rejected claims by a senior Balochistan official that India’s main foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), orchestrated the attack. Barely an hour after the attack on August 8, Balochistan’s most senior elected official, Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri, blamed RAW for the attack. Pakistani officials frequently blame its regional archrival for the country’s domestic security woes.
“There is no RAW in Balochistan,” Sherani told lawmakers. “They are the same people we nurtured,” he said, referring to Pakistan’s decade-old support for Afghan insurgents and Islamist factions often blamed for launching attacks in India.
“Blaming RAW for everything will not work,” politician Mahmood Khan Achakzai told the Pakistani National Assembly in an impassioned speech on August 9. “Our [intelligence] agencies can find a needle in a haystack, and now they should also do this [unmasking the perpetrators of the Quetta attack].”
Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party is part of the provincial administration in Balochistan, yet he has consistently criticized the alleged covert support Pakistani intelligence services extend to factions of the Afghan Taliban and Salafist factions such as Lashkar-e Taiba, which New Delhi and Western government blame for attacks in India.
Many in Pakistan are deeply disappointed by Islamabad’s failure to implement the comprehensive counterterror National Action Plan (NAP) that the political and military elite adopted in response to a school massacre. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in the northwestern city of Peshawar in which gunmen killed nearly 150 schoolchildren and teachers.
A complete ban on militant factions topped NAP’s 20 points, which included a range of legislative and administrative measures to prevent terrorist attacks and reverse religious extremism, which fuels recruitment for militant factions.
“Unfortunately, the state couldn’t muster the political will to implement NAP,” said former lawmaker Afrasiab Khattak. “The only point fully implemented was the creation of military courts. Reforms in seminaries, disallowing proscribed organizations to function under new names, mainstreaming the tribal areas, and taking action against militants in [the eastern province of] Punjab were never implemented.”
Khattak said the Pakistani security establishment’s support for the Afghan Taliban is an open secret.
“It is also public knowledge that non-state actors find no obstacles to their agenda,” he said, citing examples of how pro-Taliban and anti-India Islamist organizations still openly advocate that their approaches be adopted as official state policy.
“Proscribed organizations not only indulge in public activities but also give themselves the right to determine Pakistan's regional policy,” he said.
Khattak, a longtime critic of Islamabad’s support for hard-line Islamist groups, said he sees no benefit to the current approach. “Our country is at daggers drawn with three out of four neighbors and faces growing international isolation,” he concluded.