IN recent weeks, back-to-back terror attacks in the country have marked a clear rise in militancy levels. This week’s security incidents in Waziristan and Gwadar have underscored just how grim the situation is. Six security personnel were martyred in Razmak and 14 in Ormara; both were high-casualty incidents, yet the latter attack was particularly brazen. In the tribal district, the use of IEDs by the outlawed TTP follows a common strategy of militants in the region, but the Ormara ambush gave an entirely new dimension to militancy.
It is also evident from the large number of casualties that a number of militants must have been involved in the attack on the convoy of FC troops and private OGDCL guards.
That these security personnel were brutally attacked by a militant group raises concerns about vigilance in the insurgency-hit area as well as the need for appropriate counterterrorism training for these personnel. Recently in Bahawalpur, the army chief too stressed the importance of training, saying that it is a vital part of a soldier’s professional development and is key to tackling future security challenges.
The Ormara attacks should reinforce the army chief’s message, as it underscores the need to give proper training to those assigned on security duties in an area where an insurgency has persisted for many years. Those deployed for the security of a convoy in these sensitive areas must be given adequate training to fend off such nefarious plans. Unless the state is able to provide proper security cover, most people and companies will be reluctant to work in those areas. Incidents like this in Gwadar, which is being developed and marketed by the government as a hub of international investment, will discourage investors and create a tense environment.
Another major factor here is the involvement of the Baloch Raaji Ajoi Sangar — an alliance of insurgent groups BLA, BLF and BRG who have claimed responsibility for the attack. The group was banned and put under surveillance by the government under Section 11-B of the ATA in 2019, yet the recent attacks show intelligence failure. Whether these groups are backed by foreign agencies or a product of local insurgency, the government’s top counterterrorism agency must provide answers on what happened in Gwadar.
What is unfortunate is that the agency formed as a key player for counterterrorism under NAP is often said to have no vision or capacity. What is even more troubling is that a committee has been formed to consider a proposal to cut Nacta’s strength by over 50pc — a move that contradicts the interior minister’s call to “strengthen” the agency. Not only must the government account for Nacta’s abysmal performance, it must also reflect on its counterterrorism strategy after these attacks and know that training and intelligence gathering are essential. Neither can be done without resources.
IT is difficult to recall the last time Islamabad drew this kind of crowd. Thousands of discontented individuals, working for various departments of the Pakistan government, and hailing from trade unions and other groups, assembled on Wednesday to protest the scourge of inflation. They planned to march on parliament but their way was blocked at the point where rulers and their spokespersons felt that they were getting too close for comfort. Quite often, these government employees are overshadowed by big files flashed on media, although they have been pressing for reasonable compensation in these times of soaring expenses across the country. Wednesday’s protest, which carried the message right to the heart of power, was a sit-in organised by the All Pakistan Clerks Association which has demanded a well-structured basic pay scale and an end to downsizing besides the redressal of other complaints. Most of the participants withdrew after this latest, very large and restive protest demonstration, without getting reassurances that they could bank on. However, the Lady Health Workers stayed on and continued with their push under the most adverse conditions, even when the street lights were switched off, with reports that the nearby petrol pumps were forbidden from extending any facilities to these stubborn protesters to freshen up. These women have earned quite a reputation for themselves as tough street fighters against the raw deals they are subjected to by their employers. Time and again, they have proved their mettle.
The cause is there and the protesters who left could return. But there is nothing in sight which could qualify as a sign of the government’s desire to tackle the issues which are reflected in the demands of these government employees, and that are being faced without discrimination by all Pakistanis bar a privileged few. It has become impossible to live within one’s means after the increase in the price of essentials in recent times. Perhaps the situation could be termed unavoidable given the unfortunate equation of local conditions and foreign diktats that we have to deal with. But how has the PTI government responded to this? By trying to check the prices at retail shops? Is this where the problem lies? This gimmickry is surely not the answer to the woes of government workers and other Pakistanis caught up in straitened circumstances. They could all join hands to make it impossible for the government to stop them outside Islamabad’s red zone the next time.
Picture of poverty
TODAY the world is observing the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty at a time when the global economy is struggling to recover from the devastating Covid-19 impact, which has pushed millions of people into poverty. A UNDP study of 70 countries, including Pakistan, says the coronavirus outbreak may set global poverty levels back by nine years with an additional 490m people falling into multidimensional poverty. With the health crisis having derailed economies across the world, people living below the poverty line, women, children, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and other marginalised groups are facing a greater risk of reduced food consumption and earnings. That is as true for Pakistan as it is for any other nation. The IMF has projected a sharp increase in poverty in the country with up to 40pc Pakistanis living below the poverty line after the pandemic struck. This compares with an ADB assessment of 24.3pc of the country’s population living under the poverty line in 2015. The poverty incidence was reported to be about 31pc in June 2018, a couple of months before Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ascension to power.
Though the government under the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is committed to cut poverty by 6pc to 19pc by 2023, an anaemic economic growth, locust attack, entrenched high food inflation, and lack of implementation of pro-poor policies may already have pushed millions into poverty even before the virus reached Pakistan. According to independent assessments, the number of poor may have increased by 8m in the first year of the present government, and was projected to rise by another 10m even if the health crisis hadn’t disrupted the economy. There’s no doubt that the government’s decision to ramp up cash handouts to the poor to mitigate the impact of the pandemic did help them survive hard times. But that isn’t enough. If the poverty eradication target is to be met, the government must grow the economy at a faster pace, control inflation and significantly increase pro-poor expenditure.