Pakistan beefs up security after fresh wave of terrorist attacks

By Javed Khan

Peshawar policeman check a pedestrian's documents February 18. Pakistan has increased security after a spate of terrorist attacks. [Javed Khan]

Peshawar policeman check a pedestrian's documents February 18. Pakistan has increased security after a spate of terrorist attacks. [Javed Khan]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani authorities tightened security throughout the country after a wave of terrorist attacks last week shocked and angered citizens.

Among other attacks, a suicide bombing on February 16 at a Sindh Province Sufi shrine left dozens dead and hundreds wounded, four suicide bombers struck Peshawar and Mohmand provinces on February 15, and another suicide bomber struck Lahore on February 13.

Pakistan's civil and military leadership will take severe action against terrorists in order to ensure the country's security, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Saturday (February 18), according to the Express Tribune.

"The terrorists and their facilitators will be dealt with [sic] an iron fist, and in coming days and weeks action will be taken without any consideration whatsoever," he said, adding that "even diplomatic consideration will not impede actions aimed at ensuring national security and peace".

The news comes as the Pakistan Army conducts counter-insurgency operations along the border with Afghanistan.

"More actions will follow to eliminate terrorism emanating from foreign soil, as well as against their facilitators present inside the country," Nisar said, adding that the recent counter-terror operations were the first step in an overall security strategy formed during recent high-level meetings.

Increased security, intelligence operations

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Central Police Office (CPO) in Peshawar directed police officers to increase snap checking and search operations.

Police in Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera and Charsadda in particular had orders to stay on high alert in response to intelligence reports indicating that militants might hit those areas.

Other CPOs issued similar directives. In addition, KP Police superiors will not consider all requests for leave during the next two weeks, a February 16 KP CPO circular said.

"All regional police officers [RPOs] have been directed to review the security of public places and sensitive installations in the wake of the recent attacks and to ensure foolproof security," KP Inspector General of Police (IGP) Nasir Khan Durrani told Pakistan Forward.

Durrani presided over a meeting of senior police and counter-terrorism officials in Peshawar February 14. At the conference, Additional IGP for Special Branch Salahuddin Mehsud spoke about the overall security situation.

Various militant groups have joined hands with hostile foreign elements to create instability in Pakistan through terrorist attacks, Mehsud said, according to the Express Tribune.

"The RPOs have been directed to review the security of courts, police stations, [other] public places, educational institutions and hospitals personally or through special teams," Durrani said.

Police also have accelerated search operations and stepped up patrolling in Peshawar, Senior Superintendent of Police Operations for Peshawar Sajjad Khan said.

"Police were directed to remain alert and ensure the security of the people in the wake of the recent threats," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that police gunned down three terrorists in Regi February 17.

"Security has been upgraded, and police have been directed to stay alert," Punjab Deputy Inspector General of Police Sohail Habib told Pakistan Forward.

Wave of attacks

The crackdown on terrorists and their facilitators comes after a wave of violence across Pakistan in recent weeks.

The violence accelerated February 13 when a suicide bomber targeted a peaceful protest near the Punjab Assembly in Lahore, killing 15 people, including six police officers, and injuring up to 87.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction Jamatul Ahrar claimed responsibility for the blast, warning that it was "just the start" in a series of planned attacks against government installations.

On February 15, a TTP suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed into a vehicle carrying several judges in Hayatabad, Peshawar. The van driver was killed and five other Pakistanis, including four judges, three of them female, were injured.

Earlier in the day, two suicide bombers assaulted a government compound in Mohmand Agency, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), killing five and wounding seven.

Later, police said, another suicide bomber blew himself up when security forces surrounded him during a search operation in the area.

The following day, an "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) suicide bomber blew himself up at the shrine of 13th-century Muslim Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh Province, killing 90 people, according to AFP.

It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Pakistan in more than two years.

Pakistani officials seek revenge

Pakistani authorities are vowing retribution.

"Each drop of [the] nation's blood shall be avenged, and avenged immediately," Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said in a statement after the attack.

Bajwa appealed to the nation to stay calm, according to an Inter-Services Public Relations statement. "Your security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed. We stand for our nation," he said.

Bajwa, along with Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair Umar and other officials, consoled survivors of the Sufi shrine bombing and the families of martyrs February 17.

"The government and the forces are committed to eliminate the network of terrorists," Nawaz Sharif said at a hospital in Nawab Shah where the injured are recovering, according to media.

Authorities will arrest the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar bombing organisers soon, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah pledged.

"This is the time to get united and fight terrorism," he said at the shrine Sunday (February 19), according to media.

Stepped up security measures

Intelligence-based operations and combing operations are making an immediate impact, officials say.

Pakistani security forces killed more than 100 terrorists and made "sizable apprehensions" the day following the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar attack, the ISPR said in a statement February 17.

Pakistani troops who closed the border with Afghanistan after the bombing are pounding suspected militant sanctuaries in the border zone.

"The Pakistani military said it used heavy artillery to fire at militant hideouts in Afghanistan Monday [February 20], after carrying out air strikes on both sides of the border over the weekend," AFP reported.

The crackdown by Pakistani forces caused "hundreds of families" on both sides of the border to flee on Monday, AFP added.

In Punjab, police arrested the alleged facilitator of the February 13 suicide attack in Lahore, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced at a news conference February 17, according to Dawn.

In his taped confession, shown during the news conference, the suspect, identified as Anwar-ul-Haq, confessed to helping the suicide bomber reach Lahore from Peshawar.

"I was associated with Jamatul Ahrar, and they trained me," he said, adding that he had visited Afghanistan about 15 to 20 times.

On Saturday (February 18), security forces arrested the suspect's brothers Khalilullah and Hameedullah in Mamond Tehsil, Bajaur Agency, local media reported.

Immediate action needed

Senator Siraj ul Haq, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan party, urged the government to act immediately to eliminate terrorism from the country.

"The government should act on the National Action Plan and ensure peace in the country," he told Pakistan Forward, referring to the counter-insurgency strategy that the government enacted shortly after the December 2014 terrorist massacre at Army Public School in Peshawar.

Punjab Assembly member Hina Pervaiz Butt on February 17 submitted a resolution for the government to take immediate steps to improve security.

"The provincial assembly should ask the federal government to strengthen security on the border so no one can illegally enter Pakistan to carry out terrorist attacks," she said in the resolution.

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