University attack shows Pakistan′s failure to curb terror | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 20.01.2016
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University attack shows Pakistan's failure to curb terror

After the 2014 Peshawar massacre, most Pakistanis believed their state had effectively cracked down on militants. But the latest attacks show the government's anti-terror policy has been a failure, say analysts.

A group of gunmen stormed the Bacha Khan University in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, January 20, killing over 20 people, including students and faculty members. The university, located in the Khyber Pukhtonkhwa province, is named after a local political leader known for his preachings on non-violence.

At the time of the attack, the students and faculty gathered for a poetry recital to commemorate Bacha Khan's death anniversary. A leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was revenge for the militants killed by Pakistani security forces in recent months.

Experts say the latest assault shows the Taliban are still capable of inflicting terror in Pakistan, despite the government's efforts to eliminate terrorism.

Mehmood Jan, a Peshawar-based journalist working for Geo News, says the military consolidated power and went after the militants following the Peshawar school massacre in December 2014, in which over 150 people - mostly children - were killed. Shortly after, the military launched a full-blown assault on militant strongholds in the tribal areas.

"But the latest attack shows that although the military's operation succeeded in splintering the Taliban, the terrorists still retain the strength, capacity and resources to attack," Jan told DW.

An ineffective campaign

The incident comes as Pakistan is attempting to establish itself as a key player in securing a peace deal between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. At the same time, Islamabad says it is working to reduce the tensions between the Middle Eastern powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

But as a result of the latest incident, the Pakistani leadership has come under fire for failing to take effective measures to curb terrorist activities on its soil.

"It is very easy for the military to say that we have killed the terrorists who attacked the university, but the fact remains that they were able to wreak havoc on the university campus, signaling the state's failure in providing security," said Talat Hussain, a leading journalist who has extensively covered military operations.

While the military boasts the effectiveness of its anti-terror campaign, named Zarb-e-Azb, critics argue that the security forces have overlooked the need for gathering proper intelligence, which is critical in preventing terrorist attacks.

Husain is of the view that both the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan has created "an impression that Operation Zarb-e-Azb is enough for us to get rid of terrorists." But the expert points out that the anti-terror operation has been carried out only in one particular region of the tribal areas, thus granting a free hand to the extremists operating in other parts of the country.

Support for the Taliban

Some say the Taliban still enjoy relatively strong support among sections of Pakistani society. Imtiaz Gul, director of the Islamabad-based independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, told DW: "The socio-political dynamics in Pakistan help provide support to terrorists."

Despite the government's anti-terror efforts, Gul says, the Taliban still retain the ability to conduct such attacks because of the socio-political organizations such as mosques and religious schools where they take shelter.

The expert also underlined that the terror group engages in criminal activities such as abductions, extortions and drug trafficking to fund their operations. Moreover, they have easy access to advanced weapons such as improvised explosive devices.

Some analysts also believe that various terror outfits operating under the umbrella of the Pakistani Taliban have become part of regional politics, and that these groups are being used as proxies.

However, Hussain says: "Even if they are part of regional politics, it is ultimately the responsibility of the state to stop them from inflicting terror in Pakistan."