On Sunday, March 27, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded public park in Lahore, Pakistan, killing 72 people and injuring over 350 others, most of them women and children. The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a vicious splinter group of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was meant to target Christians celebrating Easter. It also sent the signal that it is capable of striking at will in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s hometown. In response, the military reportedly launched a province-wide counterterror operation and authorities detained over 300 suspected militants.
Pakistan has been here many, many times before. Every major terrorist attack reproduces a sickeningly familiar pattern. With robotic consistency, the generals vow to fight terrorism of all forms, while blaming it all on foreign powers (mostly India) and civilian incompetence. In reality, the fundamental cause of mayhem on Pakistani streets is not a malicious foreign power or inept civilians, but blowback from the military’s own long history of using jihad as an instrument of national security.
Even as terrorists have exploded bomb after bomb in Pakistan for almost a decade, Pakistan’s military has doggedly stuck to a false, self-serving dichotomy between “good” and “bad” terrorists. As it has fought hostile factions of the TTP, it has continued to use other militant groups as proxies against archrival India. These include the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, which help maintain Pakistan’s influence over Afghanistan, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (reincarnated as Jamaat-ud-Dawa or JUD), which is mainly focused on India.
The military’s black-and-white view assumes that these groups can be neatly separated, when the actual lines between them are blurred. For instance, the TTP pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar until the announcement of his death in 2015. The groups also offer each other operational assistance, and there is a revolving door of “good” terrorists turning into “bad” ones. For example, in December of last year,