Is Pakistan heading towards another military coup after Lahore terror attack?
On 27 March, a suspected Taliban splinter group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, bombed the famous Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore, claiming 72 lives – mostly women and children. The Christian families gathered in the park on Easter Sunday were the main target of the terror strike.
It was the bloodiest attack on Christians in Pakistan since the 2013 Peshawar church bombing that killed more than 80 people. The dastardly act was yet another reminder that extremist elements still remain a potent force in Pakistan, despite the army’s sweeping claims that its Zarb-e-Azb operation has managed to break the backbone of the insurgency.
It has also once again exposed the faultlines between the army and the civilian government.
Army decides to go all-out against terrorists
Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif went into a huddle with senior commanders and intelligence officials soon after the attack. The orders for an all-out military operation against terrorists in Punjab were issued from the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Military spokesman Lt-Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa confirmed on Twitter that the operation commenced on Sunday night, with Pakistan Rangers and the army conducting raids in Multan, Faisalabad, and Sialkot.
However, subsequent developments have made it clear that both provincial and federal governments are against the military intervention in Punjab. They are also apparently upset at some of the statements issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the official media-wing of the armed forces, questioning the government’s performance in implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP).
The national media has reported that the decision to launch a military offensive in Punjab was taken by Gen. Sharif without consulting the government. The ongoing wrangling between the two sides over the issue has only widened the rift.