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Where the Real Power Lies in Pakistan




Honoring victims of a Dec. 17 suicide bombing attack at a church in Quetta, Pakistan, in which at least nine people were killed and more than 35 others wounded.CreditBanaras Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By The Editorial Board

Dec. 25, 2017

Any hope after the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in July that his successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, would assert some civilian sway over Pakistan’s powerful security establishment has evaporated, as terrorism claims new civilian victims and the army uses Islamist extremists to stage what has all the hallmarks of a velvet coup.

On Dec. 17 two suicide bombers burst into a church full of worshipers in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, killing at least nine people and wounding more than 35 others. The bombing is the latest in a string of bloody attacks on civilians across Pakistan since the Taliban besieged an army school in Peshawar three years ago, killing 148 people, including 132 uniformed students.

But instead of bringing known terrorist masterminds to justice and protecting vulnerable religious minorities and other civilians from attacks, Pakistan’s security establishment is actually promoting Islamist extremism by freeing terrorist leaders and by clamping down on civil society groups that it accuses, falsely, of being fronts for foreign spies. As many as 29 international nongovernmental organizations — many doing vital development work in Pakistan for years and employing thousands of Pakistanis — were informed this month that their registration applications had been rejected due to nonapproval by intelligence agencies.

Last month, Pakistan’s army showed where the real power in the country resides when it brokered an end to protests by Islamists in the country’s capital, Islamabad. The Islamists had accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid of blasphemy over changes in the oath taken by incoming lawmakers and demanded his resignation, something Mr. Abbasi’s government rightfully refused to do. Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, then stepped in and engineered an agreement, signed by the prime minister, that not only ousted Mr. Hamid, but even thanked General Bajwa for “saving the country from a big catastrophe.”

The real catastrophe in Pakistan is the cynical use of Islamist extremism by the country’s security establishment to hold democracy hostage and to foment the insecurity it needs to maintain its grip on power. Until that changes, there is scant hope Pakistan will take control of the terrorism that threatens its citizens’ lives and the stability of the region.

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