Like many towns in KP, Mardan has suffered its fair share of wounds in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. Earlier in December, a search and strike operation was launched in Mardan, resulting in the arrest of about 327 suspected persons, including 16 illegally staying Afghan nationals, and persons involved in various crimes. Tuesday’s heinous attack, where twenty-one people were killed and at least 56 injured, could be backlash due to the operation in Mardan, or could be due to the Zarb-e-Azb, or any other reason… we have lost track now. The blast occurred near a National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) office; a clear attack on the state.

The attack was claimed by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jamaat ul Ahrar, which was also behind last year’s blast at Wagah Border. Strange, that after such high profile attacks, the army and the government has not vowed the elimination of Jamaat ul Ahrar. In November 2014, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for twin bombings that killed at least six people in Mohmand Agency. The bombs targeted peace committee volunteers and vowed to continue attacking tribal peace committees. During the same month, they claimed responsibility for a grenade attack on the membership camp of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi. Three members of the Sindh Assembly and 50 workers were injured. In March 2015, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for twin bombings at a Roman Catholic church and Christ Church during Sunday service at Youhanabad town in Lahore. At least 15 people were killed and seventy were wounded.

The concessions these groups get from the state after blasts and attacks are negligible now. It seems the strategy is just to cause havoc, rather than have any demands met, and hope that by force of fire, people accept an extremist’s version of Islam. There seems to be no pattern in their attacks, except for going after soft targets like churches and peace workers.

In March this year, leaders of Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Islam pledged allegiance to the TTP (which claimed responsibility for the APS shooting). The Taliban will always be dangerous. If you try to negotiate with, or mainstream it, its ultra right will splinter will still be the stuff of nightmares. The TTP was a splinter of the Afghan Taliban, and the Afghan Taliban now seem tame in comparison to the TTP.

With regards to the army operation against them, there is no point in talks, or a cautious approach. The eradication of this scourge has to be taken up until the militants are arrested and dead- force must be used to the extent that all their links, their ideologies, their thoughts and all linkages with society and supporters are exterminated.