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Breaking the walls


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, August 02, 2013


The brazen Taliban attack on a jail in Dera Ismail Khan on July 29 to free their comrades has raised important questions about the preparedness of our security apparatus for a war that involves relentless attacks on key state institutions.

Top Taliban men were freed in a similar attack on Bannu jail in April 2012. The recent raid on Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (July 22), another one on Tasfirat prison in Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit (September 2012), and an equally brazen attack on the Kandahar jail in Afghanistan (April 2011) probably serve as a big motivation for insurgents, who embarrass and de-motivate the security forces and free hundreds of their men in such attacks.

The July 29 attack is just one in a long list of daring security breaches that follow the May 2008 peace accord with militants in Swat. The deal fell flat, and insurgency grew in intensity until the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in May and October 2009. Since then, militants have made at least 14 surprise raids on various targets, including the Sri Lankan Cricket team in Lahore (March 2009), Manawan Police Training Academy in Lahore (March and October 2009), the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi (October 2009), PNS Mehran air base in Karachi (May 2011), Kamra air base (Aug 2012), and the Peshawar airport (December 2012).

The insurgents also carried out major attacks on targets belonging to the ISI - a former ally - in Peshawar, Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, and Sukkur.

All these attacks bear the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) signature - a multi-pronged attack involving several terrorists aimed at penetrating the target as deep as possible. The LeT made similar attacks in Indian Kashmir, and several interrogations have revealed many of the perpetrators had been affiliated with the LeT in the past. Most of them broke away from the group and fell into the laps of Al Qaeda and Taliban after finding themselves in ideological conflict with the state of Pakistan, which they believe is cooperating with the US.

The year 2013 is turning out to be as bloody as 2012, according to data compiled by the Centre for Research and Security Studies. The death toll from 313 terrorist attacks in the first six months of this year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA is more than 800. At least 21 of these attacks were suicide bombings. Nine suicide attacks and 80 bomb explosions occurred in the extended region of Peshawar, leaving about 118 people dead and over 400 injured. More than 40 schools and a degree college were targeted by militants in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, underscoring the fact that terrorists continue to target symbols of a functional school system, which they apparently perceive as a threat to their medieval thinking. 

Apparently clinging on to the outdated cold-war era fixation with the "archenemy" India, the security and intelligence apparatus is overstretched and exhausted because of almost 12 years of engagement from the north to the south.

The new government in Pakistan is still busy developing a comprehensive new security policy to deal with terrorism, extremism and insurgency. The new strategy may include a counter-terror force consisting of an intelligence wing and an operational, ready-to-strike, enforcement wing. 

In such a case, where will the Intelligence Bureau, the ISI, the MI, and a dozen other agencies stand? Will the new force be able to serve as an umbrella organization for them or exist on its own? If it is on its own, the new force will invite jealous competition by others, and be operationally hamstrung by a non-cooperative and inefficient police - which is supposed to be the primary force for fighting militancy and crime.

Some politicians have also been calling for an all parties' conference on national security, but what is the need for a conference when a fully functional parliament or a parliamentary committee can debate the issue? Secondly, some parliamentarians may not be able to come up with a solution to the problem because they are themselves supporting or abetting crimes against the state.

There are five key factors responsible for such blatant attacks on the Pakistani state and its assets.

i) Insider information for the militants

ii) Inability of the security apparatus to think beyond the present and coordinate (delayed response by the civilian and military forces in crisis situations)

iii) Inaptitude, or questionable professional skills of various arms of law-enforcement, particularly the police

d) Inefficiency of the people in influential offices who do not walk their talk

e) Inspiration, which the various arms of religious extremist groups draw from one another

Events in the last decade have shown that without a holistic security approach, Pakistan will hardly succeed against terrorists, militants and criminal syndicates. For that, the country does not need an all parties' conference or a parliamentary committee. It needs a body of experts who can think outside the box and propose a strategy that draws on experiences of other nations and adapts them to local circumstances.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk