The daring raid on PNS Mehran can probably be viewed in three dimensions. If the objective was to make Pakistani defence look vulnerable, the operation came remarkably close to doing just that. If the goal was to embarrass the country’s security establishment, it certainly did — like similar attacks in the recent past. And if the aim was to convey the message that the security establishment remains the prime target of the attackers, that too has become clear.
By no means was this the first tri-dimensional incident that exposed the vulnerabilities of our defences. The biggest embarrassment thus far was of course the dramatic raid on the General Headquarters on October 10, 2009, that left the nation and the world baffled for almost 22 hours.
Earlier that month, as well as in March, the Manawan Police Training School on the outskirts of Lahore had endured similar attacks by armed militants, lasting several hours. The attack in March that year on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore also bore the hallmarks of the LeT-style Fidayeen commando attacks.
The gory attack on the Parade Lane Mosque in Rawalpindi in December 2009 with 45 deaths , as well as the strikes on three ISI establishments in Lahore, Faisalabad and Peshawar in 2009 and 2010 also apparently involved militants who had been trained in storming and terminating the target at any cost.
All these raids bore similarities to the tactics that Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters had probably learnt from the Tamil Tigers and then applied during their Fidayeen (suicide) missions in Indian Kashmir: raid, kill and be ready to get slain. Their targets were military cantonments and installations of the Indian army, para-military and intelligence agencies. One of the objectives was to cause panic and demoralise the Indian troops who had been operating in a pretty hostile environment.
Now, if we look at the pattern of the attacks in the last two years or so, Pakistan and its security institutions face the same spectre: systematic targeting of the security forces – both civilian and police.The inescapable consequence of attacks on installations such as the GHQ or PNS Mehran is panic, embarrassment and of course loss of face. This injects fear and uncertainty into the minds and hearts of people and the cumulative effect is a demoralised security apparatus and an anxious public, unsure of their safety.
The US Navy Seals’ illegal raid to get Osama bin Laden on May 2 had precipitated fear and anxiety but the storming of the PNS Mehran not only stoked those fears but also raised serious doubts about the level of preparedness within the security establishment. It has also underscored the extended tentacles of al Qaeda and its supporters from Waziristan to Karachi. Commando strikes at chosen targets indicate that al-Qaeda or its local “force multipliers” such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Jihad Al Alami, and Jundullah enjoy a strong support base in Karachi. The capture of senior al Qaeda leader Muhammad Ali Qasim Yakub alias Abu Shoaib al Makki, from Karachi on May 17, also alluded to the strong presence of al Qaeda in the city. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack, and called it a revenge of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
But the game plan is more complex. Pakistan is being paid back in kind for what it had helped mount in the Indian Punjab and Kashmir in the early 1980s and in the mid-1990s, respectively. Nobody should be surprised about it. The answer to this does not lie in nationalist, jingoistic rhetoric. Nor will scape-goating help.
The string of events warrant a deep introspection. A cost-benefit analysis of the “strategic framework” that we have peddled so far appears to be the call of the hour. The express speed of events and the socio-economic attrition of this country has blunted the arguments that the security establishment has spun around its inaction against groups such as the Haqqani Network, Mulla Omar’s Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The obsession with “Pakistan’s geo-strategic importance and relevance “ must now give way to serious consideration for international obligations and a turn-around in civil-military relations.
Militants have in a sustained way dented the credibility of the armed forces and exposed inadequacies in the defence and security apparatus. This not only requires clear answers on the level of preparedness but also warrants institutional introspection on the real capacity and the rhetoric that often echoes out of the country’s power centres.
Compelling evidence suggests that so far, the civilian and military security institutions seem to have acted in isolation of each other, with the civilians usually reluctant to tread upon what is considered as the “army’s assets.”
Pakistan’s fragility demands that all institutions join hands to develop synergies on issues such as counter-terrorism and counter-extremism.