“If the army doesn’t back off, we will turn entire Pakistan into Kashmir for it.” A Tehreeke Taliban commander, Abdullah, gave me this message in the outskirts of Wana, South Waziristan, in April 2004, as we sat at a compound late in the evening and discussed the ongoing military operations in the region. On June 10 that year, militants waylaid former Karachi Corps commander Ahsan Saleem Hayat’s convoy as he was headed to the corps headquarters. As his motorcade approached the site where a bomb had been planted, several gunmen opened fire on his motorcade, leaving six dead and about ten injured.
Seven years on, look what is happening around us. It is therefore, instructive, to look at the raid on the PNS Mehran from three angels. If the objective was to make Pakistani defense look vulnerable, the operation ended as a stunning success for the planners. If the end-goal was to embarrass the Pakistani security establishment, it was yet another in a series of similar daring attacks. And if it was intended to convey that the country’s security establishment remains the prime target of the attackers, the message has been delivered in unambiguous manner.
This of course was not the first tri-dimensional incident that exposed the vulnerabilities of our defenses. The biggest embarrassment thus far was of course the dramatic raid on the GHQ on October 10, 2009, that had left the nation and the world baffled for almost 22 hours. Earlier that month, as well as in March, the Manawan Police Training School in 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 hallmarks of the LeT-style Fidayeen commando attacks.
The bloody 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 Lashkare Taiba fighters had probably learnt from the Tamil Tigers and the applied during their Fidayeen (suicide) missions in Indian Kashmir; raid, kill and be ready to get killed. 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 demoralize 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 in minds and hearts of people and the cumulative effect is a demoralized security apparatus and an anxious public, unsure of their safety. The American Navy Seals’ illegal raid to get Osama bin Laden on May 2nd had precipitated these fears and anxieties, but the storming of the PNS Mehran not only stoked up these fears, but also kicked up serious questions about the level of preparedness within the security establishment. It has also exposed the extended tentacles of al Qaeda and its supporter from Waziristan to Karachi. Commando strikes at chosen targets indicate that al-Qaeda or its local “force multipliers” such as Jaishe Mohammad, Harkatuljihad 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, has claimed responsibility for the attack, and has called it a revenge for the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
ut the game-plan is much more complicated than meets the eye; Pakistan is being paid back in kind for what it had helped mount in the Indian Punjab and Kashmir in the early 1980s and mid 1980s, respectively. Nobody should be surprised about it. As you sow, so shall you reap, is the centuries’ old idiom. The answer to this does not lie in nationalist, jingoistic rhetoric. Nor will scape-goating help.
The string of events warrants 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 have essentially blunted the arguments that the security establishment has spun around its inaction against groups such as the Haqqani Network, Mulla Omar’s Taliban and Lashkare 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 of the civil-military relations.
Militants have in a sustained way dented the credibility of the armed forces and exposed inadequacies in the defense and security arrangements. 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 in touching what is considered as “army’s assets.”
Pakistan’s fragility demands that all institutions join hands to develop synergies on issues such as counter-terrorism and counter-extremism. So far, they have all been fire-fighting or ducking under lofty rhetoric. The panacea lies in developing a common vision for future and greater coordination among all security institutions. Without this, the country will remain rudderless and directionless.