If the attack on the Sri Lankan team convoy in Lahore on March 3, and the suicide strike at a madressah in Pishin, Balochistan, were any indicators to go by, the recent claims of successes in the tribal areas at best offer a temporary respite from the hostilities in Swat, FATA and elsewhere. Clearly, the state of Pakistan is up against forces which are out to destabilize and decimate this country which is fighting so many wars at various fronts. Most of these wars are self-inflicted, and some are the consequence as well as the reaction of the flawed policies that the establishment has pursued in Kashmir and Afghanistan for years. The chickens apparently have come home — not only to roost but also to inflict damages and pain on the mentors and their estate.
Nothing could be more embarrassing than the bitter fact that about a dozen people went on a shooting spree for roughly 8 minutes, managed to put down at least five people and then disappeared, without a trace. The video available shows the attackers with rucksacks or travel bags, which probably contained the clothes they might have changed after vanishing into the nearby streets. That all of the attackers escaped unhurt after inflicting the damage is abundantly clear from the fact that there apparently was no security deployment along the route (compare this with the hundreds of policemen who are placed along the roads used by the VVIPs). If the governor’s rule projected the brazen exercise of the Presidential powers – constitutional extremism – the attack on the Lankan team demonstrated militant extremism – regardless of who perpetrated it. At the same time, the dastardly attack, that instantly became a headline news all over the globe, also badly exposed the lacunae in the security apparatus. The security apparatus, particularly the civilian police and the intelligence outfits, is even otherwise less proactive and more reactive.
And in this case, the big question confronting the big wigs within the security establishment is whether they really were aware of the potential of such attacks?
Our intelligence and security officials keep telling us of the Indian and other foreign hands in the terrorism that we have seen in recent years. This should have made them vigilant and alive to every eventuality as far as protecting a foreign cricket team was concerned. The Sri Lankan players did a great favour to Pakistan by agreeing to play here – after so many other teams had refused to do so. But the state of Pakistan failed us – yet again.
Conceded that planned and coordinated attacks are hard to prevent because they always contain an element of surprise for the security people, yet getting hold of the attackers and planners – almost a dozen of them – or at least putting a few of them down should have been possible had the security arrangements been adequate. Had those responsible for the protection of foreign visitors factored surprise attacks in, the climax of the deadly incident would have been different. By all counts, it is an extremely serious security flaw that has left us all shamed and embarrassed. It is not less than a disaster for a state that boasts nuclear power and insists it is capable of handling emergencies. And mind you, the attack on the Lankan team – which obviously muddied Pakistan’s image even more – was not an emergency; given the trail of violence that we have suffered in recent years, it was a probability from day one and it required elaborate security arrangements. The reality is there were none except for the usual drills.
The unfortunate incident brings us to another issue that lies at the heart of our problems: capacity of state institutions. Are our civilian and military intelligence outfits geared up for the challenges that Pakistan currently faces. These challenges flow from the low-intensity insurgency in FATA, Swat, and the volatile conditions in the southern districts of the Frontier Province.
These challenges become even more pressing when seen in the context of the short-sighted decisions and actions by as powerful a person as the president. When he followed up the disqualification of the Sharif brothers with the Governor’s Rule in Punjab, the president left no doubt in our minds that he has no qualms about brazenly abusing his powers. That extreme action also demonstrated to all and sundry that the power-drunk ruling elite remain oblivious to the consequences of their actions such as the governor’s rule and the mobile courts ordinance. They most probably confuse good governance and justice delivery with gimmicks such as Mobile Courts and the mere rhetoric that promises green pastures to the people of Pakistan.
Rulers have repeatedly failed the people. On March 2, they failed them again. So did the security establishment, which, acting out of the usual state of denial, would try to put various spins on the entire episode.
But these spins are not going to change the reality of Pakistan in 2009 – a state ruled by self-serving political elite, an assertive military and omnipresent military establishment, a relatively sleepy intelligence apparatus, and a sloppy police force which is deputed either to the protection of VVIPs or the persecution of the opposition forces. A state, riven with contradictions, and reeling under inefficiency and lack of vision. God save Pakistan!!