Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Threat Lies Within, Not Across Our Border: Pakistan

If things were not quite so serious, we could imagine we are living in a black comedy of some kind. In the latest episode, six terrorists, according to an official count by the interior minister, were able to enter one of the most important bases in the country, apparently by strolling across a small drain and some bushes towards its rear. And after doing so, they apparently managed to make their way towards a hanger where navy aircraft, including P-3C Orion aircraft, used to gather surveillance and intelligence against submarines, were parked and managed to destroy at least one of them.

At various stages of the operation, the media reported that some attackers have been captured alive. Over a dozen navy and one Rangers personnel died in the ensuing firefight and explosions. The immediate question that is raised by the magnitude, audacity, planning and duration of this attack on what should be a heavily-guarded and secure military installation is: Could there have been help from the inside? Or perhaps, was it possible for the planners of the whole operation to get inside the base for reconnaissance? Again this, too, would not be possible without an element of sympathy among some stationed on the base.

The incredibly audacious attack, for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility, was obviously immaculately planned. The militants knew just where the weak points of the base lay. They also, according to reports, first took out a fire-station located within the installation, making it next to impossible for anyone to put out the massive blaze they lit as they went after the P-3C Orion aircraft stationed there. Two, of the strategically significant aircraft, costing millions of dollars, were destroyed.

A hugely dangerous security breach has taken place. The statement by a navy spokesman early in the day on May 23 that there was no breach of security bordered on the absurd and showed that there was an unfortunate tendency to not see the reality. A massive intelligence and security failure led to this attack being staged. And whether we like it or not — and, yes, there will be some, of a decidedly more conspiratorial bent of mind, who will blame India and/or America for this — in the eyes of the world (and perhaps even many within the country) Pakistan is emerging as a country quite unable to defend even its most significant assets.

Who is responsible for all this? As taxpayers and citizens we all know the colossal sums which go to the military to, in theory, allow it to defend us. If it cannot do so, if elements within it, albeit at lower levels, are sympathetic to the cause of the militants and the terrorists and provide them with information needed to plan such an attack, what is being done to weed them out and expel them from the institution? If we remember — unfortunately our collective memory tends to be quite short — the attack on General Pervez Musharraf’s motorcade in Rawalpindi in 2003 was orchestrated by lower-ranking elements in the forces who were angry about his policies and siding with the US on the war against terror.

Clearly, not much was done then, and nothing was learnt or else we wouldn’t be seeing such attacks now, seven years later. Given that the attacks managed to destroy at least one if not two naval aircraft crucial to our anti-submarine surveillance capability, the usual gang of suspects (read conspiracy theorists and self-styled media experts/anchors) has already come out and tried to blame our neighbours (read India) for the attack. These elements do a great disservice to the nation and to all of us because by their deeds and words they mislead the people about the real identity of the attackers and their motives. It shouldn’t be difficult for us to see that the Taliban or their allied groups would be behind the attack and the longer we deny seeing this very obvious reality, the more difficult it becomes to successfully fight the terrorists and militants. We all need to understand and realise that the biggest threat to our national security and, in fact, to our existence and way of life comes from these people, and they are very much within us.


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