Twice bitten, once shy


We’ve been there, we’ve done that. We even bought the oversized T-shirt and then sold it. For over three years, secure naval facilities smack in the center of our cities have been targeted by terrorists; so why does the attack on PNS Mehran feel like a surrealist nightmare? One would have thought that after attacks on the War College in Lahore’s Government Officer’s Residence area, a slew of bombings in Rawalpindi, and a few buses in Karachi, our sailors would have made the necessary arrangements to defend naval facilities and be hardened enough to take on the terrorist on home ground. Fortunately or unfortunately, after the incident at PNS Mehran we have definitive proof that neither of these objectives are being met. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to incompetence, but with the recent attack it feels like the confidence we reposed in our government has reached new lows. What exactly is everyone up to?

In many ways the attack on PNS Mehran is comparable to the Abbottabad operation it was meant to avenge. For one thing, both operations succeeded in achieving their objectives with surgical precision. While two holes in OBL seems like a bargain compared to the loss of our long range surveillance Orion aircraft, the attack itself confirms our worst fears—the guards really are asleep. And what’s worse is that the people we have entrusted our national security to appear to be more interested in flashing Harley street smiles and Zegna suits than telling us the truth. The public interest appears to have lost out to commercial interests that have become so ingrained within our organs of state that all manner of shenanigans are said to take place behind the walls of PNS Mehran.

While live footage of the battle in Karachi stands in stark contrast to the information blackout over OBL’s dispatch, here again we have proof of ineptitude. After seventeen hours of failure, the institutional response to the terrorists has cost us several lives and many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage. And we still can’t say with reasonable certainty whether four, or six, or maybe twelve terrorists managed to take over such a sensitive facility. The incompetence normally associated with Pakistani terrorists is also attributable to the government and its handling of national security issues. How else could any self-respecting terrorist attempt to lay siege to the fortress that is (or was) PNS Mehran?

Few have any idea of the budgets of our national security institutions, and the common man is left with nothing but to ask what all those road blocks and police pickets are in aid of? Surely the citizen standing for hours at a check post waiting to be frisked has the right to know exactly where taxpayer money is going if it’s not helping out those who get a large chunk of it. If seventeen hours and the ensuing confusion is all this government is capable of, then we are probably better off just privatizing our security services. As it stands, commercial interests have gotten so deeply entrenched within the military that marriage halls and other such profit making ventures are operating within PNS Mehran. So we may as well outsource the protection of our facilities to those that are able to discharge that duty effectively.

So here we are again, trying to comprehend the internal struggles of our government agencies as the myth of security explodes around us. Perhaps they all deserve to stand in the corner as the citizens of this country initiate the debate on how to resolve our security lapses with a degree of finality. What is certain is that the nation needs to take drastic measures to ensure security. Shall Pakistan go down the path of the United Arab Emirates and hire a professional security force to protect military infrastructure and facilities. Or given the existing state of affairs, are we going to let some clown try and convince us that military and nuclear assets are secure? After PNS Mehran, it seems the government has lost its credibility and such claims can only make us uncomfortable.

Until we begin to refute the lies continuously being perpetuated by the government, citizens remain as silent victims of the disruptive nature of the war against terror. One thing is for certain though. The sovereignty and honor which Pakistanis are so eager to uphold will not keep this country secure. So perhaps the time is right to condemn such words to the dustbin and call them for what they really are—dirty words for the Land of the Pure.


The writer is a consultant on public policy.