Why aren’t we more worried?
Last Sunday, our ravished “security paradigm”, which dominates so much of our thinking, was once again blown into tatters by an audacious jail break operation carried out by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan at the central prison Bannu.
Whereas, the incident at first seemed like ‘mundane’ terrorist activity but soon when the dust settled down and a clearer picture was drawn many were left aghast at how deftly, with what supreme finesse, the TTP militants managed to achieve their objectives by freeing twenty of their companions along side 384 other prisoners and fled away into the sunset. Faced with this surreal state of affairs, most of us till date must be struggling to come to terms with the fact that the bizarre event that happened was actually real.
My memory rankles when I try to draw an analogy between this recent incident with the Abbottabad affair last year when we as a nation, a nation that boasts of sitting on a neat pile of nukes and impregnable security, were caught with our pants down.
The modus operandi of both the incidents were quite the same but what comes to me as a surprise is that our vaunted warriors of national security, our highly cherished eyes and ears were duped on both occasions. Now this is quite damning.
But, let’s not flog a dead horse. The May 2nd episode is history now and has already been consigned to the dustbin of oblivion. What I am driving at is the see-no-evil-speak-no-evil policy adopted by our state institutes on the recent brazen attack. The ISPR remains tight-lipped on the incident as it is already occupied in updating the nation with the rescue operations at Gayari sector in Siachen, whereas, the federal government came out with responses familiar to that of a waterlogged brain. We as a nation are renowned for our temporary short term memory loss and the deafening silence is probably an attempt to put the lid on the sordid episode. But the more things are kept under wraps, the greater would be the curiosity and the subject of rumours.
The somewhat muted reaction to this daring action by the militants is quite deplorable and has resulted in the surfacing of some pertinent questions and rumours which needs to be addressed.
First, how can a convoy of militants armed up to their teeth cover the approximately hundred kilometres stretch of road from North Waziristan to Bannu unnoticed? Even a dunderhead would wonder why they were not stopped on any of the military checkposts that are strategically placed in every nook and corner of FATA.
I’ve been frequently visiting the tribal areas and know firsthand the rigorous checking and frisking procedure that one has to undergo time and time again on every checkpost. The military catalogues each and every item on a person. There have been instances where food commodities of the locals have been seized on the flimsy pretext of carrying more than is required.
Your activities in FATA are watched, recorded and logged even when you are scratching your head. But after this episode it seems like the check posts are only made for the locals and the military and the militants enjoy a free E-tag facility on these roads.
Second, why our security forces failed to counter attack in spite of the fact that the militants stayed on at the Bannu central jail for about two hours? How can the militants seal all entry and exit points at will without being spotted? Bannu has been a sensitive area since the inception of war in FATA and is flushed with spooks gathering intelligence. Third, why the security of the jail was not beefed up knowing the fact that it was accommodating some of the very dangerous Taliban militants? Forth, how did the militants succeeded in fleeing back to North Waziristan unhurt? The inept handling of the whole situation from our security agencies surely acted as manna from heaven for the militants.
The rumours doing the rounds are even more disturbing. It is being said that well-choreographed action received a go ahead nod from the civil-military leadership as part of barter for the Swiss couple and Islamia College Peshawar Principal Ajmal Khan who are in TTP’s custody.
A word of mouth is also buzzing around claiming that certain officers within the army ranks facilitated the operation. Even though these are rumours, the very fact that they are circulating is an alarm bell of the most compelling kind.
On the other hand, in neighbouring Afghanistan, the nascent Afghan security forces pulled off a great rescue and counter insurgent operation when the Taliban successfully breached the “The Ring of Steel” security in Kabul and adjoining provinces. The Afghan security forces which pale in front of our 64 year old security establishment brought back calm after holding their nerves to the 18 hour assault. Food for introspection.
The Bannu incident should have jolted Pakistan but as a nation we care no more. At least, the incident would have served as a cold shower to those who claim that our army has established the government writ in 90 percent of FATA.
These claims seem more optics than substance. Perhaps, the very denial of the real and imminent failures of the past has allowed things to come to a head. Compressed in a nutshell, if the rumours turn out to be not true, and I fervently hope they don’t, then what the militants will and can do is a no-brainer.