Averting apocalypse


Unless we act immediately, a catastrophe like the attack on Karachi airport could happen anytime



Two well-armed groups of militants penetrated separate entry points at Jinnah International Airport Karachi at around 11 pm on Sunday night, killing 5 ASF personnel in the process. Nineteen good men, 11 belonging to ASF, laid down their lives to save the honour (and future prosperity) of this nation. Charred bodies of 7 workers were recovered from a cold storage facility 26 hours later. Many seriously injured are still in critical condition. Alerted by the firing, ASF men at their posts on the tarmac forced the militants to take cover in a relatively deserted part (at that time) of the airport (Shaheen, Ispahani and Gerry Hangars). Given crucial time and space, ASF’s Quick Response Force (QRF) reacted well to contain the militant’s intent and capacity for death and destruction.

The terrorists’ weapons, ammunition and food packs suggested the target was to either hijack one or more aircraft full of passengers or blow some up at Terminal 3. Had our ASF heroes faltered, the damage would have been immense, exceeding that of the Tamil Tigers attack on Colombo International Airport on July 4, 1983, destroying 8 Sri Lankan military aircrafts and damaging 18 more, with cost estimated at US$350 million.

Rangers and Police reinforcements reached the airport very quickly and the police set up roadblocks. Assuming command and control, DG Rangers Maj Gen Rizwan Akhtar must be commended for quickly reinforcing the ASF elements and engaging the militants with Rangers. An Army unit from Malir Cantonment mounted on Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) set up a protective cordon a couple of hours later, allowing those already engaged in battle to finish the job. They were later joined by SSG’s Zarrar Company. With so many different outfits operating at night, how does one separate friend from foe? It is a miracle no one got killed by “friendly fire”. This has to be rationalised for the future, the obvious suggestion is to drastically beef up the ASF’s QRF. Taking the brunt of casualties, the ASF and Rangers did a magnificent job in eliminating the militants. Looking like Uzbeks, 7 militants were killed, 3 blew themselves up.

The electronic media’s enthusiasm to show live TV feed was dangerous, inadvertently giving away the strength and positioning of our forces. The police blockade should keep them further away, and no interview should be allowed while the fighting is going on. Only formal briefings by a duly appointed spokesman. The midday firing emanating from Pehlwan Goth adjacent to the ASF Camp at Karachi Airport on Tuesday set off alarm bells (and rumours galore thereof) because the TV channels screamed to high heaven about another “terrorist attack” on the airport. The channels must not run amok in their effort to get more TV viewer mileage; they need to be more responsible.

The print media tends to be even worse, a “holier than thou” hypocrite pontificated about the agencies “not doing their job”, conveniently forgetting that he and his ilk have been railing against the Army and ISI on what is clearly an external agenda, forcing them to defend themselves rather than concentrate on their job. At the macro-level what is needed, other than cooperation between intelligences agencies and settling up of a Counterterrorism Force (CTF), is de-weaponisation of Karachi, de-politicising the LEAs and giving them more powers for “search and secure” operations. Without making the local bodies functional, ferreting out militant hideouts will otherwise be almost impossible because of massive ill-planned urbanisation of Karachi.

After the Mehran incident in 2011 the ISI were tasked with checking the vulnerabilities of strategic installations in Karachi and other cities. A complete video presentation (alongwith others) on dozens of such spots at the Karachi Airport was made to the then Corps Comd Karachi, Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam (now DG ISI), who shared it with the Ministry of Defence for immediate implementation. Unfortunately, CAA had other priorities and except for raising the perimeter fence at a few places, they simply sat on the observations/recommendations.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) must also follow the practices prevailing in the world and drastically reduce the number of airport entry passes. Country-wide 26,000 passes are issued for the functionaries working at the airport; parliamentarians, ministers, etc need 2,300 VIP passes, the commercial shops within the airport are issued 1,500, not counting the 750 passes for Corporate VIPs. When I suggested to the DG CAA, Air Marshal (retd) Mohammad Yusuf, that other than the functionaries (which could be reduced) most other passes could be replaced by a few professional protocol companies, as is the common practice in the world, he gave me a contemptuous look. With his job depending upon satisfying VIPs, what does one expect from a consummate bureaucrat heading what essentially must be a commercial entity?

Landing at Faisal Airbase at about 4 am Monday morning, Capt Shujaat Azeem and the Civil Aviation personnel fast-tracked, making the airport operational in 12 hours from the time the firing stopped at 4:00 am. They deserve being commended. Shedding crocodile tears for those who gave up their lives, those responsible for the blunders and our deficiencies that led to this near disaster are sitting in generator-run air-conditioned offices, basking in the glory earned by our heroes, they must be taken to task. Pakistan has been spared both a major disaster and an unending embarrassment. Shujaat Azeem needs to clean up his house, starting with the “mafia” entrenched in the Aviation Division and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Having met the DG CAA only once, one can only comment that the gentlemen should be sent out to pasture sooner rather than later. Get someone competent!

What has been done to overturn the ban on recruitment in the ASF? Short by 600 personnel, they cannot fully man even the existing posts. With the ASF badly needing state-of-the-art equipment and technology, has the DG CAA made any noises except give lip-service to the desperate ASF request for replenishment of their critical deficiencies of both personnel and equipment for years? They are short of searchlights, sensors, explosive detection equipment, cargo scanners, communications equipment, metal detectors, infra-red devices, night vision goggles, CCTVs, bullet proof helmets and jackets, vehicles, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), etc. The ministry of defence had a few years earlier made a strong case to the ministry of finance but the Babus shot down the Rs3 billion request. What if an aircraft full of passengers and fuel on the tarmac and costing many billions of rupees caught fire? Could we afford the cost of that collateral damage to our aviation industry? With our airports at the cutting edge of “Foreign Direct Investment” (FDI), what will any investor do if the common perception is that our points of entry are not safe and secure?

All airports in the world are vulnerable and difficult to protect. One expected a blowback from the TTP; there may be more. Surprise is always with the attacker, but useful and actionable intelligence must stop him before he steps out of his base on his mission. A full-blown catastrophe has only been averted because of the bravery of our ASF personnel. Ch Nisar is one of the capable colleagues of Mian Nawaz Sharif. Having talked the good talk about the dire necessity for a CTF for almost a year, he must now deliver before another apocalypse hits us.


  1. We can all congratulate each other on killing these terrorists, but sad reality is that self denial will lead us no where. Marriage halls still exist within Mehran Base, accessible to the public ,because of petty corporate interests and so called welfare projects. Terrorists heavily armed managed to reach Krarachi Airport, enter through Foker Gate, which was poorly manned, and yet we call this a failed attempt. Had it not been for the bravery of thre ASF guards on duty, things could have Ben far worse. There was a security red alert, yet the gate was not properly secured and for full 16 hours, Pakistan was in the news for all the wrong lessons. As for the DG CAA , where was the fire fighting and quick emergency response, which they had been talking about. Why were rules concerning storage of dangerous goods not observed and enforced on Ground Handling agents located in Cargo Terminal with access to sensitive aprons.

  2. May I suggest the highest gallantry ward for DG CAA and Commander ASF and can we please loan them to Homeland Security in USA in exchange for waiving all our debts, so that they can benefit from their brilliance. Come on Ikram Saigol give us. Break, stop this Bu-l. Sh-t. Time to realize that this is collective failure of all who are in power, including our intelligence network.

  3. The fact remains that these 10 or 13 Uzbeks and their handlers, facilitators and those who housed them lived in Karachi, carried out surveillance and reach the airport, inspite of all barricades and checkpoints in this city where Rangers and police are on a state of alert and so should have been the agencies. It is unfortunate that agencies were preoccupied in egoistic pursuits, trying to teach lessons to some media house, instead of focusing on their primary job, which should have been tracking and monitoring terrorists. Theirs is a job which is more sacrosanct than pursuits in territory of political engineering, unbecoming of a professional disciplined intelligence network involved in securing state from external threats and an insurgency which it faces from terrorism of the worst kind.

  4. Having known and met Mr Sehgal, it doesn't surprise me to see how he never falls short of words when it comes to praising VIPs. That's how he has managed to grab those deals worth billions. While reading this article, his words on an American morning show echoed through my ears: "Security is a booming business". http://tune.pk/video/2458968/is-ikram-sehgal-a-de

    No doubt it is, but only for people like him. For us, it's a matter of life and death. I do give him credit for leaving the story unfinished in all his writings, and that too so tactfully and shamelessly. I wish he could also give us a count of billions he has made in those defense and security deals. And how he takes on anyone who stands between him and the money. And look who's talking about the mafia. Isn't he himself one of the biggest business mafias in this country?

    His elegy about the deals which were shot down is very much understandable. But, I wish he could also tell us how many of those 3 billions would have ended up in his bank accounts. He is misleading the people under the garb of security analyst, while in reality he is driving his own business interests.

  5. It's about time that we expose traitors like Ikram Sehgal who can go to any extent for his personal gains. Isn't he the one who amassed a fortune out of G4S (which is nothing less holier than Blackwater) operations in Pakistan? These guys will sell us all for money.

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