Badaber and déjà vu


    Why does Pakistan’s history of terror attacks keep repeating itself?



    The September 18 attack on Badaber seemed like déjà vu from start to finish. Once again the country saw an attack on a defence institution, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) camp in this case. Once again the country was told that the attackers were on a mission to kill, and didn’t mind getting killed in the process. Once again the country had a neighbour that was the ‘culprit’.

    The story seems like an old one, and this is one history that continues to repeat itself. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major-General Asim Bajwa spoke to media soon after the attack.

    “After dismounting, the terrorists used rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and automatic rifle fire to breach the gates and gain entry into the PAF base,” Bajwa had told the media on September 18, in a press conference after the attackers had been taken down. As the attackers began to feel the heat of the onslaught of our defence they turned their attention towards a mosque on the base. “[The mosque] unfortunately became a target for the attackers, and they rushed in and opened fire on the people present for morning prayers,” Bajwa had told media.

    Three civilians, along with 23 members of the air force, lost their lives. The 14 that came to attack took almost twice the numbers they reduced in their own organisations.

    With Zarb-e-Azb in its final stages, how does an attack of this nature happen? TTP claimed responsibility soon after the dust had settled — how does an organisation that’s on the run have the capacity to mount an attack like this, still? These are questions that no one has answers to, because no one has any real quantifiable information on what we have actually achieved under the grand military operation that has displaced all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

    “We have recordings, which reveal the attack was planned, executed and controlled from Afghanistan,” the DG ISPR had said. However, only a few days after Bajwa had proclaimed that the attack was planned and controlled from Afghanistan, news broke that five of the 14 attackers had been identified — they were all Pakistanis.

    Salman Zaidi leads Jinnah Institute’s Strategic Security Initiative, he feels that details around such events are always sketchy and pointing the finger at Afghanistan so soon may not have been a sound decision.

    Three civilians, along with 23 members of the air force, lost their lives. The 14 that came to attack took almost twice the numbers they reduced in their own organisations

    “I think it was really our moment of point scoring to place blame on Afghanistan. Not to be too harsh about who made the statement and how it was done — but we have been looking for evidence to pin on Afghanistan for a while, and there may even be such evidence, but now that we know that those attackers were Pakistani there is some degree of embarrassment. And the Afghans feel fully vindicated, and of course Pakistan has no friends when it comes to such things,” Zaidi said while talking to DNA.

    “Why did Pakistan make this statement? I think that Pakistan has had anecdotal or other evidence that attacks are launched from other borders. But as things have turned out I don’t think the facts have cleared to our advantage, and I think public diplomacy is always a bad idea. It was a statement made too soon, perhaps,” he said.

    Afghanistan itself has reacted strongly to the allegations. The Afghan president’s Deputy Spokesperson Sayed Zafar Hashemi told Afghan media, “We vehemently reject baseless claims that the attack in Peshawar was planned or controlled from Afghanistan.”

    “No terrorist group will be allowed to use Afghan soil against neighbouring countries,” Afghan foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmad Shakib Mustaghni told Afghan media on September 19.

    Pakistan doesn’t seem like it will be backing down from these allegations, despite the fact that a more than a third of the attackers are from its own soil. Local media also reported that sources privy a high level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the matter said that Pakistan isn’t going to let go of the issue anytime soon. While evidence will be shared with Afghanistan, the case will be pursued at this end.

    Ministry of interior PR director, Sarfraz Hussain, spoke to DNA about the blame-game.

    “We have been very clear about this and we have issued a written statement where we outlined that there were 14 of them, and only five have been identified, while nine others remain. We have combed through all available NADRA records and evidences and the remaining men do not seem like Pakistan’s — they are foreigners,” he said.

    While the first five were Pakistanis, the government is at this point in time sure that the remaining nine are most certainly foreigners.

    “Our security agencies traced the incident back to its mastermind and point of origination on that very day. We have also officially said that we have decided that whatever proof we find will be shared with the government of Afghanistan,” he added.

    Hussain was of the view that it would take a little more time before the exact nationality of the other nine could be determined.

    “When we figure out who they are we will share this information with the media,” he said.

    It won’t be enough for Pakistan to successfully take out people that come to attack its soil — because some of those people exist here already

    The PR director compared the number of incidences in 2013 to the current year and highlighted that such incidences have reduced a great deal.

    However, just how big an achievement it is that we have managed to reduce the number of attacks on our defence institutions is yet to be ascertained.

    Salman Zaidi feels that the situation is changing for the better, although much more work is needed before it can be called ideal. “I think we’re doing what we can in terms of security. Of course much more can be done… far more can be done. There’s only just started fighting this battle — this war — in a proactive way,” he said.

    “There has to be a better civil society response in terms of what they can do. The whole intelligence sharing and political machinery of public messaging, and the entire civilian structure needs to come around this and show better grit, purpose, intent and more fortitude,” he added.

    It won’t be enough for Pakistan to successfully take out people that come to attack its soil — because some of those people exist here already. What the country needs to be in addition to fighting the war on terror with weapons, is to fight the war on terror with ideology.

    The demons that we created years ago transformed into the modern day Taliban. Those demons need to be taken down the same way they were created: through ideals. Till we manage to secure our own people, it won’t matter how many times we point the finger at a neighbouring country.

    Pakistan has to start by targeting its own evils if it wants to be safe.