IT was along the lines of shock and awe: residents of Dera Ismail Khan were jolted awake around 11pm on Monday night by a massive explosion followed by a series of blasts and gunfire. The area surrounding the Central Jail — located in a peopled area adjacent to a hospital and a school — was plunged into darkness as members of the TTP took out electricity transformers, set ambushes and fought their way in, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. Inside, they called out over loudspeakers the names of those they were there for. How many escaped is being disputed: KP chief minister Pervez Khattak has said that the figure is around 175, including 35 hard-core militants; the TTP claim 300, and other intelligence reports put the figure at over 230. Meanwhile, the raiders’ organised brutality is evident in that, notwithstanding the chaos, some Shia prisoners were identified and killed.
If the audacity of the attack is breathtaking, so is the fact that despite a similar assault on Bannu jail last year, the authorities were so easily caught out again — even though, this time, provincial security and administrative authorities had intelligence that a raid on the internment facility was imminent. Increasingly, the militant network appears an organised, emboldened and well-armed force running rings around a sluggish, even inept, security network. The PTI-led provincial government has, like the centre, failed to formulate any sort of policy towards countering militancy. The KP administration has not even gone as far as owning the war. This head-in-the-sand approach can only boost the confidence of the militants, while demoralising the people that resist them. It may well be that the militants are changing their tactics to springing their men out of jail as opposed to negotiating with the government for their release. This necessitates an urgent fortification of detention centres, not just in KP but across the country. Perhaps even more importantly, it necessitates the recognition that it is the state of Pakistan itself that is under assault.