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Poor ability to fight: D.I. Khan jail attack

August 01, 2013

A DAY after the epic debacle that was Monday’s assault on Dera Ismail Khan’s Central Jail, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said it was “very strange that people came in pickup trucks, motorbikes, broke into the jail and took away 250 prisoners easily”. Strange may be the correct term but it is equally applicable to the failure of his administration whose responsibility it is to ensure that such security breaches are prevented. This was no repeat of the Bannu jail raid last year. In this case, security and administration officials knew that such a hit was imminent. On Monday, hours before the attack, the area’s commissioner held a conference to discuss the matter with law-enforcement agencies and the civil administration. For the provincial administration to say, then, that it was an intelligence failure was both disingenuous and an irresponsible effort to deflect culpability. It was a tactical failure, pure and simple.

Why this tactical failure occurred, though, is extraordinarily disturbing in its implications. After the jail-break information was shared, standard operating procedures were fleshed out and specific response tasks were worked out. Over 100 jail guards and 75 personnel of the Frontier Reserve Force were available, as well as the Elite Police Force and armoured personnel carriers. But when it came to holding the line, the defences melted away. As a disgruntled security official said, metaphorically, the gun was there but there was no one to pull the trigger. Do law-enforcement personnel even have the capability of facing hordes as organised, single-minded and well-armed as the various militant groups clumped under the TTP? True, money has been pumped into the police force, particularly in KP, but most of it has gone towards salaries and increased strength. There has been little consideration of the fact that the numbers of personnel are immaterial if they aren’t trained for a fight that makes very specific demands.

If we are not to reach a situation where militant groups can set their sights on ever higher targets, the law-enforcement apparatus needs an immediate overhaul to meet the escalating challenges posed by what has been the reality for several years now. Pakistan needs to set up modern maximum-security prisons designed to resist assault and prevent escapes; colonial-era internment centres, relics of another age, are simply not enough. The equation is, on paper, simple: the militants are increasingly well-organised, trained and armed; the state law-enforcement apparatus is not. The outcome of the conflict will ultimately be decided on the basis of the disparity between the two sides’ capabilities.