THE Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak was alarming. But the government’s response was equally embarrassing.

Over 100 Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants raided the jail and took away their comrades while setting free more than 200 other prisoners. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has held nearby villagers responsible for the incident.

The peace deal with the local Kulachi tribes has reportedly been annulled because government officials believe the militants had used the outskirts of Kulachi to orchestrate the jailbreak.

Now this huge intelligence failure is being discussed in the public domain. Prior information was available, guns were installed on the jail roof, security was beefed up and the jail was declared a ‘red zone’, but the elite force fled before the Taliban party entered.

An on-duty policeman took refuge in a nearby gutter during the attack. In his visit to the jail, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf minister Ali Amin Gandapur said he would have been proud if 50 to 100 policemen had sacrificed their lives instead of only five who died defending the premises. Many media reports skipped what the minister tacitly admitted — that despite the presence of two army brigades the security forces reached the jail only after the militants left.

The D.I. Khan incident has once again revealed the crisis that afflicts Pakistan’s security apparatus. The actions of the militants are the consequence of the inaction of the authorities, which makes the latter a party to the crime.

After all, providing security to the people is the responsibility of the state, not the tribesmen. Despite repeated displays of incompetence, no security official has resigned and neither has anyone accepted responsibility. Mind you, the police is not the only party responsible for the massive lapse; the whole security apparatus has failed.

One assumption is that power in the centralised state rests with the security apparatus in Islamabad, which is not answerable to anyone. Therefore, the writ of the state is limited to the federal capital only. This has resulted in widespread confusion in each province, where the provincial bureaucracy and politicians are as confused as the civilians.

Police in D.I. Khan have failed despite available means and information, but we should not ignore the prison head Ghulam Rabbani’s statement, that “only 10 of the 35 guards at the prison were armed and some of their AK-47 assault rifles were not even in good shape”.

How then should we expect the police to defend the jail? Even if we accept the incompetence of the police, this is not a valid reason to absolve the intelligence agencies and local army officials of their responsibility. Those who are familiar with the Waziristan area cannot accept that 200 militants descended from Fata leaving the security forces clueless.

How did they cross scores of military checkpoints before carrying out the successful jailbreak and then go back with ease? And this has not happened for the first time. Last year TTP militants freed close to 400 prisoners after breaking into a jail in the adjacent Bannu district. In the presence of a nearby army cantonment, why should ill-trained jail staff and tribesmen be blamed only?

At the peak of terrorism in Swat paramilitary troops used to lay down arms rather than offer solid resistance. In response to a media query once, a captive Frontier Corps soldier briefly replied, “No need to fight in the absence of reinforcements”.

Hundreds of TTP militants would encircle isolated pockets of troops, but this would not move the high officials into sending backup. In 2008, a few FC personnel fought the Taliban alone for over seven days to resist the militants’ takeover of a grid station. That same year, the house of Awami National Party parliamentarian Waqar Khan was attacked and eight of his family members were killed. In 2009, the TTP killed Kabir Khan, an ordinary citizen, and his family after they put up a 10-hour fight in Matta, Swat. Backup in all these attacks was not provided despite repeated SOS calls.

The brutal death of local religious leader Pir Samiullah was an eye-opener. The man had formed a lashkar (private militia) in upper Swat with the active support of the security forces, but official support did not materialise in the form of reinforcements when 200 militants attacked his house. The religious leader and many of his followers were killed and their bodies were later removed from their graves by the militants and hanged publicly.

In KP and Fata it has become routine that unchallenged militants, after attacking police checkpoints, kidnap lower-ranking personnel only to send back their beheaded bodies. The compensation is money for the family and official funerals, while Taliban videos of their deaths are uploaded online.

While police officials who resisted militants have been targeted thus, unchecked corruption has also affected the force. A billion-rupee scam involving a former inspector general of the KP police, his senior colleagues, and some politicians is a telling example.

In 2009 senior police officials revealed before journalists the kickbacks received by their colleagues in arms procurement and bulletproof jackets. But none in the media questioned in-service officials and politicians.

These are not isolated incidents, but part of a gruesome pattern in which lower-ranking security personnel fight hard and lay down their lives simply due to the absence of an effective counterterrorism strategy and strength of character at the top.

Given the situation, the problem does not lie with the police constable carrying the gun. Nor do the authorities need to conduct departmental inquiries to punish the lower ranks or use civilians as sandbags by forcing them to form lashkars against militants.

Power struggles and corruption inside the unaccountable security apparatus sabotage the process of institutional coordination, which results in incompetence at the top and confusion at the bottom. The whole counterterrorism strategy shares this malaise.

The writer is a journalist and PhD student at the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, US.

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