IN the years that Pakistan has been mired in militancy and terrorism, there has been no dearth of detractors maintaining that it is the inefficiencies of different arms of the state — if not outright collusion — that has allowed matters to reach such a pass. This charge is hotly denied, by state representatives who say they have no part in the mess, and by a citizenry that cannot digest the levels of ineptitude on part of the leadership that this would imply. Unfortunately, there is no denying that with distressing frequency, evidence of such monumental incompetence surfaces that questions cannot but be raised about the state’s levels of political will and operational ability. In this category must be included the revelations about July’s Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak, when militants managed to free over 250 prisoners without so much as a peep from the law enforcement and security apparatus.
The report of the inquiry commission tasked with investigating the incident, the contents of which were made public by this newspaper yesterday, constitutes an indictment of the security and law enforcement agencies. It ought to have served as a wake-up call of no minor proportions at all levels. Instead, it was shelved — to the utter lack of surprise of those familiar with the head-in-the-sand approach in Pakistan. The report notes that over two dozen Mehsud militants, accompanied by several more from Punjab, Uzbekistan and other places, managed to travel all the way from South Waziristan to D.I. Khan. Once there, they set up pickets at 10 strategic locations around the prison, cutting off security and law enforcement personnel’s access to the area. Shockingly, most of these pickets were located not far from police and military checkpoints. The militants blew the prison’s gates open with rocket-propelled grenades and over the next 45 minutes or so conducted a “methodical” search of the cells and barracks, freeing prisoners and even identifying and executing four members of a minority sect. Having done so, they dispersed; some headed back to South Waziristan, others melted into the city. All this was achieved with virtually no interference from the security and law enforcement apparatus, which had in the preceding days been beefed up, according to the report.
It could be argued that a jailbreak on such a large scale would have been difficult to counter — except that not only had a similar incident taken place before, this time there was even intelligence that an attack was imminent. Clearly, no lessons were learnt from the assault in Bannu last April, claimed by the TTP, which resulted in nearly 400 prisoners being sprung from jail. Further, in the case of D.I. Khan, the civilian and security administrations had been made aware of the threat and had even made efforts to ward it off. If this was the state of preparedness of the authorities in an area which has long borne the brunt of militancy and terrorism — one that has, with great fanfare, been announced as having been brought back into the fold of the state’s writ — what the situation must be in other areas can only be guessed at. Most worryingly, perhaps, the report notes that about half an hour into the assault on the jail, a militant came onto the police wireless frequency to taunt the law enforcers and to say the city would be razed to the ground. The confidence is astounding; the image conjured is of a savvy, well-equipped militant network running merry rings around a helpless state and security apparatus.
The report refers to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan as a “Frankenstein” and warns that as long as “even a semblance of these outfits” exists, the violence will continue unabated and all strengthening of the security apparatus will be in vain. Is the state refusing to look the threat in the eye? Is it shying away from recognising the enormity of the problem? Or, even more disturbingly, is it impotent, unable to muster the strength and intelligence that the task requires? On the answer to this question hinges the future of the country.