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For Pakistan, the tipping point


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A plume of smoke rises after an explosion at the Mehran naval aviation base which was attacked by militants in Karachi May 22, 2011. – Reuters Photo

The audacious 16-hour hostage-and-suicide terror attack on a military base in the heart of Karachi has left 13 dead, including 11 Navy officials. What does it portend?

Considering that there were about 10 attackers who successfully mounted a coordinated offensive that inflicted major damage in men and materials including expensive planes, and that at the end of it, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accepted authorship of the offensive, one thing is for sure: the future of a post-Osama bin Laden al Qaeda is not going to be a laid back one and there is no leave-time for the Pakistani security forces any time soon.

The Mehran Base attack highlights the ability of al Qaeda to function effectively as an extremist, reactionary organisation post-bin Laden. It also shows al Qaeda's impressive operational partnership with the TTP and the latter's operational and logistical prowess to mount attacks on high-value targets of their own.

The Mehran Base attack matches the impudence of the 2009 infiltration of the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi when al Qaeda, operating logistically through the TTP, ran riot and held officers and soldiers hostage for 22 hours, killing several. That was the time when confrontation between al Qaeda-TTP and the Pakistani military forces was arguably at its peak since it all began in 2003 with twin attacks on then army chief and president Pervez Musharraf.

It requires a great deal of planning, resource mobilisation, operational logistics and execution to be able to pull off impressive attacks on high-security complexes like the military headquarters and the naval base. Coming within three weeks of bin Laden's swift killing by the Americans in Abbottabad in early May 2011, the attack by al Qaeda-TTP on the naval base in Karachi is the third in a series that carries indelible messages of its readiness of combat and signals that there will be no let off in the strategic fight despite elimination of their iconic leader.

The attack on a Frontier Constabulary base and training center in Shabqadar killed over 80. The Karachi attack has killed over a dozen, not counting the terrorists. The second attack was on a convoy of US diplomats in Peshawar. No intended target was killed here because the vehicles were military reinforcement grade but the message was clear: the US was a target and al Qaeda had not let up in intention or capacity to track and target American interests.

The Karachi attack also proves that TTP, which has accepted responsibility, as with the Shabqadar and Peshawar attacks, continues to show interest in the money from al Qaeda to remain in the game, demonstrating that it's still the best delivery vehicle for al Qaeda operations. Their strategic partnership, therefore, is not only intact, their interdependence is crucial to the declared al Qaeda project to weaken the Pakistani state and take it over. The three lethal al Qaeda-TTP operations also demonstrate that they will continue equating American military forces with Pakistani military forces.

These three attacks are generally expected to effectively silence critics that post-Osama bin Laden al Qaeda was going to buckle. Significantly the troika of terror attacks also comes after Saif al-Adel was announced as bin Laden's acting successor. The succession as well as the high-profile and super deadly attacks are proof, if there was ever required, that al Qaeda is not only alive and kicking but that it's motivation has not wavered nor its funds, strategists and logistics taken any hit. This means that the al Qaeda-TTP combo retains the will to mount significant terror attacks at will. This also means that al Qaeda is morphing into a more deadly and target-focused entity since post-bin Laden it will have to prove more sinister to strike the same quantum of terror. This will have consequences – both positive and negative – for the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular.

The "positives" from these attacks, and more that are sure to follow this unambiguous trajectory post-bin Laden, are that they are likely to reveal the al Qaeda/TTP hand. This provides projections and patterns to fashion a target-specific counterterrorism strategy and any adjustments that need to be made in it. This for Pakistan translates into coming out of its denial that al Qaeda and TTP are no more a long-term threats and will force Islamabad to stop being pusillanimous on deciding to treat all militant/jihadi groups as one big fat common threat instead of cherry-picking from an assortment of groups that it thinks some of them it can control – something it has failed to even indicate post-Osama. Remember the army chief told the Americans his ranks are perturbed at the operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden? This was an indication that he would be reluctant to radically alter the security policy that the political government has no control over.

The "negatives" are that al Qaeda and TTP are far from finished. Their agenda to drive out the Americans from the region and to overthrow the Pakistani and Afghan states to install Sharia governments with global plans remain intact. The ability to mount impressive attacks high in optics will also arrest any slack in the drive to recruit suicide bombers and raise money for terror resistance and signal its loosely structured but motivated ranks globally to stay the course of violence as instrument of "jihad." This translates into ploughing even more scarce funds in Pakistan and Afghanistan into fighting al Qaeda and TTP at the socio-economic development. Additionally, the Pakistani military and political establishments will have to brace for even more international scrutiny and pressure – including highly likely joint 'boots-on-the-ground' operations – to deliver results.

For Pakistan the pressure is just beginning. The world is running out of patience with Islamabad running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. It will have to cooperate to hunt down Mullah Omar, Aiman Al Zwahiri and others. For Pakistan there's no avoiding the denouement. The sham of the caricaturised accountability of security failure of the intelligence agencies in parliament is far from enough. There is no shift in policy post-Abbottabad. An anti-US, pro-military resolution by parliament may have only ensured Pakistan will be dealt with the hard way. Because Pakistan refuses to become a 'normal' country like those in the rest of the world, its extraordinary posture will be dealt with extraordinarily. Pakistan will have to admit its failing and call for help. It's the only way to stop from tipping over.

Adnan Rehmat is a journalist, analyst and media development specialist. He heads Intermedia, a Pakistani media support NGO.

Comments (25) Closed

shaukat May 23, 2011 06:13pm
Very well said. I hope the people of Pakistan listen and not self destruct.
Ajay,Mumbai May 23, 2011 08:08pm
well analysed and effectvely narrated too,m agree with the author. there more negetives then the positives in terms of security of not only Pakistani people but Other nationalists,Pakistan have to leave its India hatered mindset and have concentarte on Rooting out militants from its soil with honesty and completely, Americans are not going to help you any more,they are selfish guies,there goals are completed after getting OBL. now they will hurry to leave this region and we have to suffer only.
jamal May 23, 2011 09:11pm
Excellent write up !
Shirish May 23, 2011 09:12pm
Wait till you hear the latest conspiracy stories !!!
F.Alam May 23, 2011 09:31pm
Nice article. I think Pakistan as a whole needs to discard its self-deluding strategies & its paranoia, especially with respect to India. With an economy in tatters, power generation, healthcare & water resources scanty, the last thing needed is 'geostrategic games' by the ISI against India & the US. We need the US & India more than they needs us & this silly arms race is not getting us anywhere.
Afif May 24, 2011 01:11am
What i do not understand is how it can take a Military Installation 17 hours to subdue 6 attackers while managing to let tow of them escape! That is utterly incomprehensible and nothing but incompetence. Such military is worth nothing. What a joke. They are again spending tons of money which they don't have on weapons purchases while the country is crumbling in front of the world.
Rachit May 24, 2011 02:05am
Oh yes. The US-Israel-India nexus stories are not too far away. Some things never go out of fashion in Pakistan.
Eli May 24, 2011 06:13am
There's a big positive in per my wishful thinking, our army might realize what everybody around already knows...eliminate the extremists or they will leave nothing to eliminate....
Ramesh May 24, 2011 06:43am
Brother, God Bless you for saying it like it is. People of Pakistan -- wake up before it is too late.
proud Indian May 24, 2011 07:02am
Well said. It is so true.
Nash May 24, 2011 07:55am
Dangerous signs these are ! Militants getting into military instalations. Wake up and identify the real enemies within. We have failed to capitalise on a lot of oportunities in the past. Do not let this one go. Beleive me it is not safe for India or the rest of the world to allow Pakistan to be in such a state.
Agha Ata (USA) May 24, 2011 09:01am
Our armed forces better start doing something, we are running out of our conspiracy theories.
Malay May 24, 2011 09:21am
Yes, Pakistan need more co-operation and help from India and America.
Srinivas May 24, 2011 09:35am
Nice article.... India is no enemy at all. India's first and last enemy is terrorist, Pakistan is india's brother. Belive me, this is what perspection in India.
S. N. Kulkarni, Pune May 24, 2011 11:52am
Very objective self assessment. The real enemy is grinding poverty, modernization, sustainable inclusive growth, problem common to all developing nations. I believe Pakistan has an abysmal 3 percent GDP growth rate. While decades of hate for India completely robbed Pakistan of valuable resources, India with all its problems went ahead to become one of the fastest growing economies. Same South Asian people but with two different political, military and civil society structure. The real enemy as is true for every nation is the enemy with in and not an external one. Points worth pondering over.....
Bharat Reddy May 24, 2011 12:38pm
Good sensible article, I am from India and i regularly read dawn online newspaper. First I want to point out is that after Osama's killing I found it disappointing that Pakistanis were more concerned about the sovereignty than the fact that Osama was living next to Islamabad. I dont know why pakistanis have such negative feelings for Indians, we dont have anything against the you people. Its the army which is driving this India centric approach and brain washing you people into beliving that India is the real enemy. After the Osama raid the Pak govt requests 50 fighter jets from China when there is severe load shedding going on in the country. The army is not to be trusted. The cost of these planes is over $120 million dollars, but they are telling the public that it is only $36 million, so that they dont think much is lost. But pakistan should go after these militants and destroy them, at the same time try to revive the economy and focus on better facilites for people and more jobs.
Selina May 24, 2011 01:47pm
I don't mean to add to the tit for tat arguements, but I think half of your comment is a little inaccurate. I agree, I am disspointed in the Pakistani governmnets over the top reaction in terms of talking about an invasion of soverignty, but in actual fact, Pakistani people have (much to the surprise of the rest of the world) expressed more than anything else, a shock and surprise that OBL was living in Abbotoabad and embarrasement at the military's seeming inability to do anything as well as real anger at the military and civilian government. But you cannot expect people not to say -anything- about a breach of soverignty, to expect them to do so would be to expect them to be non-human. There is a feeling that since they are dependent of US aid, they have to succome to sometimes being violated. If it had been any other country, they would have had something to say about soverignty in a case like this and thats all they're doing about it in Pakistan; saying something. That's all they can do. The random rant on Pakistan is a bit off the mark though. Generating jobs, concentrating on education, health, water security issues and fighting extremism head on so that the other things can be in focus is a no brainer. The terrorists have mutiated into something that nothing but destructive to the country and the region. As far as I can tell though, more of Pakistans media is balanced and fair and unbiased than India's media. Any impartial viewer would conceed to that much. And the fact is that some Indian's and Pakistani's don't like each other for no reason other than they are Indian or Pakistani. The issue of people not liking each other on either side is as simple as that. I had school friends in London whose parents wouldn't speak to me because I was Pakistani. To try and argue that it's all one way traffic is plainly wrong. Anyway, please do something Pakistan, if not for the US then for yourselves.
Mark May 24, 2011 02:03pm
You obviously know nothing of America's values. They will, and have been, helping you in private while at the same time being insulted by your public. If you're sincere in wanting to truly stand against your enemies and show it, they will stand beside you until it's over. You just have to mean it. Pakistan has been saying they don't want America's help. We don't want to abandon you and leave you with the burden. But, from what I've seen you hate us for it. Now I see the concept of American withdrawal being called selfish. Make up your minds already. You guys are certainly making it difficult.
Jawad May 24, 2011 02:48pm
Is it just me or the facts don't add up?? Although nice composition and i do agree with the over all conclusion and message.. But facts should be rechecked..
wiki May 24, 2011 03:55pm
Article is well written... Off course US is helping Pakistan in private while a growing anger in side US, but Pakistan has long helped US since 1978. The anger for US is immense in general public here in PK, despite, Pakistani officials are still helping US. It is US who created OBL to make himself World Power. How ironic it is that OBL was a hero when he fought against Russia and a global terrorist when he turned against US. Athough, there are differences in US and PK thinking but We need to work together to eliminate this mess.
anonymous May 24, 2011 05:02pm
The one American value I am very much familiar is: Whatever is good for America is good for world :)
Jadoon Adil May 25, 2011 05:52am
It also shows al Qaeda’s impressive operational partnership with the TTP and the latter’s operational and logistical prowess to mount attacks on high-value targets of their own. All this shows is the incompetence of our security forces. They can't even protect themselves, how will they protect us. And can some one please tell Rehman Malik to shut up.
Anwar Amjad May 25, 2011 06:18am
Terrorism in Pakistan cannot be eliminated until the terrorists are tried and punished by military courts. Police and civil courts cannot deal with the terrorist as they can only handle ordinary criminals and antisocial elements. They cannot face anti-state forces. We have to realize that the terrorists are waging a full scale war on the country. Our judicial system is very weak and corrupt and this is the reason that the terrorists caught by Police are set free by the courts.
DJ Indian May 25, 2011 11:06am
I completely agree on the point of the "balance" in media. I find the Dawn to be more balanced than some of the leading lights of the Indian media.
gopi May 27, 2011 05:41am
Agreed. Some Indians may comment in a tit-for-tat mode. However, the focus in the country is not 'fight with Pakistan'.