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Unwilling to learn

Published May 23, 2011 03:16pm

Flames and smoke belches out from a PNS Mehran Base after an attack by militants, in Karachi early on May 23, 2011. - AFP Photo

On the night of May 22, 2011, over a dozen armed men, wearing suicide jackets, infiltrated into the Mehran Base of the Pakistan Navy Aviation.

When challenged, they mowed the challengers down with automatic fire, then proceeded to destroy the chosen targets - Orion P 3 maritime surveillance and anti-submarine platforms, said to cost Pakistan USD 30 million each. Eight such aircraft were contracted, out of which three were received, one crashed during a routine flight along the Mekran coast and the remaining two are believed to have been destroyed by the Mehran Base raiders.

The question is how did the attackers manage to get into a supposedly well guarded base where all the naval aviation's air assets were parked, and why did it take 18 hours to regain control of the base. It is clear that the Navy doesn't think that Pakistan is at war with an internal enemy who has been striking targets with impunity all over the country – and in doing so, they have time and again exposed the weaknesses in the security systems employed by the defence forces.

Take the attack on the GHQ for example - the terrorists had managed to break into the GHQ and hold the Military Intelligence Directorate as hostage. They could have blown up the directorate, but didn't, in a grave miscalculation that they could swap their hostages with their colleagues in the army's custody. Had the Navy learnt its lessons from the GHQ raid, they just might have put into place a more effective security system and spared the country more humiliation, barely three weeks after the humiliation it faced as a result of the Abbottabad raid.

The repeated failure of the Pakistani security forces to pre-empt terrorist activity has demoralised not only the Pakistani soldiers, sailors, and airmen, but has also severely dented the reputation of the three services in the eyes of the people they are expected to defend. Worse still, the servicemen and the people have begun to see the terrorists as ten feet tall.

In the face of tactics, strategy submits. The need of the hour is to get the basics right, that is to say, developing an imaginative system for the security of National Vulnerable Points (VPs) and Vulnerable Areas (VAs). The objective should be to prevent infiltration into VPs and VAs, and if the terrorists manage to infiltrate, they are intercepted/taken out in time.

Apart from this, the intelligence services need to increase their resources and effectiveness aimed at surprising the terrorists before they set out on a mission. This would obviously involve penetrating the various terror groups operating in the country. The failure or success in combating terrorism depends entirely on the intelligence services.

If we don't get the basics (tactics) right, however brilliant the high policy and strategy may be, they would count for nothing-and the country will continue to suffer humiliation time and again.

The writer is a defence analyst.