NEVER since the attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi in 2009 have the militants shown such audacity and meticulous planning as witnessed in their blitz launched on PNS Mehran in Karachi on Sunday night. Its dimensions and ferocity were different from the three previous attacks on PN targets last month. It was like a war operation, with the militants piercing the naval installation's defences to race through what should have been a well-defended base, and wreak havoc on the garrison. It wasn't an ordinary attack, if at all an attack on a military base can be called 'ordinary'; it was a well-planned mini-invasion by highly trained killers who appeared to be well-acquainted with the layout of the naval aviation base. They knew the location of their targets, both men and material, and displayed utter contempt for the naval personnel through their astonishing speed and firepower. No disrespect is meant for the navy, some of whose men paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, but the incident raises quite a few questions about the state of preparedness of our defence forces in general and the navy in particular.

Why wasn't the navy ready for this kind of eventuality, given that there have been three bomb attacks on PN targets in Karachi last month? If Interior Minister Rehman Malik is correct, then only four militants were involved in a siege and an operation that lasted until Monday afternoon. What confidence can the people have in the armed forces when they see the defenders themselves falling victim to terrorism in the heart of the nation's biggest city? By breaching the defences of a naval installation, as they did on Sunday with such ease, or of the GHQ in October 2009, the militants have wantonly displayed their power to attack and kill and destroy at will wherever and whenever they wish. Or are the armed forces finding it difficult to make the change from fighting set-piece battles to countering the kind of sophisticated urban terrorism that Taliban and Al Qaeda affiliates have unleashed on the state and people of Pakistan? Another question: did the Taliban raiders have informers inside the naval base? Such a possibility cannot be ruled out, because the involvement of serving personnel in several previous attacks has been well established.

The intelligence failure in the Mehran tragedy highlights one more damning truth: the safe sanctuaries aren't only present in Fata; they exist in Karachi too, for Sunday's assault would not have been possible without the existence of a well-oiled Taliban machine in the city.

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