IT was an intelligence failure of horrendous proportions. Somewhere between 100 and 150 militants launched an assault on Bannu Central Prison soon after midnight on Saturday. Blowing the main gates apart with rocket-propelled grenades, they caused 384 of over 900 inmates in the facility to escape in what is being described as the country’s biggest jailbreak. It is disturbing to know that the most high-profile of the escaped prisoners was Adnan Rashid, sentenced to death for an attempt on the life of Pervez Musharraf and whose release was the apparent objective of the assault. Equally alarming is the escape of some other hardened criminals on death row including known militants. The raid, responsibility for which has been claimed by the TTP, was obviously well planned; while some men were inside the jail, others erected barricades at all the access roads. As it turned out, though, the militants met with virtually no resistance.

Such a lapse of intelligence, after a series of security breaches including the GHQ attack and later the undetected presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the assault on PNS Mehran, casts serious doubts over the abilities and effectiveness of the security and law-enforcement establishments. The area from Bannu to Miramshah has long been considered militant-infested and the Pakistan Army maintains a significant presence there. Unlike the tribal areas, the law-enforcement apparatus is extant. If militants’ activities here are not being effectively monitored, and such a strike, which must have taken months of planning, can be conducted without the knowledge of the intelligence network, it belies the latter’s claims of success against terrorist outfits. Why should Pakistanis, or indeed the world, trust the authorities when they say they have the security situation under control? Not only did a convoy of vehicles reach the jail without difficulty, the absence of a rapid response betrayed the security apparatus’s total lack of preparedness. And this despite more than a decade of resisting militant groups that appear to be far more organised.

As a result of this debacle, the militants’ ranks are sure to be swelled by a large number of new recruits, with the Pakistani Taliban being even further emboldened. This incident should make clear to those who give excuses and justifications for the militants’ excesses what the intentions of such elements towards the Pakistani state are: they have not simply declared a war on drone strikes or the American presence in Afghanistan. As for the security establishment, so often in the news for sordid tales such as ‘Mehrangate’, the incident should serve as a reminder of what its priorities should be.



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