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Airbase attack

August 17, 2012


THE attack on the air force base in Kamra has raised disturbing — and disturbingly familiar — questions. That only one security personnel was killed as opposed to nine dead militants is only a small consolation: the first and foremost question is, how were militants able to yet again infiltrate a high-security armed services’ base and engage security forces inside for many hours? Given that some kind of military operation in North Waziristan against at least the Pakistan-centric militants is in the offing, the possibility of pre-emptive strikes by the militants is high. Had the warning of a blowback only been made at the policy level without it filtering down to the security forces likely to be in the cross-hairs of the militants? Already, the very specific threat against PAF bases in Punjab by the TTP in revenge for the killing of a militant leader earlier this month had been picked up by the intelligence apparatus. Surely, then, at this stage of the fight against militancy, the security apparatus should be able to repulse attacks on at least critical sites with more efficiency, particularly with both the circumstantial and direct forewarning appearing to have been available.

As with previous attacks, the possibility of insider help to the militants in the assault on Kamra is also very high. From sympathisers of radical Islamist thought to direct supporters of militant groups, the army appears to have a militancy problem, the severity of which is hidden from the public because investigations and court martials are often carried out in secret. The wider concern going forward ought to have the army’s screening procedures: how robust and effective is the surveillance and vetting of the armed forces’ personnel to prevent an incident before it happens? Clearly, as recent history suggests, not robust or effective enough — but what will it take for a more serious and sustained effort? Finally, the question that has bedevilled the fight against militancy: when will the state, both the army and the political government, drive home the message to the Pakistani public that the war is real, it is against a radicalised fringe of Pakistan and that unless the war is fought with total commitment and purpose, the state and society itself will spiral towards irreversible disaster? Gen Kayani’s Independence Day message contained the first strands of that message but it has to be sustained and spread to the farthest corners of the country. The ones shouting ‘this isn’t our war’ — many on the political right — need to be countered, firmly and unequivocally. Delay that battle any longer and the already manifold complications will grow yet more complicated.