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What makes Peshawar airport a favoured target

December 16, 2012

Pakistani security members and onlookers gather near a hole in the wall, caused by a militant attack, close to the runway of the international airport in Peshawar on December 16, 2012. - Photo by AFP
Pakistani security members and onlookers gather near a hole in the wall, caused by a militant attack, close to the runway of the international airport in Peshawar on December 16, 2012. - Photo by AFP

PESHAWAR: The Bacha Khan International Airport is the most vulnerable strategic airport in the country because its airfield is jointly used by the Civil Aviation Authority  and the Pakistan Air Force.

Saturday night’s attack on the airport and the PAF base, the headquarters of the Northern Air Command, was on the pattern of last year’s Mehran naval base attack in Karachi. It has exposed weaknesses of security measures because there were intelligence reports about a possible attack in the area.

Established in 1927, this strategically important airfield is at present being used for both civilian and military purposes. The airfield has been used by the PAF as well as the Army Aviation during military operations, especially during the ongoing conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, including Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency.

Security experts believe that law enforcement agencies should have adopted foolproof security measures to avert such an attack because these facts have made the airport vulnerable to militant strikes.

On Nov 20, police arrested a teenaged would-be suicide bomber, along with an alleged handler. During initial interrogation they claimed that their target was the airport.

The PAF base, situated on the eastern side of the airport, stretches towards its western boundary from where the attack took place. Installations of the Air Force are also located there.

A railway track passes through the airfield and in the past trains bound for Khyber Agency would pass through it.

About two years ago, security forces had barricaded all roads leading to the entrance of the airport and airbase for civilians and at present only a single road emerging from the Mall Road is being used for civilian traffic. Even on that road a security checkpoint has been operational and vehicles are not allowed to cross without search.

Eastern and southern sides of the airport are situated in the cantonment area whereas the western and northern sides are outside it. The university road passes through the northern side of the runway and on the southern side Bara Road is situated. Another road passes along the western boundary of the airport, which connects Bara Road to several villages and finally to an upscale University Town residential locality.

The western side of the airport and PAF base, from where the attack was carried out, is more vulnerable as a road passes by outer boundary walls and several villages are situated on its other side.

This portion mostly remains deserted and there is very little traffic on that road during the night.

The airport is used by the Pakistan International Airlines as well as several other domestic and international airlines.

According to the CAA, the runway is 9,000 feet long and 150 feet wide.