Another attack

December 17, 2012


ANOTHER military airbase attacked; another full set of lessons that perhaps will not be learned. Since the attack on the Mehran airbase in Karachi, the militants have demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of both the psychology and methodology of high-profile attacks. Targeting an airbase in even a semi-successful attack captures public attention in a way that a highly successful attack against other military targets would not. And while the security forces appear to be protecting vulnerabilities at airbases better than was the case before the Mehran attack, the militants are also adapting. They appear to be probing for weaknesses by deploying new combinations of fidayeen and suicide attackers, and still have fairly good intelligence on their targets. Why this is so is a question that the public has not received an answer to. So the focus must necessarily turn to more transparency and accountability within the security and intelligence apparatus.

Every new high-profile attack is a reminder of how little is known publicly about the investigations into previous such attacks. Was physical security as rigorous as it could be? Was the vetting of security personnel posted at these installations thorough? Were maps and schematics and other information protected adequately? And after weaknesses were exposed, how effective was the response of the security apparatus to ensure a repeat would be difficult? Clearly, as the attack on a foreign airbase in southern Afghanistan proved, the militants can exploit weaknesses in defences in even the most hostile environment. But in the absence of transparent and public investigations and accountability, we can’t be certain that negligence, incompetence or complicity in the security apparatus here is being identified and punished as thoroughly as it should.

Then there is the broader question that always comes up in these moments. Peshawar is adjacent to the tribal areas and as such will always remain more vulnerable than most Pakistani cities unless a coherent policy for eliminating militancy is developed. But despite having tens of thousands of troops stationed in Fata and launching a series of military operations that have recovered swathes of territory that had virtually been ceded to the militants, the absence of a zero-tolerance policy towards militancy has made it difficult to win this war. Apologists for the Taliban, who refuse to see that the militants’ war is against Pakistan and its people, have stood in the way of a unified stance. North Waziristan, and also the Tirah valley, remains a fundamental threat to security in Pakistan. Yet it is still not clear how the army-led security establishment intends to defang that threat. Paralysis and policy drift will only enable the militants to push harder to find even more weaknesses.