PNS Mehran attack: Vulnerable, embarrassed and targeted

Published: May 24, 2011

Soldiers take position on top of a tower during the operation.

The daring raid on PNS Mehran can probably be viewed in three dimensions. If the objective was to make Pakistani defence look vulnerable, the operation came remarkably close to doing just that. If the goal was to embarrass the country’s security establishment, it certainly did — like similar attacks in the recent past. And if the aim was to convey the message that the security establishment remains the prime target of the attackers, that too has become clear.

By no means was this the first tri-dimensional incident that exposed the vulnerabilities of our defences. The biggest embarrassment thus far was of course the dramatic raid on the General Headquarters on October 10, 2009, that left the nation and the world baffled for almost 22 hours.

Earlier that month, as well as in March, the Manawan Police Training School on the outskirts of Lahore had endured similar attacks by armed militants, lasting several hours. The attack in March that year on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore also bore the hallmarks of the LeT-style Fidayeen commando attacks.

The gory attack on the Parade Lane Mosque in  Rawalpindi in December 2009 with 45 deaths , as well as the strikes on three ISI establishments in Lahore, Faisalabad and Peshawar in 2009 and 2010 also apparently involved militants who had been trained in storming and terminating the target at any cost.

All these raids bore similarities to the tactics that Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters had probably learnt from the Tamil Tigers and then applied during their Fidayeen (suicide) missions in Indian Kashmir: raid, kill and be ready to get slain. Their targets were military cantonments and installations of the Indian army, para-military and intelligence agencies. One of the objectives was to cause panic and demoralise the Indian troops who had been operating in a pretty hostile environment.

Now, if we look at the pattern of the attacks in the last two years or so, Pakistan and its security institutions face the same spectre: systematic targeting of the security forces – both civilian and police.The inescapable consequence of attacks on installations such as the GHQ or PNS Mehran is panic, embarrassment and of course loss of face. This injects fear and uncertainty into the minds and hearts of people and the cumulative effect is a demoralised security apparatus and an anxious public, unsure of their safety.

The US Navy Seals’ illegal raid to get Osama bin Laden on May 2 had precipitated fear and anxiety but the storming of the PNS Mehran not only stoked those fears but also raised serious doubts about the level of preparedness within the security establishment. It has also underscored the extended tentacles of al Qaeda and its supporters from Waziristan to Karachi. Commando strikes at chosen targets indicate that al-Qaeda or its local “force multipliers” such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Jihad Al Alami, and Jundullah enjoy a strong support base in Karachi. The capture of senior al Qaeda leader Muhammad Ali Qasim Yakub alias Abu Shoaib al Makki, from Karachi on May 17, also alluded to the strong presence of al Qaeda in the city. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack, and called it a revenge of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

But the game plan is more complex. Pakistan is being paid back in kind for what it had helped mount in the Indian Punjab and Kashmir in the early 1980s and in the mid-1990s, respectively. Nobody should be surprised about it. The answer to this does not lie in nationalist, jingoistic rhetoric. Nor will scape-goating help.

The string of events warrant a deep introspection. A cost-benefit analysis of the “strategic  framework” that we have peddled so far appears to be the call of the hour. The express speed of events and the socio-economic attrition of this country has blunted the arguments that the security establishment has spun around its inaction against groups such as the Haqqani Network, Mulla Omar’s Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The obsession with “Pakistan’s geo-strategic importance and relevance “ must now give way to serious consideration for international obligations and a turn-around in civil-military relations.

Militants have in a sustained way dented the credibility of the armed forces and exposed inadequacies in the defence and security apparatus. This not only requires clear answers on the level of preparedness but also warrants institutional introspection on the real capacity and the rhetoric that often echoes out of the country’s power centres.

Compelling evidence suggests that so far, the civilian and military security institutions seem to have acted in isolation of each other, with the civilians usually reluctant to tread upon what is considered as the “army’s assets.”

Pakistan’s fragility demands that all institutions join hands to develop synergies on issues such as counter-terrorism and counter-extremism.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Trick Tan
    May 24, 2011 - 8:41AM

    What goes around..comes around.Recommend

  • muhammad arshad
    May 24, 2011 - 8:47AM

    most of our population is still in denial.we had dozens of socalled experts,analysts who were invited to come & spew wild,idiotic conspiracy theories on tv channels.We can’t seem to bring ourselves to talk about the root of this terrorism, i.e., religion.Religion has so warped our minds that it has rendered us incapable of thinking rationally.

    We do all we can to deflect blame onto everything else just so we can avoid talking about the religious text promising 72 virgins to those who kill other people,we delude ourselves to believe that our next 7 generations will go to heaven simply because we have rattafied religious text in a foreign language.Recommend

  • amjad bashir
    May 24, 2011 - 8:51AM

    enough is enough,we’ve lost 35,000 of our people to islamic terrorists,how many more have to die before we face upto the truth that problem is not the jews,the christians or the hindus,the problem is our insistence to stick to mindnumbing religious dogma which glorifies bloodshed & violence.

    Why are we so afraid to talk about the elephant in the room? we know these terrorists scream ” Allah ho akbar” before blowing themselves up & killing innocent people.

    we need to have a revision of the religious text to take out the misogyny,the glorification of violence,the severe degradation of women & homophobia.The christians had their new testament which took out the offensive things from the first one,it’s time we did the same.Recommend

  • A. Aftab
    May 24, 2011 - 9:36AM

    You know if the Pakistani armed forces keep getting targeted like this and everyone is already aware of how vulnerable we are to terrorist attacks (whoever may be directing these is irrelevant here)…..but for the purpose of the politics brewing in Washington on ‘securing’ our nukes………this incident has totally highlighted how pathetically defended our installations really are.

    The entire disgraceful military, ISI leadership needs to be purged, as well as this corrupt Government thrown out the door. Kayani and Pasha should be court marshalled after the OBL debacle along with the PN chief in front of the public for this incident at PNS Mehran.

    PPP and PML should be permanently banned from entering politics and dissolved as they have shown to be very corrupt and thoroughly incompetent in running our country.

    This must be done before another incident like this happens again, or worse yet we start seeing the terrorists in Washington descend on Kahuta and Sargodha to ‘secure’ our nukes.

    Shame on us for tolerating such people in the Govt. and the military.Recommend

  • Kazmis
    May 24, 2011 - 9:39AM

    Very embarrassing. Some trained personnel entered in PNS Mehran, destroyed every thing could not be fully encountered and mostly fled. The lights of the base and the vicinity were kept off, but burning planes kept enough light for attackers to perform their task. Naval Chief called them highly trained, but sir they were normal trained vs poorly trained. One should explain who could they escape in presence of 1500-2000 commandos of all departments. No one have vision to forecast why vital facilities were destroyed with so serious efforts and what is next planning of the enemy. Pak Military never bothered to conduct a joint press conference except a loose conference of a civilian. Recommend

  • PriyaSuraj
    May 24, 2011 - 9:56AM

    The US ops in Abbottabad and now the Taliban attack on PNS Mehran have shown that anyone if they truly desire can attack Pakistan with impunity and get away with it. The defenders of the nation are not only embarrassed and lost morale, but actions of US and Taliban will encourage others who have a grudge against the establishment to start dreaming that they can exact their revenges and get away with murder. And this is what is the most significant impact of this attack.Recommend

  • Asim+Ali
    May 24, 2011 - 9:59AM

    I hope the establishment quickly realizes what is needed is a drastic change in strategy. A strategy which can sustain for the next 5, 10, 20 and 50 years. Lets start with the basics, what kind of a nation do we want to be? And then lets get the tactics on getting there. We need smart people to get us where we want to be. Lets be more professional about how we go about building a nationRecommend

  • Imran Ahsan Mirza
    May 24, 2011 - 10:22AM

    I am just wondering when Admiral Noman Bashir will tender his resignation on this extraordinary security lapse right under his nose. Who is he blaming now? Keep in civilian security agencies are never authorised on protecting naval or any military installations. His press conference revealed a less capable person than a General’s rank, displaying no leadership, speaking with uncontructed sentences, heavily Punjabi accented language with little grasp over the Urdu language or even on the severity of the issue. I certainly agree with Imtiaz Gul in this report that there is pattern in this attack displaying a complex plan, executed by very well trained commondo militants, all ready to sacrifice for some dark causes. The government and military establishment are ruining the future of Pakistan by remaining either silent on their future strategy or just evading the right questions when asked. Why there is no strategy to wage an extraordinary offensive against these militant training centres in Southern Punjab and Waziristan? Is ISI blind to locate them? Where are the weapons and ammunitions coming from? Who is manufacturing all these? Darra Adamkhel? Waziristan? Lake city, Missouri? Now the militants have momentum on their side after this naked act of war against the Pakistani military, lets see how our military establishment will deal with these. It is spectacularly amazing to see that these militants possess not only venomous ideologies but they are also highly advanced strategists. Recommend

  • Sonam Shyam
    May 24, 2011 - 10:50AM

    The strategic assets have turned in to Frankenstein monster; Whole world knows it but the Pakistani army is still in a denial mode. The Pakistani people and the media are highlighting the dire need to bring these strategic assets under control and urging the military to sever ties with the extremists. But why Pakistani generals are not heeding to the sensible advice in spite of deadly attacks on the military itself causing humongous damage? The answer probably lies in the fact that the Pakistani army still believes that since some of the terror groups like the LET are in their firm control and Haqqani network can be used to propel a friendly regime in Afghanistan, therefore this policy of using terrorists as a force multiplier is very much effective. If Pakistan had true democracy then probably the policy of hobnobbing with extremists would have been discarded long ago. But in Pakistan, the supremacist, arrogant, bull-headed and self serving Generals would continue to take the country on the path of destruction and ironically all in the name of SUPREME NATIONAL INTEREST. Recommend

  • Wah
    May 24, 2011 - 11:44AM

    What a bold article……being an Indian Punjabi we have suffered the same pain….Recommend

  • samia
    May 24, 2011 - 12:00PM

    we as pakistanis might differ in our opinion over pretty much everything, but the one thing we always united over is our love, respect and admiration for the armed forces….. the 22nd May incident has shattered our faith…Recommend

  • jagjit sidhoo
    May 24, 2011 - 2:58PM

    Finally someone who realizes that it is not some Foreign hand .The problem and the solution are withinRecommend

  • Rizwan
    May 24, 2011 - 3:09PM

    @amjad, many people I know say Allah-hu-Akbar and kneel to Allah (and not blow themselves up).
    Taliban, CIA, India, USA or whoever is behind these attacks, the situation is pretty clear that Pakistan lacks resources and seriousness to fight terrorism within its borders. Kayani’s tall claims about breaking the back-bone of terrorism turned out to be crowd-pleasing bravado. This is what happens in a country when everybody becomes a politician instead of doing his/her job. Whatever this geo-political strategy of “Greater Afghanistan” is, I suggest higher officials of Pakistan Army to shelve that for now and concentrate all their efforts on eradicating militancy within its borders. Interference in the affairs of neighboring countries only suits nations which have their own problems sorted out or at least have an infrastructure in place to do so. Unfortunately Pakistan has none.Recommend

  • Farhan
    May 24, 2011 - 3:37PM

    Every Pakistani should now understand that a nation and democracy is NOT a free ride. You will not wake up to an auto-functioning society, economic or military system. You are responsible for helping the right people into power and equally responsible for removing the wrong people from power. We sat on our sofas mouth gaping when a convicted illiterate criminal became the president of our country, and sadly, sadly, that is all we did. We ourselves are responsible for creating a new Free For All culture where not only citizens but even foreigners are welcome to play on this soil, no questions asked. I feel that all of this commentary is completely and absolutely futile, to me it sounds like ‘oh, somebody broke into my house and stealing and destroying everything… i think I will post a comment about it online’. I am equally guilty and ashamed.Recommend

  • Humayun
    May 25, 2011 - 1:49AM

    This clearly shows how incompetent the army is. whoever did this, thats another question but look at our own security personnel and that arrogant incompetent Naval Chief. Shame on them.Recommend

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