Just when we all thought after the attack on the GHQ, Mehran Base and the bin Laden fiasco that the security apparatus had finally reached its level of incompetence and could not sink any lower, we are faced with yet another ‘believe-it-or-not’ moment. And this time, although it’s the civilians who are mostly to blame, the military also cannot escape its share for the massive intelligence failure that let the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) raid on Bannu jail go undetected and unchallenged.
Consider. At a time when the entire country, and especially Khyber-Pakhunkhwa, is on the alert for acts of terror, the TTP fanatics drive up to Bannu Jail in a convoy of 25 vehicles, including cars, trucks and vans, carrying over 250 armed men, equipped with assorted weapons, including a dozen rocket launchers. They then proceed to block off all roads leading to Bannu jail, while the main party of terrorists goes on to blast two sets of massive jail gates, innumerable cell doors and locks, freeing 350 prisoners, including two key TTP commanders on death row, and then escape on a road that is supposed to have several police check posts.
In many ways, the intelligence failure that this raid connotes and the crass incompetence on display was even worse than the bin Laden fiasco because, at least, on that occasion the raiders came under cover of darkness helped by stealth technology and all sorts of sophisticated communication-jamming equipment. On the other hand, the TTP attempted no disguise, came in noisy vehicles and armed with the most basic weaponry. They even tarried a while, organising a dastarbandi for a convicted killer on the jail premises, before leaving with him for Waziristan in their vehicles which were conveniently parked nearby.
For what it is worth, a former IG sent me the following message immediately after he heard of the raid: “My personal view is that all those who matter in Pakistan have given up on Pakistan remaining as a viable sovereign state.”
Indeed, the Bannu Jail fiasco raises a number of dire possibilities. And the first that comes to mind is, whether in the circumstances, the state can really guarantee that anyone or anything in Pakistan is really safe. Secondly, our enemies seem to have infiltrated the police and the intelligence agencies to an alarming extent. Of course, there are many who believe that the whole exercise was undertaken with the actual connivance of the establishment, which raises mind-boggling scenarios of exactly where we are headed. The Bannu Jail fiasco will be a great recruiting tool for the TTP. They can now claim that they are capable of freeing the most dangerous prisoners and, therefore, even if their members are captured in operations against the army they need not lose hope because eventually the TTP will free them.
As for the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police, what little remained of their fortitude –– after seeing hundreds of captured TTP fanatics evade trial and punishment at the hands of terrified judges –– must surely by now have evaporated completely.
Predictably, an inquiry has been ordered by the provincial government but just as predictably nothing will come of it. After all nothing emerged, neither following the GHQ raid nor out of the inquiry (if held) from the Mehran Base affair. As for the Abbottabad commission, it has probably summoned more witnesses than the Nuremburg tribunal so there is no knowing when it will complete its work.
Actually, as the SMS of the IG demonstrates, most of us have already formed our own conclusions about what can be done and one of them is that expecting this government or the establishment to take effective steps to prevent recurrences of this type is delusionary. What is more likely to happen is that we will merely carry on cursing our fate or, at best, undergo yet another tiresome bout of cathartic introspection, which leads to nothing but pessimism and gloomy visions of the future for the thoughtful, and further despair for others.
It’s a bit like what some felt the other day when parliament caved in and agreed, in so many words, to the restoration of the Nato supply line, notwithstanding the absence of an apology for Salala or a moratorium on drones. It was not that we expected parliament to take up the challenge posed by the US or to act in any other way but timorously; it’s just that parliament seemed to hint that defying America is what the government should do even while refusing to do so itself. And that was infuriating because it was the apogee of moral cowardice.
Kafka advised his readers not to despair, “not even over the fact that you don’t despair” but it’s very hard to follow his advice in the circumstances that this nation finds itself in.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2012.