Jailbreak despair

Published: April 18, 2012

The writer is an analyst and a former ambassador to Yemen, Nigeria and Italy

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.

Reader Comments (15)

  • S
    Apr 18, 2012 - 2:20AM

    LOL at Nuremburg tribunal reference..but in all fairness “judge judy” whose heading that tribunal said “aap logon ko lag pata jayga”..so this guy has no chance of sorting out his midlife crises let alone anything of any consequence.

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  • ashok
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:29AM

    Most of the problems Pakistan has invited are a direct result of Pakistan’s habit of chewing more than it can digest and army trying to punch beyond its weight.

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  • Apr 18, 2012 - 4:02AM

    A thought provoking article highlighting the dangers this country faces, however, as pointed out we have reached the apogee of moral, political cowardice, nothing is going to change as our fate is written on the wall. “what cannot be cured must be endured.”Recommend

  • Hindi hain hum...
    Apr 18, 2012 - 4:36AM

    The Bannu break-out is only a slap on the face of Pakistan, if you continue to say that the TTP did so despite our attempts to prevent the escape of these convicted terrorists. On the other hand, if you say that Pakistani intelligence agencies engineered a fantastic victory against NATO and Afghan forces by unleashing their deadly enemies, it sounds like a glorious achievement. Recommend

  • Pollack
    Apr 18, 2012 - 5:34AM

    “, 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”

    There are many indicators which exactly point to this being closer to the truth.

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  • vasan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 6:28AM

    “Secondly, our enemies seem to have infiltrated the police and the intelligence agencies to an alarming extent.”
    I like the word “enemies” instead of “enemy” (euphemism for you know who). Could u pl list them ?

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  • Wellwisher
    Apr 18, 2012 - 6:39AM

    In India Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star in Golden Temple knowing fully well the consequences and saved Punjab but gave up her life. Now the time has arrived that Pakistan leaders rise above their personal priorities and take bold & imaginative decisions to save the Nation.Recommend

  • Rao
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:04AM

    When Gen V K Singh said that his forces were equipped to carryout an operation similar to the one in which the US killed Osama, he was ridiculed and advised not to be fool-hardy. If a rag tag force comprising a “convoy of 25 vehicles, including cars, trucks and vans, carrying over 250 armed men, equipped with assorted weapons, including a dozen rocket launchers” and could accomplish what they have, in just under two hours, is that such a difficult task for the Indian Army? One cannot understand why the Pakistan Army could/did not step-in to block the attackers from escaping back to their dens, unless of course, the whole operation was carried out the with connivance/collaboration of the Establishment and in such an event, God Save Pakistan!

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  • sars
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:43AM

    Absolutely shameful to read about your own country but so true. In a state where everyone at any position of authority is either corrupt, incapable, or malintentioned, how do we expect any progress to occur?
    Continuing more of the same and expecting different results is foolishness

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  • MM
    Apr 18, 2012 - 9:06AM

    I have no idea that where on earth was i lost that i didnt come to know about this incident until yesterday .
    Talking about the possible reasons of this jail break or hoping to see the government, judiciary or establishment to take any remedial steps is totally a waste of time.
    All they can do is to put the names of those escaped terrorists in ECL. so now we Dont need to worry, they cant leave this country sitting in the business class of any international flight.
    gone are the days when we were stuck in the scenario of hope and hopelessness . Now all we are left with is despair. We dont even want to have any hope . Even the writer simply asked people not to despair without telling them that “dont worry, everything will be ok ” – Which He Might knew that by every means is a false hope .Recommend

  • azam khan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:07PM

    It seems Pakistan has already arrived – It is now in the same category as Somalia.

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  • umar
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:07PM

    Leave this country if you can.

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  • Ehtisham Khan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 4:22PM

    What if there is a new pact between Army and the militants. In that case this whole fiasco can be looked at as a change of strategy.

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  • Elhaan Khan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 6:08PM

    How come these 21 vehicles went disappeared after Bannu jail break? Pakhtuns all along have been crying about Establishment’s double game but people Punjab always look for external conspiracy theory every time incident like this happens . Do you need anymore proof? We Pakhtuns have become sick of Punjabi Establishment’s games on land Recommend

  • sandip
    Apr 20, 2012 - 2:56AM

    It appears as if the Pakistani establishment has learnt nothing from the past. One hopes that in trying to win strategic depth in Afghanistan, they don’t end up losing Pakistan. And then again the blame will promptly be put on to baniya hindu or usurious jew, etc etc. Are the people sitting at the helm of PA totally dumb that they cannot see where they are taking the country to? Or is it a case of being too clever by halfs?

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