The ease with which the Taliban entered Bannu, broke through the jail and took away hundreds of prisoners has sent shock waves across the country. The failure of intelligence, the inability of the quick response force deployed in the area and the suspicious behaviour of the jail security have all left many questions unanswered. It is unbelievable that the attackers came in such large numbers undetected and did not suffer a single casualty.
Bannu jail is located on the Bannu-Kohat road right next to the Indus Highway bypass road. Bannu Township, which is the city’s affluent area, is right across this road. The Township’s rear touches the FR (Frontier Region) Bannu area. The road connecting Bannu to Thal also passes through this and straddles the left bank of the River Kurram. From Thal, one can travel to Mir Ali.
This road is also an approach to an area by the name of Ping, where criminals of all ethnicities and tribes have settled. The Township Police station is just across the road where the jail is located. The headquarters of the FC is also located on the same road about four kilometres from the jail. A large number of Wazirs from Thal have settled in the area and are mostly involved in agriculture. Former chief minister Akram Durrani’s village is also in the same area. The Wazirs have their own villages, along the Indus Highway, and these stretch till Lakki Marwat to the southeast.
An attack of similar magnitude was carried out in Tank in 2005, when around 500 Taliban from South Waziristan attacked the city and looted banks, police stations and returned without any significant losses. Attacking in large numbers is a tactic often used initially by the Taliban. Those deployed at security check posts would usually be outnumbered and normally surrender. However, lately their ability to use this tactic was assumed to have been weakened — and Bannu has proved that wrong.
All roads leading to the jail have police check posts at reasonable distances. The army’s quick response force also patrols the roads. The Taliban normally travel in pick-ups which can carry 10 to 12 persons. If the figure of 200 attackers is assumed to be correct, then a minimum 20 pick-ups may have been used to bring the Taliban to the jail. Another ten may have been used to ferry the prisoners. It is impossible that such a large number of vehicles in the shape of a convoy could have crossed numerous check posts. There is the distinct possibility that the Taliban came from Waziristan not in a convoy but separately on different days or times and without arms. They may have taken shelter with local Taliban and obtained weapons from them. Even transport may have been obtained locally. There are many open spaces around the city which could be used as an assembling area.
Another possibility is that local Taliban were used in the attack. Bannu, Lakki Marwat and the adjoining areas are infested with them and every village has their presence. In any case, the events of March in Lakki Marwat and Bannu were indicating the re-emergence of the Taliban. That month, six schools were destroyed in Lakki Marwat and a member of a prominent family of Jani Khel Wazir, Khalid Wazir, was assassinated in broad daylight.
One can blame the intelligence agencies for their failure and the police for not fighting the Taliban the way the Afghan security forces fought and killed the Taliban attackers a few days ago in Kabul. The message is loud and clear: the Taliban are back and have now the capability to attack in large numbers.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 22nd, 2012.