Bannu offers no surprises

Published: April 17, 2012
The writer is a senior journalist and has held several editorial positions including most recently at The Friday Times. He was a Ford Scholar at UIUC, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and is executive director of the Jinnah Institute

The writer is a senior journalist and has held several editorial positions including most recently at The Friday Times. He was a Ford Scholar at UIUC, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and is executive director of the Jinnah Institute

Bannu jailbreak. A huge setback, but no one should be surprised. Consider.

Many factors have contributed to what has happened. Any appreciation must begin with the basics. First, any attack, in this case a large-scale raid, is essentially a contest between two plans, that of the attacker and the defender’s. The defender has to devise a plan that prepares him for all possible contingencies. Men are prepared for those contingencies, equipment is acquired, SOPs established, battle drills practised. The plan is a wedding of men and equipment, men trained to use the equipment intelligently and to the optimal level.

The downside of SOPs and drill procedures is that they can take the shine off initiative and dull innovative responses to any plan by the attackers. The leaders at all levels must therefore be adaptable, think on their feet and harness the strengths of their men, while an attack is unfolding, to respond to the attacker’s innovation.

The second factor relates to the operational environment. In this case, the location of the jail and the inmates it was holding: in Bannu, close to Frontier Region Bannu and the North Waziristan Agency. Close enough for the attacker to enjoy a shorter line of communication. The location and the inmates of the jail had made it a Vulnerable Area (VA). In other words, it was vulnerable to both the possibility of an attack and an actual attack. The attacker then has to determine the Vulnerable Points (VPs) both in accessing the VA and in attacking a target by identifying its VPs, both tangible (physical/material) and intangible (defenders’ training, etc).

Third, while the defender has the advantage of an entrenched position, the attacker has the advantage of selecting the time and mode of attack. Depending on the VA and its defences, the attacker must devise his plan and varnish it with speed and surprise.

Fourth, the attacker in devising his plan has the advantage, on the basis of selecting the time and mode of the attack, to recce the target thoroughly, get intelligence on SOPs and drills, equipment held by the defender, number of men defending the VA, their possible responses on the basis of deployment, level of training and motivation, any back-up that they can call upon, etc.

The degree of difficulty for the attacker to get this vital intelligence will also depend on what kind of systems the defender has put in place, what procedures adopted for screening the men assigned to defend the VA, in short the nature of the security culture at the VA.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Each point or requirement contains in itself multiple other requirements necessitating taking requisite measures. But for our purposes it is enough to apply these broad benchmarks to the force tasked with defending the VA.

The force defending the VA, a mix of police and the Jails Department security personnel, had a cat’s chance in hell against the attackers. It is difficult without seeing the area physically to build a detailed picture but it is safe to say that the Bannu jail was not prepared for defending against such an attack which is why the attackers could accomplish their mission with almost no resistance from the defenders. The leaders and men are poorly trained and motivated, they hold obsolete equipment, the VA is not connected to any back-up, quick-reaction force and there is no provision for calling in helicopters in the event that such an attack goes through and results in a partial or complete jailbreak.

The security culture is almost non-existent and comprises stale procedures, the security is not layered, and approaches to the jail are not monitored — which can prevent an attacking force reaching the VA unchallenged. There is no concept of a Personnel Reliability Programme for screening and monitoring personnel. Outmoded procedures also make it difficult to work out contingencies or train for them.

Budgets are low and corruption is rife. Appointments are made for every reason other than professional competence. When such a force is tasked to defend a jail that holds high-value terrorists the terrorist groups would like to get released, the result would inevitably be disastrous.

There is almost no learning process. Previous such successful attacks on defenders better equipped and trained should have forced planners to create a list of potential VAs and devise plans against possible attacks involving different modi operandi. Despite budget constraints, good planning and training men is possible. The police force is in a terrible shape, but while effort must be done to reorganise the force and create specialisations in the medium to long term, in the short term some areas and vulnerabilities can be addressed.

The attackers on the other hand were highly trained, had reconnoitred the target and knew the level of external and internal security, had trained for the attack for months keeping in mind the defending forces’ vulnerabilities and possible strengths and, at least one report says, had inside information. A pattern for such attacks has already emerged. It would be highly irresponsible if the security specialists continued to ignore the pattern in planning for defending possible VAs.

Another crucial point relates to opacity. So far we have not seen any reports made public on any of the high-drama attacks. I also do not know of any studies conducted either by the military or the Ministry of Interior to tackle the problem in its several dimensions. There have been intelligence failures, security lapses and breaches, operational mishandling. No heads have rolled, no lessons learnt. Has anyone, for instance, studied why and how the terrorist groups can train their men so well in a span of four to six months while the military and police schools and training centres cannot?

The question assumes great importance because in all such cases we have witnessed capability mismatch that has allowed these attacks to go through successfully.

Unless the security planners begin to take up the challenge scientifically and plan accordingly, there will be more such exhibits of incompetence.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (54)

  • Apr 18, 2012 - 12:01AM

    Hundreds of people attacked a fortified prison and not one person got killed! in two hours drill police never arrived. on top of that a convoy of 600 people escaped without getting noticed.
    yeah right
    sounds like they were sent invitation from the prison to come and do shopping.


  • ashok
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:14AM

    Here we go again:

    Paralysis by over-analysis.

    Ejaz is in the business of justifying anything and manythings.


  • Babloo
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:16AM

    This is like an essay, where the only requirement is that is has to be 3 pages long, so you fill up the pages with obvious things that leaves the reader not any more informed than he was before.


  • Ben
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:17AM

    A brilliant analysis.


  • Falcon
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:25AM

    So going back few articles where author had apparently questioned PTI stance on why progress can’t be made in the presence of corruption? Your insight from this article pretty much answers that. All of the issues that you have raised above are either capability related or capacity related; for the former, you need meritocracy and for the latter you need better revenue generation / allocation by the state, both of which can’t be achieved with the current level of corruption in the system. Risk management can never work with failure of so many controls at so many levels.


  • Sinclair
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:30AM

    @Ejaz Haider

    What if the enemy is 10 times larger, and your VA is a nuclear missile silo? You think it will be safe? Must say your article, coming after the fact, sounds more like closing the stables door after the horse has bolted. Hopefully it will not be the case for any future jail break-in attempts.


  • Umer
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:41AM

    Bannu offers no surprises

    Right. Never had much confidence in the capabilities of security forces; ’65, ’71, Kargil and all that.


  • gp65
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:50AM

    You do not see this as an intelligence failure where a planned armed attack by 150 people was not on radar? (BEfore people bring up 26/11, let me also say that 26/11 was an intelligence failure and hence the Home Minister (to whom RAW reports) lost his job. Significant investments have since then been made in systems, policies, technologies and tools within India.


  • faraz
    Apr 18, 2012 - 1:18AM

    Well the attackers had no benefit if you consider the real question: how did a convoy of 50 vehicles containing 150 armed men drove from North Waziristan to Bannu on the Miranshah-Bannu road through numerous army/FC check posts?


  • Mirza
    Apr 18, 2012 - 1:21AM

    After the attack on GHQ HQ, Mehran Base, Abbottabad and other more imp places this is no surprise to anyone. How can we protect ourselves when we don’t even know that the worst terrorists are living in our most sensitive sites and we keep denying their presence? Nobody wants to see the elephant in the room.


  • SaudiRules
    Apr 18, 2012 - 1:56AM

    “Has anyone, for instance, studied why and how the terrorist groups can train their men so well in a span of four to six months while the military and police schools and training centres cannot?
    May be becuase TTP/taliban leaders dont waste their time in areas other than their chosen profession, such as:
    One. arent busy playing golf?
    Two. wasting their time on destabilizing the democratic government, a la, memogate?
    Three. grabbing public property?
    Four. developing DHAs?
    Five. or making breakfast cereals or fertilizers?

    This is by no means an exhaustive list!! :)


  • True Muslim Paki
    Apr 18, 2012 - 2:06AM

    I love this author. He’s a true Muslim & a patriotic paki unlike many authors like Karan Shafi & others on ET who always criticize Army. Ejaz Haider never criticizes neither the army nor PTI who are the true patriots who laid lives in siachen.


  • Chotta Panda
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:03AM

    The Bannu jail break incident is a typical ‘cloak and dagger’ that one has become accustomed to in Pakistan. There is little doubt that it was an inside job so that the freed militiants can wreck havoc on the NATO forces. How many defenders lost their lives and how many were injured? That should put to rest all doubts. And the official Pakistan line will be we are as much a victim of terrorism as you folks. This incident proves that the Pakistanis hate the US and NATO forces more than they love their own country. The best case scenario in future – just cut off all US aid and let us see what happens. Let Pakistan do something even more diabolical to catch the world attention.


  • Subah
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:21AM

    How can one become or “show” surprise after being involved in some act. The poor masses are too busy to become “actors” and start pretending or even bother to show concern. It was there on a news channel that the invaders were thankful to the area for the support. You know what, the media is being used to run here and there just like a cat runs after a toy rat, getting to nothing. Most of the “Breaking News” are used to ward off the attention of the mass and media from some important issue in the making.


  • Umer
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:25AM

    executive director of the Jinnah

    Jinnah Institute incidentally has the same initials as Jamaat Islami, a party supposed to be aligned with establishment.


  • DB
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:39AM

    @Vishnu Dutta:
    It was in the middle of the night in a rugged area (Bannu jail is in outskirts) with outgunned and outnumbered policemen. There was no point in putting up a fight for the police.

    Perhaps you should question how 70 of your paramilitary soldiers can get killed in one single incident in the Northeast of your country.


  • DB
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:40AM

    It it is typical south asian practice to not study and learn from history. Your viewpoint is part of this problem.


  • You Said It
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:55AM

    This is pointless pontification with enough abbreviations thrown in to sound informed. The article distracts from the one key question: is Pakistan serious about the war on terror? If we are not serious about holding on to gains and ensuring that captured militants don’t just walk out of jail, the obvious conclusion is that despite claims to the contrary, Pakistan is not committed to battling terror.

    Episodes like the Bannu break-out lead the world to dismiss our claims about Pakistan being a victim of terror and of 1000s of Pak Army soldiers who have died in War on Terror. (The world already casts doubts on our casualties claims as inflated since we include paramilitary and police casualties among them.) In addition, this episode will again invite allegations of complicity by our intelligence agencies. Given the lack of accountability (no heads have rolled) from our intelligence agencies for this break-out, it will be viewed with suspicion as an attempt to undermine the Afghan end-game. The world will dismiss our denials out of hand given our past track record & perception. There is no doubt that every step of Pakistani cooperation in war on terror is matched by an episode that reverses progress.


  • Adeel759
    Apr 18, 2012 - 4:18AM

    No matter how scientifically you put it, Failing continues to be the benchmark of pakistani security apparatus.Recommend

  • White Russian
    Apr 18, 2012 - 4:49AM

    One simple explaination: elephantine state branches are not meant to get things done. This article bored me to the tears. By the way, why I am further reinforced to think that this author always has some explanation for sloppiness of forces while he would skin civvies for a fraction of that? Frontier regions are virtually ruled by statition commanders, and civilian district control is just for legal procedures.


  • Pollack
    Apr 18, 2012 - 5:18AM

    Hundreds of prisoners escaped from a jail and not even a single one is caught?? The authors is kicking up sand in the face of people as diversion without asking any basic questions about the narration by the people in charge. Many posters have raised very valid questions about the incredible story of a convoy of autos going through many checkpoints without being accosted by the army. He wants people to believe this incredible story. It’s pretty obvious that this “escape” was stage managed by people who have the power to control army check points. Who could have that power in Pakistan?


  • American
    Apr 18, 2012 - 5:21AM

    When a force of 150 attack with 50 vehicles, with no casualties on ether side, the only conclusion possible is the same as Abbotabad : collusion or incompetency.
    Just like Abbotabad, the probability is more of collusion.


  • Pollack
    Apr 18, 2012 - 5:24AM

    @Ben: “A brilliant analysis.”

    Oh god!! Such low standards!!!


  • Pushtun voice
    Apr 18, 2012 - 5:25AM

    The TTP commander in an interview after the Bannu jail break stated that he had spent more than Rs.22 million on this operation. Lets take out 1million for diesel and another million for ammo. It seems like Rs. 20million was spent on the security forces guarding the area to make sure that more than 70% don’t show up and the rest just fire a few shots in the air.

    Ijaz Haider sahab, your analysis full of typical military jargon and whatnot did not take into account that that the best guerilla operation is when the guards look the other way. I am from this area. The locals always used to tell me that whenever the TTP men move around our military just looks the other way I never used to believe that. Now I DO!

    Our army, the ISI and our Police is just a joke. When 150 people in 20-30 cars can enter a small town like Bannu and leave with 450 men – this whole episode is a joke. No one is going to take us seriously!


  • ayesha khan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 6:03AM

    Is there NOTHING surprising in the fact that
    – 200 heavily armed people were able to get to Bannu jail in broad daylight without being detected by any check post
    – a jail that has dozens of very high value prisoners on any given day could have had almost 60% of its armed security personnel on planned leave?
    – despite over 2-3 dozen armed security personnel present (despite all teh absenteeism), this jailbreak occurs without a single death
    – after the jail break the 200 people make away with 400 additional prisoners passing many check posts without being challenged by anyone along the way?

    The Abbotabad operation was done in the cover of the night using fancy stealth technology yet there was furore about intelligence failure and questions about Pak’s security forces ability to defend their “assets”. This operation was done in broad daylight in open jeeps with armed men crossing several armed checkpoint and it causes you know concern?

    I am an Indian. I would expect the home minister to resign if something like this happened in India (since in India RAW is a civilan agency reporting to the Home Minister).


  • vasan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 6:34AM

    I would have appreciated the article, had it come before the jail break.


  • Realist's musings
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:33AM

    @Author, it’s pointless to philosophize a charmingly simple matter: Agency/agencies asked the administration and the Taliban to execute the plan; they willingly obeyed. Done? Which prison is next? ;-)


  • Zaid Hamid
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:40AM

    We should recruit all these prisoners and insurgents for Ghazwa e Hind, then we’ll definitely be successful.


  • Thinktank
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:57AM

    I never expected this to happen in real life… We have all seen it in movies- sinister plan by Daku gabbar Singh, long line of vehicles moving towards prison, all dakus enter the main prison with a boom, gun fight with police, prisoners freed and escape in the jeeps. Only thing that remains to happen is some honest pakistani police officer takes it personally and starts tracking each escapee secretly. Finally…he rounds them all up including their ‘sardars’ and gets honored by zardari. Let’s assume he has a love story with a village belle going on side…
    Wow.. I would pay millions to see the real life movie!!

    Pakistan never fails to amuse the outsiders and never fails to fail itself..


  • Apr 18, 2012 - 8:24AM

    It is now the right time that an assessment of threat is made by the government for realistic allocation of resources to various law enforcing agencies. One cannot blame the jail security system that it failed to defend because it does not have training, equipment and intelligence to fight the force like Taliban. Threat to a state can broadly categorized as internal and external. Since independence, we have been investing too much against external threat but in actual fact our major concern has been internal threat. The internal threat today has become formidable and if the government still fails to assess it correctly, such incidents will keep happening.


  • Haris Chaudhry
    Apr 18, 2012 - 8:39AM

    This is all over-analysed rhetoric coupled with the use of difficult sounding words and peripheral commentary.

    Keep it simple please. All of the above can be summarised in one sentence below:

    Pakistani state and its intelligence agencies have yet to wake up from the deep slumber of decade old terrorist, sectarian and nationalist movements that will disintegrate the nation until and unless the government, opposition, army and its intelligence agencies decide to own-up to the mess that we are in and publicly announce a joint strategy to divorce all of the strategic assets involved in terrorism, sectarian killings and other mafias and open up dialogues with separatists in Balochistan and until that happens we will be living witnesses to a nation going under sonner than later.



  • Lalai
    Apr 18, 2012 - 9:04AM

    How can you say this is an intelligence failure? This is an intelligence success. All the strategic assets have successfully been repatriated.


  • observer
    Apr 18, 2012 - 9:18AM

    Yes, what can be more routine and expected than,

    A. 50 Car convoys in a 1 horse town.

    B. 100 heavily armed men moving around openly in a boeder area on high alert precisely against any such incursion.

    C. 100 armed men attacking may be 60 well entrenched armed men and yet managing to avoid any casulaties om either side.(Miracles never cease)

    D. And after 2 hours of gun fight and explosions, no one, not even the local army/FC unit, bothers to find out what is going on.

    E. And after all the fire works the 100 that had come in and the 400 that were sprung out and their 50 rides all vanish in thin air. (Harry Potter here is a lesson in How to Apparate and Disapparate in public.)

    Humdrum indeed.


  • Hasan Mehmood
    Apr 18, 2012 - 9:32AM

    I have only two simple questions which no one has raised i.e
    1. When it became clear the jail cannot be defended in view of overwhelming force, why a few hardedened / dangerous inmates like Adnan Rasheed not gunned down by jail staff. They would have died in any case but atleast the main purpose of attack would have been foiled.
    2. On their way back, why the caravan of twenty plus vehicles not bombed by gunships. It was not a wedding party for GOD’s sake. I think even drones could have been requested in view of the time frame available.
    Lerts see if any one has an answer.


  • Najeeb
    Apr 18, 2012 - 9:43AM

    pathetic piece
    very disappointed


  • Shyam
    Apr 18, 2012 - 9:50AM


    Bannu offers no surprises

    The guards were not surprised as well, they were well paid in advance


  • ashok
    Apr 18, 2012 - 10:24AM

    In one of the TV Talk show with Shahjad Chaudhry, I heard that they were 800 or so Taliban (Not 150 or 200 as claimed in papers) who got 400 or so released from the jail.


  • Raider
    Apr 18, 2012 - 10:41AM

    So how many armed men will take part for a similar raid on Kahota Nuclear plant?


  • Hafeez
    Apr 18, 2012 - 10:54AM

    Mr Ejaz! You keep disappointing your readers (if you don’t believe, please read comments above). How come you forget to mention that the military cantonment with a heavy military presence is just 4 to 5 kilometers away from Bannu jail? How is it possible that they did not hear any of the gunshots or the commotuion that went on for many hours. If you meantion that you wont need to write fiction.


  • Sunil
    Apr 18, 2012 - 11:19AM

    ha ha ha ha … I cant believe the excuses this guy makes for his masters…


  • Khalid Aziz Chaudhary
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:09PM

    Ejaz is our next ambassador to US. Let him perform his duty to make his “mentors” happy.


  • American
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:16PM

    I have been reading this author’s opinions earlier in the Friday Times, and now in ET…
    For a long time I thought he is growing senile..and incoherent…but now I think he is also turning into an apologist for the “establishment”… in other words, crooked journalism.


  • Khalid Aziz Chaudhary
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:17PM

    Make an escape goat out of police for any failures, when it comes to internal security. Use “strategic assets” to wage covert wars against enemies and let the army handle its corporate interests, perks n priviliges. Job descriptions need to be revisited but who will do that?


  • Saif M
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:40PM

    The “analyses” is unnecessary. The answers are obvious. Is this raid and the results any different than those of Abbottabad, Mehran base, and so many others on the police and military targets in the last 3-4 years? It all boils down to lack of coherent planning and ill-competence.


  • Tara
    Apr 18, 2012 - 1:16PM

    This was done in collusion with ISI and the Haquani Jihadi network. The Taliban needs men for the spring and summer offensive.


  • socialist
    Apr 18, 2012 - 1:55PM

    you say months of tarining and hamid mir linked it to nato supply reopen


  • Farhad Ali
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:23PM

    Running prisons under a public-private partnership (PPP) could be a successful option


  • Apr 18, 2012 - 3:29PM

    It would be good if the writer is able to enlighten what is the motive of the military to enact this episode.


  • badshah
    Apr 18, 2012 - 3:45PM

    Most of the most dangerous criminal Taliban were brought into Bannu Jail, and still no extra-ordinary arrangements for the defence of the jail were not made nor the security agencies advised for extra-ordinary measures for the protection of the Bannu Jail!! It seems that all most dangerous criminal Taliban were presented to Therik-e-Taliban Pakistan in a golden platter! Now point that should be discussed is that what’s the deal as a result of which dangerous Taliban were released in this drama!


  • Hasan Mehmood
    Apr 18, 2012 - 6:11PM

    Since no one has bothered to answer my question, I would like Rehman Malik to declare that in future if any armed attempt is made to free the jailed inmates (particularly hardened terrorists or their known accompalices), before returning any fire, the predetermined / pre segregated terror suspects shall be gunned down. The very fact that a terrorist organization has come to free you, is an adequate proof of your guilt, the timid courts be damned.

    Believe me there will never be an attack on jails again. With our judicial system, there is already a very slim chance of conviction. Why would Taliban or the likes risk the lives of their collegues, if they can stay alive and kicking in jails otherwise.


  • major-ji
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:08PM

    By the way for whom you wrote it? Do you think some one will pay any heed to your analysis. Relax and enjoy as all those who matter are doing.


  • smj
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:12PM

    The current police force is compromised and demoralised. Unless they are retired and a new police force be created to fight, this would happen again.
    It is to be noted that not one person took responsibility and resign for this shameful security failure like it is a routine to handover prisoners.


  • Seema
    Apr 18, 2012 - 7:27PM

    @ Ijaz Hyder this article is quite disappointing and pathetic analysis.


  • True Muslim Paki
    Apr 20, 2012 - 2:17PM

    Waste of time reading the main article. Offlate, the quality of analysis of writer has gone from bad to worse. Infacts, the comments give a better analysis of the situation rather than author`s analysis. Sorry, Ejaz.


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