Kamra was waiting to happen, having been attacked on the periphery twice before. The attack this time was meticulously planned and targeted equipment, just like the more damaging attack at the Mehran Airbase in Karachi, which resulted in the complete destruction of two P3C Orion aircraft and, reportedly, left a third partially damaged.
The upgraded Orion aircraft were the Pakistan Navy’s foremost force-multiplier platforms, equipped with a Hawkeye 2000 AEW system.
The attack’s objective was to deprive the Pakistan Navy of its eyes.
Whatever secondary objectives the attackers might have planned to achieve with the attack on Kamra, their primary target was the Saab 2000 aircraft fitted with the Erieye AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control) system.
This time, it was an attack on the Pakistan Air Force’s eyes.
The Saab’s nose cone has been damaged and the aircraft will go to Sweden for repairs. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had pined for an early warning system for long. The platform is crucial for a number of reasons and can be used to counter many potential and emerging threats.
The obvious question: Why is the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), its affiliate groups and al Qaeda interested in degrading a capability that is primarily meant to blunt the advantage of state adversaries? Except in some instances, aerial strafing and bombing have not been very effective against elusive TTP fighters during the military operations. In fact, the Cobra helicopter gunships, where and when employed correctly, have been more lethal.
Could it be that the TTP’s references to Islam are a red-herring and it is actually serving someone else’s agenda? Those who want to jaw-jaw with the TTP may want to ponder this question. They may also want to admit that the sectarian attacks are being mounted by groups affiliated with the TTP. Those attacks have nothing to do with the American presence in Afghanistan. They not only pre-date the US invasion but relate to denominational differences within Islam.
The Kamra attack did not go through well for the terrorists. Security at the base responded with alacrity, managed to contain the damage and kill the nine terrorists. From what has been reported, the base commander led from the front for which he must be commended. It could have been worse. Yet, questions remain. Consider some.
There was a warning that a base would be attacked. What was the level of alert? How was the report graded? What channels did the report go through? What action, if any, was taken? We do know that a number of intelligence agencies are spoiling the broth in the absence of any organisation that can collate and analyse information and intelligence coming from various sources, a vital exercise to develop a proper picture. There is, in one word, little to no coordination.
Add to that the fact that we have no information on inquiry reports following the GHQ and PNS Mehran attacks. It’s not enough to say action has been taken and lessons learnt internally. Organisation theory is clear on two aspects that inform large-scale bureaucratic organisations: bounded rationality and systematic stupidity. Given these constants, it is crucial to have external input and scrutiny of what’s going on and what is being done. There are ways in which this can be done, if there is a will to do it.
Here’s an example of how we are responding to this threat. Rewind to the night of August 13. There’s the Azadi Parade at Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). Regardless of what the army chief said there – though he had no business saying that if the civilian principals were not so inefficient – one has to ask the question of why we need another parade at PMA when the institution already has two designated passing out parades in a year. The parade was good, choreographed to a tee. But that is precisely the point: it takes a month-and-half to two months to make it so good, from getting the drill movements right to making all the administrative arrangements. Those daily rehearsals cut into training time.
And training time is a life-saver, given that we are at war. Consider the contrast: PMA offers two years of infantry training to all cadets. Those who join infantry regiments then go for a six-month Young Officers Basic Course at the School of Infantry and Tactics. Some, as from other arms too, would go on to the Special Services Group. Another nine months. All told, this is more than three years. The Taliban are producing a quality fighter in four to six months with map-reading, signals and field engineering skills, field craft, weapons handling, etc.
This is no time to be ceremonial
The state is not responding well at any level: motivation, clarity of purpose, operational capabilities, effective intelligence and pre-emption. The war, after a lull, is about to ramp up. The state cannot afford enervation if it doesn’t want to lose.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2012.