First around midnight, the channels gave us the news of sporadic blasts. By 1.30am, there were reports that the central prison in Dera Ismail Khan was under attack. It began with bomb blasts, leading to the demolition of one of the prison’s walls and heavily-armed men broke into the jail. Initial reports that eight men in police uniform launched the attack, soon changed to around 40 to 50 men participating in a three-directional attack (the final tally was around 70 given by the local commissioner). Reports suggested that rocket launchers were used in the attacks and that they were well-planned and well-executed. The DI Khan prison was holding around 250 militants from banned organisations and this attack was to free these prisoners.
In the dead of the night, confronted with this extremely well-planned attack, the prison authorities had clearly been over-powered. DI Khan-based correspondents of different channels, quoting prison and administration officials, reported that dozens of prisoners had escaped. The battle was obviously a one-sided affair until the police and army contingents were called in.
In the midst of this unfolding havoc, another unbelievable saga was unfolding. At around 2am, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) information minister was insisting, as if from Alice in Wonderland, that none of the militant prisoners had fled, and was, in fact, talking to the media in a somewhat reprimanding tone, saying it should not spread rumours.
This happened an hour after all major news channels had already reported that around 250 high-profile prisoners of banned organisations had managed to flee. While district officials were telling the channels that 250 militants had been freed with the help of the attackers, the information minister kept saying that the objective of the attack was not known. He was either in deep denial or deeply ill-informed. Around the same time, the DIG also denied that any prisoner had escaped. Then came the stellar statement from IG Prisons Khalid Abbas, who told ARY that there were no high-profile prisoners there and that he was “wondering why the prison was attacked”. The IG was also heard saying that if “someone attacks from outside, we are not equipped to retaliate against major attack, we are only meant to protect prisoners”.
This was an indirect admission by the IG that initially the attackers must have been given a walkover — at least until the army and additional police force arrived. Not surprisingly, there were also reports of prior warnings conveyed to K-P authorities regarding the attack.
Finally, closer to 3am, the DI Khan commissioner was being quoted as saying that many prisoners had escaped from the prison and that the administration was trying to recapture them. Finally, at around 3.20am, the chief minister’s adviser for prisons said that more than 300 prisoners had escaped.
It should be common sense for anyone to think that any prison, which holds militants, could be a target of an attack. In 2012, 400 militants escaped from the Bannu jail during a similar attack. Last week, militants escaped from an ISI facility in Sukkur. Similarly, militants escaped after staging terrorist attacks, from major hospitals in Karachi and Lahore. Who will stop the terrorists from succeeding in Parachinar, in Quetta, Bannu, in Karachi, etc.?
Significantly, this combination of contradiction and denials by some key political and administrative officials is symptomatic of the chaotic and arbitrary ways in which the deadly issue of terrorism is being dealt with nationwide. Cabinets, administrations and intelligence agencies at the centre and the provinces are either incompetent or in a fear-triggered denial. At best, all we see is patchwork of a response if not paralysis, in tackling an adversary who grows confident by the day. While the government hesitates to exercise its mandate to formulate a security policy, other than leaking some papers derivative of Malayisan and Chinese policies, the debate over holding the APC continues.
We must ask these elected leaders that while Pakistan burns ‘Where are you? Do you understand the danger? Why are you not accordingly commanding your forces to defeat the enemy?’ Victory must be our only option.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2013.
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