It would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic. About 150 Taliban fighters, armed with rocket launchers and RPGs, drive from their hideouts in North Waziristan and cruise past security check posts to get to their intended destination on July 29. They help nearly 250 prisoners — including ‘hardcore militants’ — escape the central jail in Dera Ismail Khan in a nearly three-hour long attack, during which no ground or aerial reinforcement is provided by the military. The prison is expansive, but they know exactly where they need to get to in order to free their men (with the help of maps and some inside information, perhaps?).
This is not a one-off incident. Two days prior to this attack, 10 inmates escaped from the same jail after attacking police wardens, although seven of them were recaptured; last year in April, a massive jail break in Bannu saw nearly 400 prisoners escape; Karachi has also recently silently witnessed criminals slip away … some from the toilet and others from court premises. And these are just a few of the recent security lapses at jails. What on earth is going on?
If you zoom into to the nitty gritty realities of jails and the police personnel that man them, you’ll realise that the picture is a sordid landscape of low salaries, poor fitness and little or no training when it comes to a proactive approach to an emergency situation. Clearly, with their sophisticated weapons and strategies, the terrorists are better-equipped, smarter or more motivated than prison authorities. We have all read the stories about phones being used by inmates. There was recently even a story about how an FC officer would throw a cell phone to an inmate at the Karachi Central Jail, who would return it after making his call. The scanners and security gates don’t work, the police officers have no clear schedules for mobile patrolling and their weapons are outdated. Now, let’s ask some serious questions: how are militants able to obtain police uniforms? Are security officials sympathetic towards criminals? How is the enemy able to launch an attack of this scale and precision without inside help?
Our governments’ collective failure to address these perpetual lapses is yet another telling sign that we are not taking the militant threat seriously. The millions of dollars that we are given to fight this war are being misused; what else is one to believe if it is so easy for terrorists to attack obvious targets like military bases and prison cells, smash PC-3 Orions and rescue their fighters?
The recently leaked OBL commission report underscores the disconnect between intelligence agencies and local police authorities. It highlights that the failure of agencies to provide actionable intelligence to civilian security officials is part of why the world’s most wanted man lived in Abbottabad for years. But in the DI Khan case, a report published in Dawn suggests that detailed intelligence was given to the police and the provincial home secretary in a letter marked “Threat Alert 699”. As a result of this, mock exercises and standard operating procedures were reportedly chalked out. The report even cites a senior official as saying, “On paper, everything was worked out meticulously to prepare for both day and night assault. It was a video game played out in real time.” Then what happened? The horse was dragged to the water but it didn’t drink.
The federal government needs to investigate the matter after bringing the provincial government on board and question why, if indeed this attack was known prior to its execution to our security agencies, nothing was done to prevent or counter it. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak’s statement that it was an intelligence failure is all very convenient but, in light of this report, is misleading. For once, institutions need to stop playing the blame game. Whoever is responsible for allowing this brazen attack should be taken to task to avoid such disastrous and embarrassing debacles in the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2013.
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