If ever there was to be a reasonable measure as to just how broken the state of Pakistan is, then the events at and around Karachi Airport, on three consecutive days, in which at least 35 people were killed, provide an objective example. Less than two dozen determined men wrought havoc, shut down the largest airport in the country and then were permitted an encore with the attack on the ASF complex to the north of the Airport on June 10.
At the time of writing this editorial, those attacking the ASF complex are reported to have ‘fled’. They have not fled, as in run away defeated; they merely withdrew or could very well be repositioning themselves in order to conduct a similar operation at a time and place of their choosing. There has been the most tepid of responses from the leadership of the PML-N government, and at a time when the prime minister might be expected to rally the troops from the front, there is a large Nawaz Sharif-shaped hole where he ought to be.
As the fires died down after the incident that began on the evening of June 8, 2014, a tragedy within a tragedy emerged. Seven employees of a cargo company had taken refuge inside a room adjacent to a cold storage unit where heat-sensitive medicines were stored.
As the fighting raged around them, they contacted their relatives and begged to be rescued. Their relatives attempted to gain the attention of the authorities but it was not until there was a report of the men’s plight on a private TV channel that anything was done to reach them. By the time the firefighters had knocked down two walls of the room they were in, it was too late, and they had all died of suffocation and seven more names were added to the body count.
Doubts are being expressed to the effect that ‘the authorities’ were more concerned about preserving the valuable medications than they were about rescuing a group of lowly employees. It is impossible to say one way or the other, and it is unlikely that even if any future inquiry does identify those responsible for these deaths that any heads will roll.
No heads will roll either in the aftermath of the attack on the ASF complex. The electronic media repeated the mistakes of the previous 36 hours by broadcasting material that would be helpful to anybody engaged in an attack, in that it revealed the location and strength of our security forces.
In a particularly notable lapse of judgment, a reporter attempted to interview a soldier actually engaged in the fight. There was no apparent effort to control or moderate the flow of information and disinformation by the various sections of the security services, and an equal absence of a unified command of the operation.
As the incident wound down there were reports that it was of little consequence, not much more than firing into the air by a group of men on motorcycles, nobody was injured or killed and the perpetrators melted into the background they had emerged from, there to frighten and fight another day.
The bodies of the attackers killed in the airport raid do not appear to be of Pakistan origin, but it will require DNA testing to definitively determine their origins.
If they do prove to be Uzbeks, as alleged, then there will be an obvious linkage to the attack on the airport at Peshawar in 2012. Meanwhile, the men who choked to death before anybody tried to rescue them will be quietly forgotten, their relatives knocking fruitlessly at faceless doors in search of compensation.
This sequence of failures at every level by virtually every agency involved lays bare the symptomatology of a state out of control. Control has passed to extremist elements, getting it back a monumental battle. Unless we get our heads out of the sand, the very distinct possibility of the state being fully hijacked by such groups cannot be ruled out.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2014.
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