What happened at the Karachi airport tells us in no uncertain terms what exactly is wrong with us: we inherently lack the capacity for dealing with situations such as the one presented to us by only 10 murderous ‘Taliban’ mostly drawn from the ‘Mujahideen’ of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), who have infested our country’s tribal areas since they were forced from Afghanistan after the US assault in 2001.
Whilst it is of the utmost import to see why they have not been uprooted from this country in all these years and expelled to their own, we first have to look at what happened in Karachi; the utterly shambolic way in which the media reported the matter, even exposing the actual positions on ground of our troops to the attackers’ handlers on the ground in Karachi, who could as well have been watching television and instructing/warning off the terrorists; and the immediate deployment of the army into a situation that should have been controlled by the Airport Security Force (ASF) using their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in dealing with emergencies, with the police providing outer perimeter defence.
Consider: the ASF has been around almost 40 years now; its ranks contain many ex-military men; it is led by army officers; and it is equipped with exactly the same weapons that the terrorists used. It has a training academy/school in which training to handle all sorts of security-related situations is supposedly given to the force. Whilst the army is always there to help in dire security situations, it should have been kept in reserve, maintaining an outer cordon to prevent any reinforcements from reaching the murderers.
It is obvious that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of this force must be revisited at the earliest and made more efficient, more effective. And if it is found that they are ‘poorly equipped’ as alleged in the aftermath of the audacious attack (though why that is the case escapes me), it should immediately be given the equipment/munitions it lacks.
We must also consider another important aspect of this particular case. Twitter-scape, Facebook, and other social media and our silly talk-shows were full of criticism of the interior and defence ministers for their ‘inaction’, the refrain going something like this: ‘The federal government was nowhere to be seen’; ‘The defence and interior ministers should resign for not being ‘there’’, and so on.
Now, while criticism of the government for carrying on dialogue with cold-blooded killers and murderers holds water, the demand for the ministers to have ‘been there’ is utterly inane, nay completely absurd. In the first instance, nowhere in the world would the presence of ministers at an unfolding security situation in which a group of violent terrorists were being targeted by security forces be tolerated. Indeed the next day’s papers would have blasted them for coming in the way of operations; hungering for photo-ops and so on. As friend Ather Kazi who teaches journalism says: “In disaster zones the last thing you need is a bleeping ‘visiting’ VIP”!
But let’s for a moment consider the fact that we are a unique people who do unique things, and our defence and interior ministers had departed for Karachi on a special executive jet the very moment news came in of the attack, to ‘take control of the situation’. Right then. The news of the attack hit the TV screens at around 11:30 PM on that murderous night. Say it was 30 minutes late in coming to our screens and that the ministers found out about the attack at 11:00 PM.
It would take, at least, an hour and half for the aircraft to be made ready; the pilots to reach the airport from their respective residences, give another 30 minutes for unforeseens. So, the plane carrying the two ministers takes off from Chaklala, Rawalpindi, at 1 AM and lands at 2:45 AM at PAF Base, Masroor, formerly Mauripur, situated near the under-siege Karachi airport (which was closed).
Now picture this reader: In the meanwhile, the Sindh government has been informed of the two ministers’ arrival: just imagine the shemozzle that would ensue looking for bullet-proof vehicles; escort vehicles; guards and all. Imagine this convoy then hurtling to an already jammed with vehicles airport road with soldiers and policemen running hither and yon following orders, and these two hapless ministers caught in the melee making confusion more compounded.
Recall, too, that other high officials including the chief minister of Sindh and several ministers; the commanders of the Sindh police; the Corps Commander, Karachi and his staff; the GOC Malir and his staff; and Brigade and Unit commanders and their troops were already there trying to control the situation as best they could. How in heaven’s name would Chaudhry Nisar and Khawaja Asif have helped? Indeed, the next day’s papers would have headlined the fact that their presence actually made the operation that much more difficult and that, you guessed it, they were just there to make brownie points.
As for the ‘federal government not being seen’, er, last I heard the Pakistan Army; and the ASF were very much part of the federal government of Pakistan. Unless, of course, something changed on the night of June 8, 2014!
Finally, might I once again express my utter disgust and extreme sadness at the death of more of our Shia brothers and sisters and their little children, in Taftan, Balochistan. When will this slaughter of innocents in the name of sectarianism stop? When will this country become safe for its minorities?
An immediate and high-powered inquiry should be ordered under senior justices of the Supreme Court to look into why our myriad intelligence agencies, both federal and provincial, failed to detect both acts of terrorism in time. It is not enough to say that 19 (I’ve made the number up) warnings were given to the Sindh, and 29 to the Balochistan governments, when none of those warnings were target-specific.
We must all help stop the inexorable slide of our country into more chaos and turmoil. So help us God.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2014.