Atoning for our sins

Published: December 26, 2014
The writer is a political and security analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

The writer is a political and security analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

On August 28, 2014, an intelligence report was dispatched to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government (the chief secretary, the IG police, the IGFC et al) of a possible attack on an Army Public School (APS); (the chief minister of K-P, the executive head of the province, was away for the dharna in Islamabad). The report did not say which APS would be targeted and when, to the bad luck of the 142 who died on December 16 — 132 of them innocent children. The barbarism in the act shook the entire country. A bigger inhumane act is not known to have occurred in the annals of animalism that humans have tended to inflict on fellow beings, this being innocent blood aged anywhere from three to 15. Blood doesn’t come any younger or fresher than that. It is also hard to sweep away. It has this chemistry to congeal faster and stick longer.

What did the chief secretary (CS) and the IG police (IG) do with the information? Did, for example, the CS call up the IG to ask what measures the police will take to defend against the possibility? The IG would have then replied that since this was related to an APS, and all decisions on security were within the pale of the Corps Commander (CC) Peshawar, perhaps only the CC could say anything on the matter. That may then have triggered the need to check with the CC. Alas, it did not.

There is a long list of reasons why the chief secretaries and IGPs don’t carry that sense of responsibility any longer, and why they don’t check with the Corps Commanders. But that can come later. All assumed that since such reports normally emanate from the intelligence agencies, of them the premier ISI a most frequent source, it was only natural that the same report would have also gone to the CC; and since Corps Commanders are normally known to take on responsibilities on their shoulders even if they did not belong to them, it was probable that the CC Peshawar had a plan. Our descent into ignominy has been far faster than any rationality of cause and effect that we may wish to stick with at this moment. The question is of young blood, not one of hanging old bones.

It wasn’t a matter of saving the APS alone; it was more to do with the responsibility to protect the citizens of their city. Did ‘anyone’ have a plan? Assumptive logic got rudely shaken that fateful day of Peshawar’s fallen 142. Spillage of fresh blood hurts hard, very hard, but on a larger scale, what hurts the hardest is how callously we let the 142 go to the sword. The butchery is unpalatable regardless of whatever hue or sheen we put on it. There is only one word that explains it all: ‘dysfunctional’ — state, society and the system of governance.

What do you need to fight terror of this kind that was first planned, then penetrated, and finally executed? Assuming intelligence after August 28 went to sleep — which it must have because if army schools — and for that matter, any other school — were important, someone should have focused on filling in the gaps with missing information and reinforced the warning periodically, narrowing the scope, making those responsible shiver some. Clearly, this did not happen. Want to learn a lesson? Begin with this one first. If the consequences seem horrendous and dastardly, keep the intelligence going, and narrow the focus on more information to determine the probability of the threat materialising itself. Mere intimation isn’t enough as Peshawar’s 142 should inform our sensibility. Integrating intelligence may be ideal, and not impossible, but the moment asks for focused attention as a priority.

Timely and accurate intelligence is crucial but it rarely is perfect. What should then have been done by the Peshawar security establishment? They had available the army headquarters and the force; they had the provincial capital police and the associated LEAs, and a host of intelligence agencies quite seasoned in fighting an insurgency and terror wave that has had the entire province and Fata in its grip for the last decade and more. All that was needed was to determine the pool of resources available, organise those into a layered defence to detect the threat and make penetration impossible.

I imagine that a three-layered defence should have been formed around Peshawar. While most routes are picketed, these needed to be laterally interspersed with mobile patrols closing the gaps. This would have been the second innermost layer. The innermost security layer would constitute a mix of army, police and private security for each of the likely targets, more akin to protecting the city’s vulnerable points through local deployments. The two outer layers, however, can be the most critical.

As the perimeter travels out, the circumference becomes larger; which means there is more area to protect. This is where a mix again of local militias, available army deployments and rural police stations come handy. Their integrated deployment enables one to cover most avenues of ingress and importantly, helps monitor and add to intelligence and fight where threat is detected. This would have needed someone to plan such an integration of functions, ensure deployment and enunciate tasks for each, outlining the chain of reporting as well as decision-making. The absolutely outer perimeter is where the army is deployed and fights these groups.

What seemed missing is the required coordination and the integration of the interleafing layers of defence in Peshawar, if indeed such a course had already been chosen. This isn’t rocket science for anybody dealing with security; it is the integration and ‘joint-ness’ in planning and deployment that seems to be the terribly missing link. Nobody assumed responsibility, and nobody was in charge. This makes for a compelling case to nominate responsibility to fight terror formally to someone at various levels of administrative structures in the country. Else the cost can be horrendous.

This could have come from the prime minister’s 20-point plan; it instead seems more recommendatory than something that can be executed. It falls short on the need to identify responsibility. It could have ordered operative measures like establishing a joint task force of the all available assets at the district, division and the provincial levels. For the sake of viability and operational responsibility, these may have been placed under a dedicated army officer of compatible rank to act as the primary office of responsibility to integrate all elements necessary to fight terror within. It did not. For the moment, the challenge is to save innocent blood. The niceties of democracy can come later.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th,  2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (15)

  • Arijit Sharma
    Dec 27, 2014 - 1:19AM

    @author: ” … Want to learn a lesson? Begin with this one first …. narrow the focus on more information to determine the probability of the threat materialising itself. … ”

    I was expecting expressions of atonement in the article and all I got to read was on how to make a better fortress.


  • Saima
    Dec 27, 2014 - 3:48AM

    With due respect I would like to differ with your views, we may blame civil govt(PTI in this case) for their failure to save innocents despite advance threats passed to them, but my question is that since the threat alert was about an army institution so they must have passed this info to corps commander as well and being one of the most disciplined institution of our country why our army failed to protect those little angels? This is much disturbing question for us.


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 27, 2014 - 7:43AM

    Like the former COAS recentlysaid to a jounalist that the military undertakes operations as ordered in detail without intervention and completes its task. Foresight has always been the rare commodity for the military whereas they are trained and possess a plenty of hindsight. The air vice should recollect the military operations including carpet bombing of the tribal territories which has caused thousands if not hundreds and thousands of women nd children death. No Government in the world can be blamed or held responsible for protecting the military personnel and their families or installations if the military themselves are unable for the task?

    Rex Minor


  • raw is war
    Dec 27, 2014 - 7:48AM

    @Arijit Sharma:

    As a “political and security analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force” , Mr.Chaudhry must still be considering terror networks as “Stragetic assets”. I am surprised if he disagrees.


  • Hari Om
    Dec 27, 2014 - 7:58AM

    Air Vice Marshall Shahzad Chaudhry has lost sense of perspective by permitting his military antecedents of serving with the Pakistan Military to overwhelm reality when he refers to the undoubtedly despicable act of targeted killing of children whose parent served in same organization he did by saying “A bigger inhumane act is not known to have occurred in the annals of animalism that humans have tended to inflict on fellow beings”.

    AVM Chaudhry should regain perspective by recollecting that the Punjabi dominated Pakistan Military which he served has committed “A bigger inhumane act” by unleashing genocide targeting Bengali’s in the then East Pakistan, present day Bangladesh, back in 1971. AVM Chaudhry should also remember that the Peshawar School Attack fell on the 44th Anniversary of the day on which India liberated the Bengali’s of East Pakistan thereby once and for all delivering them from the horrors of genocide perpetrated by Punjabi dominated Pakistan Military.


  • Jai Sivaramakrishna
    Dec 27, 2014 - 10:48AM

    @Lt Col Imtiaz Alam (retd): Re Comment: “In the first place why wasn’t she swapped for the notorious Raymond Davis.”

    Presuming commenter Lt. Col. Imtiaz Alam is being truthful about his rank and past affiliation with the Pakistan Army, I can only conclude that the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul is teaching its Officers some strangely delusional and make believe definitions worthy of Goebellesian propaganda of what constitutes a “Swap”!

    Lt. Col. Alam may note that by keeping Aafia Siddiqui and also getting Raymond Davis from Pakistani custody, as far as the US was concerned there was no swap. Equally by not getting Aafia Siddiqui from US custody while giving up Raymond Davis to the US, as far as the Pakistan was concerned there was no swap.


  • abreez
    Dec 27, 2014 - 11:35AM

    The problem with Pakistani policy maker is that they want PhDs when there are no primary schools. Every day when I heard in full volume four or five ‘Azans’ from different mosque around my house I need no further proof of ‘unity of Muslims’. In Sub-continent it is natural to be Brahmins,Kshatriyas,Vaishyas,Shudras and Chandalasand in Pakistan it is natural to be Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Saraikis, Muhajirs, Balochis, Hindkowans, Chitralis. Pakistani policy maker must understand that the more political offices we will have the more catharsis of Pakistani people any gov. will get. When there will be thousands of village and town heads elected by people then the power will be in the hands of political forces and every new religious sect will face difficulty in finding people for their sect.


  • Daruwala
    Dec 27, 2014 - 12:35PM

    Everyone can atone for their sins and follow a new path, very necessary if we expect the Almighty to be merciful, as HE is supposed to be. This calls for radical change in behavior and actions, not optics to deflect accountability and responsibility. Lets see how the ball rolls.


  • Dec 27, 2014 - 3:27PM

    i agree with the writer that Peshawar incident is the failure of intelligence agencies either civil or military and then lack of co-ordinated plan and proper execution. I must say that it is not only the failure but complete ignorance and apathy that how to move ahead where lives of the innocents can be secured, the culture which has been developed in Pakistan for the last many years that easy way is to get away or to shun the responsibility is to deny and then to malign one or the other. Security forces both operating under civilian establishment or military have bitterly exposed for weak co-ordination at at any level. External and internal threats can be jointly defeated or combated,if the problem of proper co-ordination and execution will continue to persists, it will benefit the militants and terrorists more than any body else. Why we are shunning from the responsibility because responsibility demands accountability and here the problem will further be aggravated as time passes that no responsibility and no accountability. We know that nation has the habit to forget even the most bitter events, but please do not forget Peshawar massacre,if we don not learn any lesson, history will repeat itself, it is a wake up call and an opportunity to wipe out extremism and terrorism in the society.


  • nadeem
    Dec 27, 2014 - 8:26PM

    Over the last half century civil institutions have atrophied (as military has been our de facto ruler), while military institutions – especially its intelligence agencies – have gone on steroids. No wonder then that police had a ho-hum reaction to the 28 August warning. What could these under-trained, under-funded, under-equipped good-for-nothings have done anyway? The real question is: what were ISI and MI doing?


  • PrasadDeccani
    Dec 27, 2014 - 9:21PM

    May I know why a copy of intelligence report was not sent directly to Corps Commander (CC) Peshawar when the target was identified as one of APS?


  • SV
    Dec 27, 2014 - 10:55PM

    Under the guise of “atonement” what we have is a former military officer asking for full control by the military. The recommendations are as torturous as the language he uses. When was the last time someone saw the use of words like interleafing and recommendatory? Complexity is the hallmark of the unsure and tenuous. Nothing detracts more than someone, with an agenda, trying too hard. But try the AVSM must.

    The massacre of fellow citizens – children and women included, by the military (1970-71) was as barbarious as the killing of the innocent children in Peshawar. But magnitude and proximity matters. That tragedy was thousands of miles away and destroyed millions of lives. It is a statistic. This is close to home and countable. It must be also be said that most of those killed in East Pakistan were Hindus and “hindu sympathizers”. In Peshawar those killed are muslim children whose fathers are mostly military personnel. Anger is understandable. But don’t confuse it for atonement.

    There was no atonement then and there is none now. The agenda is to sacrifice democracy and give the military full and total control.


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 28, 2014 - 12:21AM

    because they are lies; almost every day an intelligence report is circulated that an attack on an rmy and non army institutions is impending and can occur any time. The name of the game is to be able to sayafterwards that the intelligence was available. The rerun of september 11 in USA, when intelligence was available of the would be terrorists who were receiving flight training to carry out the operation. The CIA and the FBI did not manage to connect the dots!!! Now you also know how the intelligent intelligence works?

    Rex Minor


  • observer
    Dec 28, 2014 - 8:38AM

    For the sake of viability and operational responsibility, these may have been placed under a dedicated army officer of compatible rank to act as the primary office of responsibility to integrate all elements necessary to fight terror within. It did not. For the moment, the challenge is to save innocent blood. The niceties of democracy can come later.


    So, this all that there is to the fight against terror.

    “Place it all under a dedicated army officer of compatible rank”

    Sir Ji, not so long ago the entire country was placed under an army officer of compatible rank,I am not clear if that did help in curbing terrorism in Pakistan.

    May be Ilyas Kashmiri could have shed some light on this.


  • KK Kool
    Dec 28, 2014 - 1:07PM

    I have gone through all of the comments and can conclude that none of the commentators know AVM Chaudary. Anyone remember Tamil Nadu? Where are they nowadays? AVM writes with conviction. He has handled such type of operations. He was the one in whose days PAF celebrated accident free operations. I know him and I have an idea what he writes and what is his level of conviction. I believe if he is hired as National Security Adviser a scary wave will pass through Pakistan’s International borders but alas very few have this understanding and realization.


More in Opinion