One is proud of the will, courage, commitment and sacrifice of our 34th PMA Sri Lankan course mates. They fought terrorism for over 25 years through Sri Lanka’s darkest period. My good friend Major General (Lucky) Wijayaratne, who ‘inducted’ me in his battalion while commanding the 1st Sri Lanka Light Infantry at Panagoda, was killed in action. When Prabhakaran and the remnants of his Tamil Tigers were ultimately cornered by the Sri Lankan Army in 2009, the Indian foreign minister demanded the offensive be stopped to allow them safe passage. Poised to eliminate the bloody scourge that had turned their island paradise into hell with the help of India’s Research and Analytical Wing (RAW), the Sri Lankans flatly refused.
The timing of the failed terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore was too much of a coincidence. It was not a ‘kill’ mission but a bid to kidnap and exchange the cricketers for the Tamil Tigers’ leader. The far greater fallout was that it put paid to international cricket in Pakistan. Incidentally, why did the terrorists infiltrating the Mehran Air Base in 2011 ignore and walk past far more sophisticated warplanes on the tarmac and specifically target and destroy the India-specific P3C Orion aircraft parked some distance away?
RAW’s machinations in Balochistan continue, while Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, controlled by RAW, has a proven association with the TTP. Latif Mehsud, the TTP’s number two, escorted by Afghan intelligence agents to meet Hamid Karzai, was captured by US Special Forces and taken to Bagram. Why did Karzai vociferously demand his release? And who gives sanctuary and support to Mullah Fazlullah? Who were the Uzbek terrorists working for? Forgive me for being suspicious!
Had the lightly armed Airport Security Force (ASF) personnel failed to stop the terrorists getting to the several passenger aircraft readying for take-off at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, the loss of lives in the ensuing inferno would have been catastrophic. Mercenaries for a ‘false flag’ operation, the Uzbeks had a far more deadly purpose. Foreign airlines, irrespective of the windfall profits they make at the expense of PIA, courtesy our deeply flawed ‘open skies’ policy, would have ceased their operations forthwith. Killing a woman passenger and injuring crew members by shooting at a PIA aircraft landing at the Peshawar airport shows that somebody is desperate to isolate Pakistan from the world. While a disaster did not take place in Karachi, those exploiting our horrendous internal situation will try and see to it that such an occurrence happens.
Flush with ill-gotten money, our ‘democratically’ elected political elite can afford private security, block entire roads and move around with whole convoys of police (and Rangers) mobiles with flashing lights and blaring sirens. Unless the local police comply with their ‘fashion statement’, they are harassed, transferred and/or their employment is terminated. Diverting significant police personnel from their given task of policing relegates the police to a passive role and affects the security and sanctity of the common citizen and his/her property. The 24-hour tactical commitment in routine functions degenerates the ability of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to pick early warning signals of impending hostile action and slows down their response time. The police are unable to take the initiative in actively locating and ferreting out terrorists from various localities.
Logistics for terrorist hideouts, money, ammunition, supplies, uniforms, vehicles, safe mobility through the streets etc. are very much the responsibility of the provincial LEAs to interdict. This does not absolve the federal government and its myriad number of intelligence agencies of all responsibility. While the Rangers, the police and the army responded fairly swiftly, they got lucky differentiating between friend and foe in eliminating ‘friendly fire’ casualties without clear-cut, fail-safe boundaries during the smoke and confusion during the night-time attack on the Karachi airport. Somebody up there is (still) looking after us!
There are lessons to be learnt from the Karachi airport incident: 1) non-existent unity of command; 2) lack of coordinated intelligence gathering and sharing; 3) lack of adequate weapons, equipment, vehicles, light helicopters, etc; 4) lack of trained manpower dedicated to tackling terrorism and protecting sensitive sites; 5) duplication of effort; and 6) bureaucratic interference and insensitivity to the LEAs’ financial requirements. Delivering reports that caution against threats to every conceivable sensitive location, is claimed as an achievement by our intelligence agencies. Without actionable intelligence being shared immediately, terrorism cannot be countered.
Critical assets, such as ports, airports, etc. must come under a unified command dedicated to organizing, planning, training, equipping and implementing both, protection and counterterrorism response. The criteria of public assets (airports) will differ from non-public assets (airbases) but the mission statement remains the same. At present, our protection, response and rescue efforts remain fragmented; even the army’s Defense Security Guards (DSG) are supplemented by denuding the fighting formations of infantry units on makeshift arrangements. Are the affected corps, divisional and brigade commanders content with the diversion of their fighting troops?
The border and internal security forces i.e., the Rangers in Sindh and Punjab, the Frontier Corps (FC) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, and the FIA’s Immigration, report to the Ministry of Interior, ASF to the Aviation Division and the Anti-Narcotics Force to the Ministry of Narcotics Control. Officered by the army, all have multiple parents except for Immigration, the crisscrossing channels of command causing confusion and duplication. A Homeland Security Command comprising all the aforementioned (including the DSG) must be a dedicated and effective single command and control mechanism for protection of strategic assets and countering terrorism. Headed by a three-star general, preferably someone having actual combat and internal security experience, it should immediately take over security of ports, airports, air, army and naval bases etc. The Rangers and the FC must separate their internal security and border security contingents. With Nacta becoming an integral part, a counterterrorism force can be developed from within this command.
Combining unity of command with amalgamated intelligence potential and commonality of personnel, weapons and equipment, etc. under a single entity saves money by avoiding duplication. Instead of rhetoric, there must be a credible and effective counter to the existential terrorism threat faced by this country.
The writer is a Pakistan-based respected defense and security analyst. He is the Chairman of Pathfinder Group and Director EastWest Institute (EWI), Bank Al Falah, etc,.