Pakistan’s #securityfail and infighting in the Parliament
Acerbic read of the day: Former ambassador Zafar Hilaly ripping into the intelligence and security failure that led to the discovery that Taliban leader Saifullah was being given medical treatment in Islamabad:
That Saifullah, the possible successor and right-hand man of Pakistan’s most notorious outlaw, Baitullah Mehsud, was being treated in the environs of Islamabad by a team of doctors speaks volumes. It suggests that Pakistan’s capital, arguably the best-protected city in all Pakistan, leaks like a sieve. It amounts to one more sad revelation of just how deep and pervasive is the penetration of civil society by extremists and the failure of our much vaunted intelligence apparatus to prevent it. This is the inescapable conclusion that is drawn unless we are prepared to believe that the establishment is complicit in allowing extremists to set up an effective support system in Islamabad and its environs, so much so that even their war wounded are brought there for treatment and recovery, safe from the reach of the law.
Whether it is one or the other, it suggests that Osama bin Laden could conceivably also be in Islamabad or holed up in one of the palatial residences that are euphemistically called “farms” in Chak Shehzad. And it may also be the reason why we do not have a clue where Al Qaida is located, why Baitullah’s whereabouts could not be properly ascertained, let alone accessed, except by a drone, or why elaborate plans involving a dozen or more terrorists, as that preceding the ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team or the Police offices in Lahore, went undetected. That Saifullah and his support team were apprehended is hardly a cause for self-congratulation. How he was able to get in is vastly more troubling than the satisfaction gained from his arrest.
The reason for our glaring failures of intelligence is not solely the usual bungling negligence associated with our law and order setup. One does not trip over a mountain unless one is blind. Rather, it is the lingering reluctance to view the Taliban less as a mortal enemy than an errant friend which was presumably why we shut our eyes or did not look hard enough at their antics, such as the arsenal of weapons being accumulated in the Red Mosque in plain view over a period of months; the planning of the Mumbai attack on our soil involving a dozen militants belonging to a banned organisation who ordinarily should have been under surveillance and the truck carrying explosives which was driven around Islamabad, despite a security lockdown, until it discharged its lethal cargo on the Marriot.
While I agree that it was a failure on behalf of the security apparatus that has made Islamabad into a town of barricades and checkposts – I do think the perception about the Taliban has definitely changed in Pakistan – owing to the huge losses that have happened via suicide attacks. Everything from ISI’s offices to police training academies to a visiting cricket team have been attacked
What remains to be seen though is how long the mood remains against the Taliban. Steve Coll quoted a study this week that said the average length of a counterinsurgency campaign is 14 years. The army has already told US envoy Richard Holbrooke that it will be months before they will launch a ground offensive in South Waziristan – and the current strategy seems to be to keep the Taliban fighters locked into their area. And while the army battles it way through FATA, Pakistan’s political parties seem intent on distracting themselves by trying to impeach former President Pervez Musharraf or lambasting each other in the National Assembly.
The focus* needs to remain on the end goal. I know the links I am drawing are disjointed, but you try watching all of Pakistan’s top news channels and you’ll be left befuddled too. That said – I personally would like to see Musharraf being brought to trial because I think an example needs to be set (and not of the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto kind) – but this is really not the time.
*I fear that the Government’s next distraction will be the soon-to-be released book that says Imran Khan may have had an affair with Benazir Bhutto while they were at Oxford. Stay tuned for news of the book being banned and burned.