Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Militants Might

In the latest blow to the Pakistan government in what looks like a season of embarrassments, heavily armed Taliban gunmen attacked a naval base in Karachi and destroyed two US-made surveillance planes valued at $36 m and killed 10 personnel. The country’s army yesterday regained control of the base, ending an audacious 18- hour militant assault, but the humiliation the incident has caused will live longer. It was the worst assault on a military base since the army headquarters was besieged in October 2009 , and comes three weeks after Osama bin Laden was found living under the armed forces’ noses. Terrorist attacks are nothing new in Pakistan and the government has failed miserably to either avert these attacks or bring down their frequency. But what is worrying is that with each attack the terrorists have been gaining supremacy and exposing with their own stunning efficiency the inefficiency of the government to curb them. With Sunday’s attack, the extremists have improved on their previous record and what is most worrying is that the Islamist fighters were able to access the airfield in the first place. Everything about the assault, from the methodical tactics to the targeting of sensitive aircraft suggests the attackers used inside information. If that doesn’t worry Pakistan’s armed forces, nothing will. There are reports that extremists are sprinkled within the lower ranks of the army, and their role was suspected in several attacks, such as the 2007 suicide attack on a commando base and the spectacular assault in 2009 on army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Air force officers were arrested for a separate plot against Musharraf in 2006. For ordinary Pakistanis and the outside world, it’s equally worrying that none of these attacks is jolting the country’s administration out of its stupor. The government is always in a state of denial and a sense of inevitability grips it each time an attack happens. One doesn’t have to be a defence expert to say that Sunday’s attack was the result of a glaring security lapse, but Interior Minister Rehman Malik denied it and in a bizarre analogy, compared the attackers to characters from a Star Wars film, dressed in Western clothes. The sophistication of the attack, the duration of the siege and the attackers’ apparent knowledge of the base expose the weaknesses in Pakistan’s military defences and should have made Malik think twice before making such a statement. Despite the terror and lawlessness that stalks large swathes of Pakistan’s territory, the situation is not beyond control. What the government lacks is determination and unity to take on the militants and there is no doubt that the people of the country will support their government in this mission.