#‎KarachiAirportAttack‬: We learn from history, that we NEVER learn from history

Published: June 9, 2014
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A man watches as smoke rises after militants launched an early morning assault at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on June 9, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

The story developed like a gathering storm. First there was news of a security breach when some armed men cut through the fence from the ‘Fokker gate’ near the Ispahani Hanger, close to the Pehelwah Goth area which had already been cited as a security risk many times.

Television audience was just trying to catch its breath over the horror unfolding in Taftan, on the Pak-Iran border where over 23 Shia zaireen lost their lives to a suicide attack, in a manner that has such a familiar, horrible ring to it.

As if that breaking news was not heartbreaking enough, news about the security breach at the Karachi airport wherein Airport Security Force (ASF) check post was attacked splashed across the screens.

First, it was that the ASF personnel had been injured and the intruders had come in. Then, the entire incident snowballed wherein they not only killed the ASF personnel, but a PIA employee in the Cargo terminal, as they moved rapidly deeper into the Karachi airport.

The fire fights broke out, Rangers moved in to assist the ASF personnel, sounds of blasts and heavy weaponry rent the night air, and then there was news of the terrorists moving towards an international airliner on the runway, ready to depart, and stiff resistance in which they were able to hit an oil depot, sending out leaping flames billowing smoke.

The media rushed into this chaotic scene, and added to the confusion by throwing in unconfirmed, unattributed, very speculative news, including that of aircraft on fire.

That there can NEVER be any short cuts to experience was very clearly visible on a couple of channels who rushed their senior reporters. That is where some voices of sanity could be heard. The rest were proving prime examples of irresponsible journalism, which showed that the back-end support from the newsrooms was just as lacking in experiencing and ability to deal with such crisis.

Troop movement was shown, until better sense prevailed, names of the fallen personnel were being aired, when protocol as well as sensitivity demands that the family be notified before the names are revealed. Bodies were shown, their condition graphically described, location of the mortuary as well as injured personnel was revealed too. This is all against the agreed media norms.

When will the media learn?

Despite being involved in media trainings, it is at times like these I feel it is a losing battle. Pakistan is supposed to be a ‘happening place’, not for all the right reasons, but even then, these happenings provide ample opportunity for the media to learn and improve itself, for practise is supposed to make you perfect, instead of being repetitively imperfect!

However, that is whole different discourse.

Let us talk about the ‪#‎KarachiAirportAttack.

How is history repeated? Why was the name of the Mehran and Kamra airbase bandied about? And why has a huge sigh of relief been heaved simply because in the final analysis, the ‘assets’ remained safe, despite the loss of 16 precious lives?

Is it because, as reports during this crisis indicated, prior warning had been received of an imminent attack on the Karachi Airport, and yet it happened? Just like in the case of Mehran and Kamra bases? If that warning had been given a week ago, what extra security measures had been taken? Was the alert level raised to match the threat level?

Apparently not.

The ‘jungle’ that is being mentioned across the perimeter fence from where one group of these terrorists intruded is not a Redwood forest – those are just bushes which in any case should not have been obscuring the view of any person on watch, if there was one.

The area adjoining Pehelwan Goth should have extra security not just because of its proximity to a populated area, but because of the presence of the operational installations of the airport, like the RADAR, which are located there. They are much too easily accessible.

Also, even after the end of the operation, the other entry point has not been mentioned, despite acknowledgement of the fact that the terrorists came from two different points.

However, what bothers me, and takes me back to another incident at the Karachi Airport, way back in the mid 80’s, in September 1986 to be precise, when the PanAm Flight 73 was stormed by terrorists, who had entered the airport effortlessly, because they were wearing ASF uniforms, and were in a van with ASF markings.

They were just saluted in, and went right up to the aircraft, and boarded it, taking the passengers hostage. The crew, following protocols, escaped from the cockpit so the terrorists were not able to get the plane to fly to a destination of their choice. The saga lasted for over two days, and had a violent and bloody end, with over 20 people killed, when Pakistani commandos stormed the plane and killed most of the hijackers, but not without loss of life to the passengers either.

So is being in a uniform enough of a right of passage to even high security areas?

Is this attitude that is the Achilles heel of our security set up? Why hasn’t the protocol of questioning persons of one’s own force trickled down through the forces that are manning the entry points? There must not be any exceptions to the rule, be they women, children or people in uniform – especially those wearing your own uniform.

It is these lapses that have cost us dearly in the past, but we never seem to learn from them.

These people entered not only wearing uniforms, which are not really all that hard to acquire, but came in with heavy weaponry. Irrespective of the origin of those weapons, which again is the subject of another contentious debate, the fact that so much armament crossed the security parameter of the largest civilian airport of the country is a scary prospect.

One doesn’t want to take anything away from the round of congratulations taking place at the ‘end’ of the operation in which ASF, Rangers, Sindh Police and the Zarrar Force ‘cleared’ it of the terrorists within five hours.

Three of the intruders blew themselves up, nine were taken down, none survived; so the who, when, what, why of the incident will need some other modes of answers. 14 others lost their lives, ASF, Police, Rangers, PIA and CAA staffers. 26 have suffered injuries of varying degrees and severity. Aircraft remained safe and just the cargo building suffered damage.

But isn’t there another damage we need to assess amidst all the thumping of the chest and backslapping? The damage to an already fragile image of the efficacy of intelligence and security apparatus which is supposed to pre-empt, and prevent these incidents. Damage control and fire fighting takes the shine off the remarks about the ‘ability to deal with all manifestations of terrorism’ etcetera.

Or is it this very question that is damaging?

Afia Salam

Afia Salam

A freelance journalist, with an experience of print, electronic and web media. She writes, and trains media on climate change, gender and labour issues, as well as media ethics. She blogs at (afiasalam.wordpress.com/)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abdullah

    Brilliantly put madam. No wonder we learn nothing from our previous mistakes.Recommend

  • Alann

    Less than 2 weeks ago the Pakistan Army was chest-thumping, or rather, saying their “quarterly” dialogue of “We are ever ready to deter, defeat any attack against Pakistan”!
    Their bravery only shines in banning TV channels.Recommend

  • Sami

    And here is the Account of So called Personal Secretary of Omer Khorasani Taliban commander. He is operating this account for many months. He is following Media personalities and giving death threats directly. Where is ISI and Federal Agencies to trace and block such accounts. ?? Why no one is BANNING SUCH ACCOUNTS?

    https://twitter.com/omarkhorasani1Recommend

  • abhi099

    now pakistan knows what mumbai attack felt like. Pakistan will never learn.Recommend

  • Haris Javed

    as another author put it like, “Journalism died yesterday, What else would you call the broadcast of a national tragedy – a terrorist attack of this scale – presented in the form of a summer blockbuster film?”Recommend

  • Parvez

    Excellent point made……the awe of the uniform still rules supreme……and as in this case the Taliban have used it to their advantage.
    This cancer will not be cured by aspirin……it will require major surgery.Recommend

  • A Abid S

    We dont care about the law, standards, professionalisum, code of conducts and you are talking about self regulated media norms..as a nation we are savages, we see no rules or humanity when we leave our home, be it the journalists or the pilots or doctors or accountants. Just the way we drive by the market places, hospitals and even children parks and schools..we are no better than talibans..are we?
    10 years and we have not learned how to secure our assest or deal with an emergency. I can bet my life if terrorist have enough resources and they attack lahore airport and the same thing will happen..they will enter from some quiet area and start killing..and we will kill them after they had killed a dozen or so..Seriously..from quetta to iran, how many possible routes can there be..same route, same group of people, well over a thousand killed in few years and no improvement..Recommend

  • ansh

    Good analysis AFIARecommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    What did we learn from your post? The same thing 180 Million minds are saying. Being senior, puts you in a position to analyze it and come up with something out of the box. Dont tell us what we already know.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @author

    Excellent write up to stimulate the introspection process for a nation that is in denial when something goes wrong in a country founded to safeguard Muslims. I was following the news about this tragedy only one thing was a fact that every hour dead body counts were increasing by 5. Rest of the reporting were useless and media sensationalism. Not a Pakistani but my condolences to the innocent people who lost their lives in Karachi as well as Quetta. Federal Govt, Provisional govt and security apparatus should be ashamed of themselves. As a result of this terrorist attack few International airlines that were connecting Pakistanis to the rest of the world will stop their routes because of safety issue.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    There is no use of Islam if the follower of this faith acts in an inhuman way. Sorry but in Pakistan many people actually support the action of these terrorists who massacred 30 shias who were returning from a spiritual pilgrimage. I hate Muslims who sport unhygienic long beard, cover their women in a sack and wear their religion up their sleeves.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Even Iran is now pissed at Pakistan, Please don’t blame US for this Rocket IncidentRecommend

  • Umer

    Its a shocking act of terror and negligence on part of our security forces. However, 10 terrorists down in 3 hours.. cant call it bad counter-terrorism action!Recommend

  • Naila

    You sound so hopeful.Recommend

  • Naila

    WHEN is the army going to do it’s job?Recommend

  • Salmanbhatti

    Very impressed the way the writer has highlighted pros & corns. However, I am on the airport right now seeing nothing special security measures. Security Agencies has a big role to play as huge amount of expenditures are invested by Authorities to combat terrorism but those who are at the helm of affairs are not proactive enough to take cogent measures. I personally feel ASF and Airport Police have to shoulder more responsibility to monitor the adjoining areas rather then laying all blames to CAA which has nothing to do with security. Surprisingly, no media has talked about the role of Airport Police that has always been futile to produce results.Recommend

  • baig

    being a apparent muslim why did Ajmal kasab use the word baghwan in his interview? India says he belong to Pakistan and lashkar-e-taiba . nobody would use world baghwan for Allah in Pakistan. Can any of my Indian friend give me to the point answer? what might be the logic behind?Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    Army was able to clear the airport within 5 hours of the attack, they did their job. To increase the secuirtiy come under the interior minister. Intelligence did their job as well by reporting 1 week before such incident can take place..Please bash army on a strong point….The author has facts ….you have nothing…!!!Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    o really, can you please name those?Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    thats called being sarcastic – The element of negation will take sometime until it commits suicide right?Recommend

  • abhi099

    There is no hope for a country where religion rules the country.Recommend

  • anil

    There is no comparison with Mumbai attack . That was completely a religious attack . Non-muslims , be it Hindu or Christian or Jews were murdered . Babies were shoot point blank . Ladies in the hotel were raped , but that news was not aired because it could have hurt the ‘sentiment’ of some people . Some were allowed to leave hotel unhurt because either they had a long beard or Muslim. Those things were even captured on camera . These were acts of Islamic fanatics . But this act if karachi was not religious in nature .Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    I hope you will soon get a feeling like this Indian troll.Recommend

  • Sane

    We don’t blame anyone, but India, the India only.Recommend

  • Sane

    No. This attacks was also responded in its true coin by killing all foreign terrorist carrying Indian weapons and drugs in just few hours. And next time also we will do same, if ever anyone dares to. We never repeat Indian Bombay attack, which was indigenous, but took a week to clear five terrorists.Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com/ 2#

    no no instead you can say we have the same security agencies… even a kid can come and blast us right? That balances the ridicule rightRecommend

  • Mehdi

    You make no sense. Blaming India won’t do you any good. You do sound quite insane.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    Are you a Taliban sympathizer ?Recommend

  • نائلہ

    ……..says who?Recommend

  • نائلہ

    How do you know this? References needed. Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Tauba. Get yourself educated on the religion of Islam before claiming it to be ‘filled with violence’ Recommend

  • abhi099

    as an indian I like to troll pakistan websites but with facts.Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    hes just trying to tease us. @abhi099:disqus Buddy dont you have anything else?Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    dont worry, I personally know there are only a few like you in India otherwise its a good countryRecommend

  • Asim

    where the hell are you coming from, there is no religious element in there.Recommend

  • abhi099

    there is a ttp sympathiser here.surprise surprise!!Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    Exactly..!!Recommend

  • baig

    i was hoping that you answer the question for general knowledge.Recommend

  • abhi099

    I dont need to give answers to people who still believe 9/11 is a jewish conspiracy, osmama was not killed in pakistan and what not. Pakistan is the king of conspiracy land.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    Yes. Don’t forget that the weapons had Modis name engraved in sanskrit. :-)Recommend

  • Enkay

    Baig : Muslim Pakistani Ajmal Kasab surely must have tried to get some mercy from the Indian Authorities by using a Hindu Term for the Creator. But, this did not cut ice with the Indian Authorities and he had to do the Hempen Jig.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    Don’t you think you should do your own homework? Google is your friend. Search for the turkish lady who was spared after she said she is muslim. And why would the attackers go in search of a specific jewsih target if the attack was not inspired by fanaticism?Recommend

  • Faulitics

    Aftre the americans leave afghanistan. After the success of strategic depth. After the…..fill_in_the_blanks…….Recommend

  • Bleed-71

    FYI TTP took the responsibility of the attack, joker. Stop jumping around and making a fool of urself, coz nobody paying, yet. Recommend

  • abhi

    Are you saying that the attackers were locals? If not then how they entered Pakistan/Karachi and what was Army doing to stop them?Recommend

  • M Ali

    It’s beyond me why a settlement like Pehlwan Goth was allowed to prop up right behind the airport. Aside from housing all sorts of assorted lowlife criminals, it’s the hub of the qabza mafia in the Gulistan-e-Jauhar area. Either those illegal settlements should be razed to the ground and their settlers deported out of Karachi or the airport needs to be moved elsewhere.

    Also, I just happened to come across the pictures of the dead attackers on social media – it made me sick. They look like they’re barely teenagers, what a waste of life. This toxic ideology which is creating zombie-like killing machines needs to be dealt with zero tolerance by our govt, establishment and media who are responsible for forming the public’s opinion.Recommend

  • Malti Chaturvedi

    honestly man…………. pakistan blaming india makes no sense……..it can spoil efforts made by mr narendra modi for better ties between 2 major economiesRecommend

  • Rakib

    You claim only non-Muslims were killed. In this age of over information on internet be careful with falsehood.
    Reg deaths in Bombay 26/11: Macabre statistical comparisons are
    pointless but fyi 22 out of 58 killed and 18 out of 95 injured at VT
    alone were Muslims. (Ref: ToI 3 Dec, 2008). This is not counting Malaysian,
    Omani, Jordanian or other Muslims killed & injured.Recommend

  • raj

    IK, Fazalurrehman, JI people. Is there any instances when these people condemn the attack and denounced what taliban did ? No. Instead IK is asking govt to resign. Is he out of his mind or whatRecommend

  • Necromancer

    And keep on doing that until Saqoot-e-Pakistan HappensRecommend

  • observer

    Terrorism has been going on Pakistan for a very long time. Now, any nation, would have a long term solution to this most dangerous issue. The fact that we are dithering and cannot take a firm long term decision, cannot root out these terrorists, shows the lack of resolve on the part of the nation at large and specifically those whose duty is to protect. There should be a very serious national debate on how to finish them. Those in charge should know that the whole world is quite sick and tired of nations such as ours who cannot take charge of their own territories and indeed allow it spread to even neighboring nations. We Pakistani’s are not recognized as normal people to many beyond our borders, and the reasons are very clear. We are closely watched, closely monitored, closely looked on with suspicion, when we show our green passports.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Can you point me to the link of the video of that Interview on Youtube?Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    If there is a major attack every week, trust me, the security forces are not doing well.

    No where in the world will this be considered as a success.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    So you are saying there is no Radicalisation in Pakistan, but India is to blame.

    Yes, this will turn out well..Recommend

  • baig

    search ‘ajmal kasab saying bhagwan’ on googleRecommend

  • baig

    LOL!!Recommend

  • baig

    And India call him a extermist hardliner. ‘jo kai danda dekh kar hi far far bolnai laga’.Recommend

  • Critical thinker

    Wht was your Army doing when 10 terrorist sailed through the whole OCEAN and reached Mumbai…They blocked the city for 4 days….you Intelligence and your security agencies couldnt even send a proper SSG team for the operation…..
    Secondly our government has open 4 consulates in Afghanistan ….these fighters are fruit of tht…..Shame on you…!!!!Recommend

  • C.T

    India is using the fanatics in Pakistan for their good……dirty games wht more can you expect from a country who has masscred thousands of people in Kashmir…….Recommend

  • Critical Thinker

    Yeah we read it..We saw Modis name in 1992 was well when he killed and burned people on the streets and the whole India was watching and clapping……Recommend

  • Critical thinker

    You are wrong only Indian Google is right…It tells the indian tht they are improving conditions in Kashmir. Only three people dies in the span of last 50 years. And also please remember according to Indian google 4 consulates in Afghaistan are made becoz alot of Indians are visiting Afghanistan for sigh seeing….shame on this largest democracy…!!!Recommend

  • raj

    Mr @baig, consider this.. if you want to convince someone that you haven’t done something wrong, then would you swear on something they love or something you love ?? Kasab was trying to convince hindu nationals that see im not wrong here and for god sake (in this case he used bhagwan thinking it might work in his favour) forgive me. Understood or notRecommend

  • raj

    Hindus in Pakistan use Assalam-o-alikum. does that mean they are muslims ?? come on.. grow up manRecommend

  • Trish

    True, but we learn from our mistakes. Major terror attacks don’t happen every month forget every week. And we certainly don’t get attacked in the same spot within a space of 3 days.Recommend

  • Trish

    I think you meant 2002. Since you can’t even get the year wrong, I will assume you don’t know anything. And no Modi wasn’t involved in the riot as his name has been cleared by SC. You guys will just jump to any kind of conspiracy theory.Recommend

  • Trish

    yeah lol. keep on blaming. Make some elaborate conspiracy theory as well when reports comes out that India had no connections.Recommend

  • Trish

    yeah lol. keep on blaming. Make some elaborate conspiracy theory as well when reports comes out that India had no connections.Recommend

  • Trish

    Extremist hardliner because he used violence to get his point across. Nothing to do with “‘jo kai danda dekh kar hi far far bolnai laga'”.Recommend

  • Trish

    Extremist hardliner because he used violence to get his point across. Nothing to do with “‘jo kai danda dekh kar hi far far bolnai laga'”.Recommend

  • Guest

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/shoaib_112 Mirza Shoaib Ahmad Jarral

    just suppose if you are a Security Guard and a person in uniform of 14 scale or your boss..definitely you don’t have choice except to salute and let him go…because in pakistani norms you’ll be dismissed if you ll dare to ask him by performing your duty.Recommend

  • baig

    there is difference between hindus and muslim.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    Modi must be a real bad guy. Maybe thats why Nawaz Sherif attended his swearing in ceremony. Is NAwaz Sherif a RAW agent too? Did you learn that from Zaid Hamid?Recommend

  • raj

    and what is that… if hindus says salam, it does not effect his religion but if muslim says namasty.. he is not more muslim ? wowRecommend

  • ak

    Why should we be ashamed at having 4 consulates in Afghanistan again? So India cant have but Pakistan can have 5 consulates (1 embassy, 4 consulates, go check). You meant to say Pakistan should have much more shame right?

    I dint hear Afghan people complaining about Indian presence, given the fact India is helping them with Infrastructure, Education etc. Why dint Pak helped them?Oh yeah they simply used them for their own gain.
    Learn to own responsibility for your actions and not always its someone else responsible for one’s deplorable condition.Learn to look inward you will find answersRecommend

  • Landhi wala

    This is so obvious. You are not a Muslim. When you say you ‘hate Muslims
    with unhygienic beards’ [and cover their women in sack] shows clearly you
    are a phony. Keeping beards is a prerogative. Very likely you are an Indian
    troll. Under a fake name…..trolls are pretty vicious and make ridiculous remarks like yours.Recommend

  • Landhi wala

    This just an Indian troll. Under a fake Muslim name.
    They do this. Change name to Muslim name.Recommend

  • Lahore wala

    We don’t trust Indian trolls working in shifts. Who can’t even spell. Let alone compose a credible sentence.Recommend

  • Landhi wala

    That is basically an Afghan refugeecolony. They get money/assistance
    because of UN refugee status. Then do these other heinous activities. Land
    mafia, land grabbing, target killings.
    Should be deported straight to Afghanistan.Recommend

  • abhi

    So you agree that those 10 terrorist sailed from Pakistan, good thinking. Now when are you going to catch and punish the planners?Recommend

  • Faulitics

    India builds consulates and roads in Afghanistan. You must be very proud of that!Recommend

  • Mehdi

    I am a Shia Muslim who lives in USA and have Indian ancestry. Now what do you have to say ? I am not a troll but enjoy coming to these sites to educate Pakistanis on the value of tolerance. True Islam is about humanity, tolerance and peace, which has been hijacked by many of your country men. By the way you do sport a very interesting username. How can you prove to the world that you are even a Muslim ? Recommend