Naval base attack: When will we learn?

Published: May 23, 2011
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Why our military does not take measures to prevent such incidents is a question on many minds.

Pakistan has a habit of not learning from its mistakes. We are stubborn and arrogant, and we scoff at others when they tell us we’re wrong, and let’s not forget, we believe our armed forces are brilliant and unstoppable.

In 2009, ten terrorists managed to enter the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and killed 11 soldiers and two civilians. The terrorists were dressed in army uniforms when they entered the base.

Fast forward to two years later – More than ten terrorists enter PNS Mehran, the air support base of Pakistan’s Navy, and destroy two air surveillance aircrafts worth $36 million each.

Once again our armed forces have been caught napping. The attackers did not use the frontal assault route, but rather entered using sewerage lines behind the base.

Was there no security present at the base?

Did those who handle the base’s security look at the sewer line and say “it’s okay, nobody is going to take this route.”

Most importantly, why is an air support base with crucial apparatus located next to a museum and a shaadi lawn – places which the public has access to seven days a week?

The interior ministry was quick to announce that it had warned the military of a possible attack, much like the Punjab Home Department had passed on intelligence that the military might come under attack by men wearing army uniforms in 2009. This is a matter of serious concern.

Where is the military intelligence in this?

Considering that the navy has been under attack during the past month, where is our intelligence failing?

Who are these terrorists, and how deep have alliances to militant organisations become rooted?

An inside job?

Given the latest WikiLeaks cables on radicalisation within the ranks of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the sabotage of its equipment by its own men, there is a strong possibility that insiders were once again involved in the attack on the navy.

When the navy buses were last attacked in Karachi, there was news of insiders being involved but it was never disclosed by the agencies if this was true or not.

With the PNS Mehran attack, there are reports that the attackers were dressed in black, but bodies of those who were killed are not being taken out of the base because the government ‘does not want to disclose ethnicities.’ There have also been unconfirmed reports of some terrorists being captured alive and some of the men killing themselves during the operation.

Did the Taliban do it?

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks just as they had done in 2009 after the attack on the GHQ.

However, there aren’t too many factors linking the TTP to this attack. For starters, the Pakistan Navy is not involved in operations being carried out in the north, nor does it provide any kind of support to those operations. Secondly, the equipment destroyed in the attack is used for maritime surveillance.

Also, several defence analysts are of the view that the Taliban cannot be involved in this attack. Security Analyst Ikram Sehgal talking to the media categorically said that sabotaging maritime warfare can only benefit one county, that is, India. This speculative sentiment is currently making the rounds on most TV channels in Pakistan, along with other far-flung theories ranging as far as the relevance of control of Gwadar port and Pak-China ties to the current attack.

Defence Analyst Maria Sultan said that the attacks were carried out by well trained personnel who seem to have been backed by higher powers to show the world that Pakistan cannot adequately protect its military equipment.

The navy has repeatedly come under attack now, and while there are several possibilities as to who could be behind them, why our military does not take measures to prevent such incidents is a question on many minds.

Shaheryar Popalzai

Shaheryar Popalzai

A sub-editor on the web desk of The Express Tribune.

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