PNS Mehran attack: Countering terrorism and conspiracies

Published: May 25, 2011
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We need to start accepting that this is ‘our’ war, fought by our people, started by our state and army.

In 2002, after the attacks on the French naval engineer’s bus, the suicide bombing on the US Consulate, and the beheading of Daniel Pearl, Karachi unfortunately received the title of ‘the Terrorism Capital of Pakistan.’ Eventually, the terror campaign moved upcountry and Karachi fell out of the limelight.

Nevertheless, it remained an economic hub for terrorists who took advantage of the city’s multicultural demographics and economy for financial gains and networking. It also became a port of arrival and departure to and from the country for local and foreign militants. Karachi, therefore, remained vulnerable to terrorist violence, as was demonstrated by the October 18, 2007 bombing on Benazir Bhutto’s procession that claimed over 135 lives and the suicide attack on the Ashura procession in December 2009, which killed over 45 people.

The city by the sea, therefore, has not been a stranger to terrorist operations. Despite repeated warnings by security analysts and academic scholars, little was done to secure Karachi from the attacks on the Navy base, PNS Mehran, on May 22, 2011. Not only was this a security breach, but an intelligence failure that has ashamed Pakistanis while the memories of the operation carried out in Abbottabad earlier this month to scoop out bin Laden remain fresh.

Whether or not this attack was a form of retaliation by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to the much-discussed killing of Osama bin Laden earlier this month, it was carried out by a group of well armed and well trained militants whose prime motive was not to inflict mass casualties but to make a bold statement. This statement, for both the national and international audience, implies that these militants have now entered and familiarised themselves with Pakistan’s biggest and most populated metropolitan city and targeted one of our state’s key assets. This does not necessarily depict a change in TTP’s policy towards Pakistan – our forces, government officials and civilians have been their prioritised target since the war against terror came to Pakistan. While tragic and shocking, such an attack was imminent.

This is ‘our war’, unfortunately

As happens in Pakistan after every disturbing event, conspiracy theories and accusations are chucked across borders and all royal blame is cast upon India, Israel and the United States (US), and their intelligence. Several patriots vocally chant the fact that this is not ‘our war’ but ‘their war’ and therefore it should not be fought on Pakistani fields. Without resorting to history, as has been done repeatedly before, let’s refer to what is currently being compared to the PNS Mehran attacks: the Mumbai Attacks of 26/11.

The Mumbai attacks mark the quite lengthy operation carried out against militants that had taken over Oberoi and Taj hotels in the Indian city. Not surprisingly, and perhaps rightfully so (given our infiltration on Indian soil in 1999 and 2001/2), India immediately eyed Pakistan with scrutiny, demanding Musharraf to hand over militants allegedly involved in these attacks. Now, media personnel and analysts within Pakistan are looking upon India as having trained and boosted the men who attacked the naval base in Karachi.

We need to stop ‘scapegoating’ India for all our problems and accept responsibility.

Currently, Tahawwur Hussain Rana’s trial is going on in Chicago. Rana is co-accused, along with David Headley, for 26/11, and is expected to spill the beans on ISI’s involvement in the Mumbai attack. Should ISI be implicated for its involvement by Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian, Pakistan will once again bow its head in shame and our intelligence agency’s credibility will once again be undermined. Sources have informed me repeatedly of Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 as well as of 1999 and the military standoff of 2001-2002.

While the Rana Trial remains a pressing concern for ISI, talks of an Indian hand behind the attack on 22/5 are spreading across Pakistan. Interior Minister Rehman Malik disclosed shortly after the operation on PNS, that four militants had died and two had managed to escape. Their ‘escape’ seems next to impossible giving how heavily the area had been encircled.

Could this be a ploy?

Is it possible that some days later two ‘militants’ will be arrested for their alleged involvement in the operation?

And how likely is it that they name Indian intelligence for supporting their mission?

The timing seems slightly convenient, given the ongoing trial in Chicago.

The Pakistani army, state, and intelligence has repeatedly taken measures to create instability in its neighbouring countries (which is a tactic historically employed by countries across the world and nothing new to South Asia). While we cannot rule out the fact that foreign elements may have a hand in creating instability in Pakistan, we need to start accepting that this is ‘our’ war, fought by our people, started by our state and army. The sooner we accept responsibility, the better our chances at coming out alive and undivided.

This post was originally published here.

Zoha Waseem

Zoha Waseem

A masters graduate from King’s College London who blogs for khudipakistan.com

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