Wilderness of our counter terrorism effort

Yes, one may argue whether two to three feet taller boundary wall could have prevented the attack, but one can’t deny the fact that this low and dilapidated boundary wall is symbolic representative of our overall national counter terrorism effort—and the attitude of those responsible to prevent such attacks. Training Institutions, like the one that came under attack, often have a lot of underutilized combat trained and semi trained manpower, effective patrolling and presence of a professionally trained quick response squad could have mitigated the loss, if not prevented the attack.

Even before terrorism and CPEC days, Quetta had a big inventory of fault-lines that used to frequently push the city into terrible spates of violence of all hues, ethnic, sectarian, political etc. More than 1,400 incidents have taken place in the province during the past 15 years. Now, terrorism and anti-CPEC operations are the two well financed enterprises, alongside fool hardy militant organizations to claim responsibility.

Prompt claims and blames effect the course of investigations, and it becomes non-professional. Blaming foreign bogie is the safest bet, without ever holding plethora of agencies and entities whose job is to institute effective counter intelligence measures and neutralize foreign attacks before they materialize.

 At tactical level, same faults—or say stupidities— come back in circles to haunt the people—not the government(s), the governing class is happy with the progress and does not tire in counting its counter terrorism successes. It is difficult to reconcile the messages being given on the one hand by the Federal Interior Minister claiming that ‘militants are no longer operating from Pakistan’; with that by the Chief Minister Sindh that there are 93 seminaries in Sindh alone that have links with terrorist or banned organisations. Such confused and confusing messages add insult to the bereaving public. The very least that the political leadership can do is to spare such tragic moments form politicking.

After the attack Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rushed to Quetta and chaired a meeting during which Pakistani security force’s counter-terrorism operations and terrorists’ cross-border attacks came under discussion—presumably not under question! How many times have similar meetings been held, and yet the nation ends up on the same spot again. After every event of this magnitude, people are made to believe that this event was the last one; jokers go into long meeting sessions, avail photo-ops and present fudged figures to make the public believe that number of attacks have reduced, back bone of the terrorists have been broken, a few survivors are being chased in their last hideouts, so on and so forth—since long these are the ingredients of post meeting statements.

Soon after a couple of look busy do nothing meetings, its back to business as usual and people hold their breadth and wait for the next similar eventuality, under the shadow of perpetual sense of insecurity. Since long ago, a common Pakistani has stopped believing the tall counter terrorism claims of government(s). If the state fails every time in protecting its citizens, then the civilian government and the military establishment need to account for such a poor conduct, especially when such an attack was expected.

Bureaucratic indifference, political point scoring, frequent and well publicised so called “Apex Review Meetings” are taking us nowhere. And if our counter terrorism gurus think their efforts are leading us anywhere, even after repetition of Quetta category gruesome attacks after a spell of every few weeks, then they need to have their heads re-examined.

After each attack, a few days of alertness at the troop level soon degenerates into unattended security checkpoints and road barriers—even in Islamabad. Ineffective and mostly unserviceable scanners let pass everything radiating a deceptive sense of security. This is akin to oft narrated folk story about the behaviour of a village night watchman, who would often chant “remain awake and watch out, please do not depend on me”, (or words to that effect); villagers always wondered about the wisdom of his slogan and utility of having a watchman if the onus of being alert and awake was to befall on every one, until the watchman died and it was discovered that he was blind by birth.  Our counter terrorism maestros should learn from the integrity of blind watch man and at least tell the people to fend for themselves.

Our counter terrorism guys need to understand that terrorists only need to carry out a couple of attacks separated by few weeks or even moths. This is enough to keep their brands afloat in the flourishing market of terrorism industry; and sufficient to attract terror sponsors for the next attack.  In contrast, duty of counter terrorism is only shabbily done as long as even a single attacker is able to sneak through.

IG Frontier Corps revealed that terrorists were communicating with their handlers in Afghanistan. Defence minister said that attack was from our Eastern neighbour. It is well known that foreign hands are involves in most of these attacks but then we have huge organizations for not letting foreign elements do that, do these failures after failures by these organizations justify their pay and perks. Balochistan has since long been centre of attention of both local and foreign anti-Pakistan forces, informing the public, once again about it neither adds to peoples knowledge nor mitigates pain of sufferers. Plea of foreign bogie has increasingly become a norm and means to cover inefficiency of counter terrorism outfits.

Latest attack is a clear testimony that we are not fully prepared to foil designs of the enemy. This Police Training Centre had been the focus of miscreants in the past and, therefore its security should have been upgraded long time ago. In addition to suspending the Commandant of the victim institution and his deputy, the Chief Minster Balochistan should have had the moral courage to accept own culpability for not releasing the funds for strengthening the boundary wall. CM has acknowledged that the government had received intelligence reports a couple of days earlier of the presence of a couple of militants who had entered Quetta to carry out subversive activities. National Action Plan (NAP) has become a laughing stock; half of its foundational action points are in a terrible lag.

After the attack Pakistan’s National Security Adviser, once again, told the US Ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale, that the spy agencies of India and Afghanistan are covertly supporting Afghanistan-based terrorists to hit soft targets in Pakistan. He informed the US ambassador that the attackers were constantly in touch with their handlers based in Afghanistan. Certainly it must not be a news to the US ambassador. May be he was finding it difficult to hold back his proverbial “mischievous smile under the moustache”.

American discomfort for CPEC, though less articulated, is well known. After all CPEC shall hugely reverse paddle Indo-US effort to contain China under the rubric of Asia-Pacific rebalance. Alongside India, America has mobilized support of about nine other countries in China’s neighbourhood. Pakistan and China are probably being too cautious by not naming the US a country opposed to CPEC, but ultimately they will have to do it sooner or later. It is not without reason that since this project crossed the conceptual threshold, America has incrementally and systematically slashed Pakistan’s multi-sectoral aid by over 30 percent.

To top it off, thousands of fully trained and equipped personnel of CPEC specific “Special Security Division” are not being utilized because of difference on opinion between the political and military leadership regarding role, task and authority of these troops. Reality check about maturity level of our leadership is certainly overdue. Its time they set aside their childish wrangling and put their act together.

The Nation October 31, 2016.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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About the Author

Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal is Consultant Policy & and Strategic Response at IPRI. He is on the panel of experts for Spearhead Research and Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies. He is a member board of advisers of Opinion Maker and member National Academic Council, Institute of Policy Studies. He is on the visiting faculty of Quaid-i- Azam University, Islamabad. He is a former Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force.

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