In one of the biggest jailbreaks in the country’s history, between 100 and 200 heavily armed Taliban attacked the Bannu jail early morning on Sunday to free Adnan Rashid, an ex-Air Force employee condemned to death by a military court for the 2003 assassination attempt on ex-president General (retd) Musharraf. In the process, they also freed 384 of the 944 prisoners in the jail, of whom a handful returned voluntarily and still fewer were rearrested. Smashing the main gate of the prison open, the terrorists came with a well-coordinated plan that included attacking from all sides of the prison while blocking all the approach roads to cut off reinforcements. While the attack was a classic manoeuvre, the guards inside the prison hardly put up even a token resistance and obeyed the orders of the attackers to stand aside. The Taliban’s intelligence seemed to know exactly where Adnan Rashid was being held. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility. The attackers operated at will for about two hours inside the prison, with nary any sign of reinforcements, although the prison authorities later claimed news of the attack had been relayed almost immediately. The police reinforcements arrived after the attackers had withdrawn, making even their precautionary blockade of routes leading to the prison unnecessary. As is usual in such matters, an inquiry has been ordered to investigate the lack of response or resistance by the staff and guards of the prison, why the movement of such large numbers of armed terrorists riding vehicles went undetected, whether the attackers had inside support (given their accurate intelligence), and last but not least, a probing of the massive intelligence and security failure.
As in many instances over the years since the TTP and affiliated groups took up arms against the state, it is by now obvious that no place in the country is adequately protected or safe, from north to south (to jog the memory, the attack on the Mehran base in Karachi will suffice). In their usual fashion, the authorities have now set up check posts on all routes leading out of Bannu, particularly towards the tribal areas. This is a classic case of bolting the stable gate after the horse has long fled. Alarmingly, there are reports in the media that Adnan Rashid, whose appeals against his death sentence have been rejected by the High and Supreme Courts, enjoyed the ‘facility’ of a cell phone in all the prisons he was kept in, and even had access to social networks on the internet, on which he regularly posted messages. The cell phones, taken away at times but soon restored, allowed Adnan Rashid to keep in touch with various journalists. None of these champions of the media thought it their duty to report the fact to the authorities, no doubt in the hope of exclusive information/stories from Adnan Rashid.
There are many serious problems with the manner in which we are conducting the campaign against terrorists of various hues and shapes. Our judicial system is not equipped, either in law or prosecution capacity, to meet the challenge of putting terrorists away. The recently concluded International Judicial Conference in Islamabad admitted as much when no less than the Chief Justice of Pakistan remarked that Pakistan’s laws needed to be brought into conformity with international legal provisions against terrorism. Our intelligence and security services and the police are woefully inadequately equipped, conceptually or in practice, to combat the most serious existential threat the state has faced in its entire history. The Bannu jailbreak is only the latest demonstration of this fact. Everything is ‘business as usual’, notwithstanding occasional reactive steps whenever an incident like Bannu occurs. Unfortunately, inertia sets in all too soon and this return to the usual laxity is what the terrorists rely on and wait for before taking action. What Pakistan needs is an overarching anti-terrorism agency able to coordinate federal and provincial law enforcement authorities, provide the requisite training to anti-terrorism outfits, and raise if necessary specialised units and experts dedicated to wiping out this scourge. Relying on our normal intelligence, security and law enforcement machinery is unlikely to prove equal to the task.