Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Sept 20, 2015

Badaber attack The early morning surprise attack by a reported 19-20 terrorists of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Badaber air base near Peshawar on Saturday, September 18 offers cause for satisfaction at the effective and quick response by the security forces but also poses troubling questions. According to the ISPR account of the incident, the attackers struck at 5:00 am, forcing entry into the gate with rockets and hand grenades. They then split up into two groups, one heading for the Administrative block while the other headed for the residential area. According to DG ISPR Major General Asim Bajwa, there were about 2,000 people in the residential area, and had the terrorists succeeded in reaching it, the casualty toll would have been much higher. As it is, when they were challenged by the security guards and the integrated Defence Service Group, SSG commandos and police, they turned towards the nearby mosque, slaughtering 16 worshippers there and seven in the nearby barracks. In the firefight that followed, one army officer and two soldiers were martyred. The quick and efficient rapid response by the defence forces wiped out 13 of the attackers within 50 metres of the gate, preventing a bigger bloodbath and damage to the air base and its assets. Major General Bajwa revealed that telephone intercepts indicated the whole operation originated from and was controlled throughout from Afghan territory. The entire defensive operation was completed by 9:00 am. The ISPR account however failed to say what had happened to the 'missing' 6-7 attackers, if the figure of 19-20 in the FIR registered is to be believed. Did they manage to escape? The rapid response and efficient elimination of the threat nevertheless shows that the lessons from previous such attacks have been imbibed. Messages and statements of condemnation of the attack and praise for the martyrs amongst the defenders flowed thick and fast from all quarters in the wake of the news breaking. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led the chorus, followed by Senators and political leaders across the political divide. Each one expressed their resolve to continue the drive against the terrorists until their complete annihilation. The US too pitched in with messages of condemnation and support in equal measure. While it has been anticipated since the start of military operations in FATA that have uprooted the terrorists from their long standing bases that the latter would retaliate through terrorist attacks throughout the country to keep the security forces on the hop, the received wisdom seemed to be that soft targets would be chosen. Despite the positive development that the anticipated attacks have been few and far between, what was perhaps surprising about this attack was that a 'hard' target was chosen. The attackers must have known that such a heavily guarded facility would be a tough nut to crack. The fact that this did not deter them could perhaps be explained by what their motives or aims may have been. Of course this is conjecture at best, but here goes nevertheless. First and foremost, the terrorists may have wanted to send the message that they were still alive and kicking and had operational capability across the border from their safe havens in Afghanistan. Second, they may have wished to demonstrate their ability to attack even heavily guarded military facilities. Had the defenders' response not been so quick and efficacious and the attackers had managed to penetrate deeper into the base, the loss of life and perhaps Air Force assets can only be imagined. While the entire country is praising our martyrs and condoling their loss with their families, sober reflection suggests what we have repeatedly stressed in this space. The state and society must be prepared for a protracted war against the terrorists, particularly since they now enjoy safe rear bases across the border. This fact suggests 'dealing' with their alleged hosts in Afghanistan, i.e. the Haqqani network, rumoured ironically to be close to our security establishment. Also, efforts to gain Afghanistan's cooperation in cross-border security issues must be redoubled, which includes getting the Kabul-Taliban stalled talks back on track, especially now that the succession issue that divided the Taliban in the aftermath of the revelation of Mullah Omar's death seems to be over. Protracted wars, or any wars for that matter, are inherently full of twists and turns, advances and retreats, defeats and victories. That should not deter us from seeing through the sacred task of freeing Pakistan of the terrorist threat once and for all.

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