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سوموار، 17 دسمبر، 2012

TTP strikes again

It should be crystal clear to any terrorist organizations which operate "in the name of Pakistan", that no challenge to the writ of the state can be tolerated. How much more patience does Pakistan have for this kind of violence and anarchy? There is only one loyalty that a Pakistani will accept-and that is a loyalty to the state of Pakistan. Any organizations acting as "benevolent' anarchists ought to remember that.

 The audacious terrorist attack on Peshawar’s airport on Saturday that also houses the Pakistan Air Force’s Northern Command air base once again forces us to revisit the nature of asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare and the struggle against it. The attack involved rocket attacks, suicide bombers, an explosives laden vehicle being rammed into the airport’s boundary wall and accompanying weapons fire. Despite the fact that there was prior intelligence about a possible attack on the airport, gleaned from the interrogation of a would-be suicide bomber captured a few days ago, the attackers were still able to take advantage of the element of surprise. That the security forces’ response was effective and five of the attackers were killed and one wounded, does not take away from the fact that the attack took a toll of four people killed and about 50 injured. Fortunately the attackers were unable to penetrate into the airport or base and were repelled or killed before they could reach their objective. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ihsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack, confirming that the target was the air force base. Comparisons are being drawn with the Mehran base and Kamra air base attacks. Clearly, the fact that the area had been cleared and was under the control of the security forces in Peshawar within 24 hours is encouraging and indicates that lessons have been learnt from the previous two attacks and others of a similar nature in the past. However, there are some additional lessons that should be drawn from the episode.

It is being surmised that the attack on the Peshawar air base was in retaliation for the ongoing military operation against terrorists in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, an area that abuts close to Peshawar. Military operations in the area, as in FATA as a whole, are supported by the air force’s and army aviation’s efforts from the Peshawar base. It follows logically therefore, and is in conformity with the strategy and tactics of asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare that when the terrorists are under pressure in their home bases, they will try to relieve that pressure and distract the security forces’ focus to other areas, preferably towards the rear base areas of the counter-insurgency forces. Given this conclusion, drawn from experience of such wars here and elsewhere, it was almost inevitable that the terrorists would target the rear air base of operations against them in Bara. The security forces, while their performance in this episode deserves praise, nevertheless need coordinated strategic planning to ensure that all forward military offensives are designed with the possibility that rear bases will be struck as a diversionary tactic in mind.

Pakistan faces a protracted struggle against terrorism that has permeated our society. The enemy is within, and amongst us. One evidence for this are the reports that during the cleaning up operation following the Peshawar attack, the security forces came under fire from the residential areas around the site of the attack. Empirical evidence from many urban neighbourhoods in Peshawar and virtually all the large cities of the country indicates that the terrorists have set up underground cells in all these. Whenever therefore such an action ensues, there is every possibility that there will be further diversionary attacks from residential areas to further distract and divide the attention of the security forces.

We have argued consistently in this space for the need of a high powered coordination and operational centre for the struggle against terrorism. Such a centre requires centralisation of all the intelligence and data bases scattered amongst the intelligence and security forces, both military and civilian. It is a pity that the concept has been left to wither on the vine for at least three years over rival claims to lead such a central body. Much time has been wasted thereby and much blood and water has flowed because of this lack of coordinated actions against the terrorists as a whole and not in piecemeal fashion. Many needed steps are on hold currently since the incumbent government is considered a lame duck in the run up to the elections. However, this is a measure that transcends any political or electoral considerations. It is still required, and will still be required no matter what happens in the general elections. The next government too will be charged with the same responsibilities against terrorism and need the centralised command in the struggle against terrorism just as much. The sooner this is undertaken therefore, the better.

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