Deciphering the GHQ attack

Deciphering the GHQ attack
Tuesday, October 13, 2009 Hassan Abbas
Before Pakistan could start recovering from a suicide bombing at a UN office in Islamabad and a massive bomb blast in a Peshawar market last week, the brazen Oct 10 attack targeting Pakistan’s most secure military complex – the Army Headquarters — jolted it further. During the initial gunbattle, the army lost a brigadier and a lieutenant-colonel. This episode concluded with the arrest of the commander of the operation, Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, and the killing of his seven associates who wore army fatigues and had coordinated their attack on the GHQ from at least two directions. This was neither the first attack on an army structure in the country nor the most deadly — but it is unprecedented, given the extent of the breach of GHQ security, the confusion that it created in its initial stage and its timing vis-a-vis the planned launch of a ground operation in South Waziristan. It could be a transformational event for the army – strengthening its resolve against local militants, bridging internal divisions and forcing a review of intelligence estimates. However, jumping to conclusions without thorough investigation and reacting rashly based on preconceived notions would be highly counterproductive. Additionally, though Pakistan’s nuclear installations are not in the immediate vicinity of GHQ, the nature of the attack raises questions about how security agencies would react if a future attack targets any of the nuclear weapons facilities. Before attempting to analyse the attack further, let’s look at the facts that have come to light so far. The Crime Investigation Department of Punjab, a civilian law-enforcement body, recently shared its assessment with relevant government departments that “terrorists belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), were planning to attack the GHQ.” It even warned that the terrorists could be clad in military uniforms and while riding a military vehicle or a vehicle designed to pass as one belonging to the military (this was first disclosed in a report in this newspaper on Oct 5). This information was partly based on interrogations of suspects involved in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March this year. Poor coordination between civilian law-enforcement and the military is obvious. Secondly, a profile of Aqeel, the only terrorist arrested at the scene at the GHQ, is quite instructive. Hailing from Kahuta in northern Punjab, he was a nursing assistant with the Army Medical Corps before he joined local militant groups (first the LeJ and then the JeM). Later he became a member of the TTP and remained a close associate of Ilyas Kashmiri, Al Qaeda’s chief of paramilitary operations in Pakistan who was recently killed in a drone strike in South Waziristan. Punjab police were looking for him in connection with a number of recent terrorist attacks in Punjab, and he is suspected of involvement in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Thirdly, the TTP’s Amjad Farooqi group claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after it became public. The links between Amjad Farooqi, an old Harkatul Mujahideen fighter, and Al Qaeda are well established. And lastly, some Pakistani media analysts known for their hawkish views openly speculated on Pakistani television about Indian intelligence agencies’ possible role in the attack — especially in the context of a growing India-Pakistan rivalry inside Afghanistan, but there is no proof of Indian involvement in this attack. In fact, these terrorists’ links to indigenous militant groups in Waziristan have already been acknowledged by the army and police. To understand how the Pakistani Army will view this developing situation, three other factors are also very relevant. Effective military operations in Swat have taught the army that a stitch in time saves nine and that without public support no military campaign can succeed. Additionally, Indian allegations about the Pakistani army’s direct involvement in every attack on its personnel and interests in Afghanistan help those extremist elements in Pakistan who see India and Pakistan clashing on every path. And finally, the divergence in the civil-military perspectives about the intent and content of the Kerry-Lugar Bill has generated a major debate in Pakistan about the nature of the US-Pakistan relations. A trust deficit is unfortunately growing on both sides despite regular interaction between leaders of the two countries and public cooperation in counterterrorism field. The complexity of the challenge at hand for both Pakistan and the US is vividly apparent in this context. Despite this setback, Pakistan cannot afford to delay the ground operation in South Waziristan, as that will only provide TTP with more time to resolve its leadership crisis, reorganise, and acquire more armour and weaponry. For the TTP and its associates, the GHQ attack will be deemed a successful operation, useful for attracting more recruits. But on the flip side, public support for more effective counterterrorism measures will also increase. As most polls and surveys indicate, support for effective action against TTP and other militant groups increased after the rise of violence in the Swat Valley area. So, the time is ripe to cleanse the FATA as well as parts of south Punjab, where extremism is brewing. For this to happen, intelligence-sharing between the ISI and the civilian law-enforcement agencies, especially the competently-led FIA and the newly-constituted National Counterterrorism Authority will be critical. The Indian political leadership, despite its reservations about the 2008 Mumbai attack investigation in Pakistan, can also help by fully reviving the peace process with Pakistan and by restraining itself from accusing Pakistan of blame for everything that negatively affects India. The Obama administration can lend a hand by convincing the US Congress to reframe the few provisions of the recently-passed aid bill that have become controversial in Pakistan. Despite the military’s past track record with regard to interference in political affairs and pursuance of illegitimate foreign policy goals through non-state actors, Pakistan needs a disciplined, cohesive and efficient army today more than ever before. Anything less than a full-on counterterrorism effort from the Pakistani military will attract more serious challenges tomorrow than those it confronted yesterday. The writer is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society and senior adviser at the Belfer Centre, Harvard Kennedy School. This article first appeared in Foreign Policy. (The News)

Asadullah Ghalib:

GHQ attack — beyond conspiracy theories
Hit and run

Thursday, October 15, 2009
Shakir Husain

The writer lives in Karachi

General Headquarters (GHQ) is the nerve centre of the Pakistani military and is guarded by an Infantry battalion, along with a similar number of defence security guards (DSG). Well over a thousand military officials work at the GHQ and they are responsible for running Pakistan’s military machine. Ten terrorists created mayhem for around 22 hours, disrupting normal operations within GHQ. It took a team of SSG commandos who were brought in from 70 kilometres away to end the stand-off after the terrorists took hostages in a building within the GHQ. All the terrorists were Pakistani citizens. The one surviving terrorist, Dr Usman, is a well-known jihadi, with links to groups in Punjab. The civilian intelligence apparatus had received intelligence about such an attack at the GHQ and informed their military counterparts a few weeks before the attack took place. These are the facts.

Around the facts news anchors and our favourite conspiracy theorists have been frothing at the mouth with conspiracy theories, which involve the Americans, the Israelis, the Indians, the Afghans, and the list keeps multiplying by the hour. I’m personally waiting till they get to the Angolans. While the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been mentioned, it has only been a cursory mention at best, with the focus on the “hidden hand” which is trying to destabilise Pakistan. The mindset can be encapsulated by a statement made by Liaquat Baloch of the Jamaat-e-Islami on a special debate set up by a local television channel on the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Mr Baloch stated that the jihadis killing Pakistani civilians and the military were “misguided” and were only doing so because the Americans were in Afghanistan. It all starts with “if the Americans were not in Afghanistan…” to give the impression that these are peace-loving people who are only killing and maiming Pakistani citizens because they are “misguided.” “Misguided” adults do not kill innocent people. Religious parties like the Jamaat have a long history of entanglement with organisations like the TTP and various other jihadi outfits, and have never come out and condemned them for their actions.

Another guest on the same show was the attractive yet hysterical Marvi Memon of the PML-Q. Yes, they are still around. One of her reasons for rejecting the Kerry-Lugar Bill was the clause which calls for Pakistan dismantling training facilities for terrorist groups and not providing any territory to them to launch attacks on another state. Her inexplicable logic was that if we accepted this clause, then we would lose the “moral high ground” in the future. Moral high ground?

The Pakistani state has very little reason to claim the moral high ground. Our soil has been used to conduct operations in other states and individuals like A Q Khan have sold nuclear secrets to other countries for profit. She called the clause “lethal” because we would admit that we had training facilities on our soil in the past and our territory had been used in the past. This is an educated parliamentarian’s view and shows the quality of substance during any sort of debate in Pakistani politics.

By denying the facts we are not achieving or retaining any sort of “moral high ground” but are losing a sense of what her former leader Pervez Musharraf called “ground realities.” Losing touch with reality is a dangerous thing. It is dangerous because by believing the garbage we are trying to sell to the people, our decision-making process becomes flawed.

When companies juggle numbers to paint a rosy picture to the shareholders in the Annual Report, the top management is aware of the shortcomings and the potential dangers that they pose. Until and unless the leadership of all political parties and the military establishment unanimously accept the dangers posed to the very existence of the Pakistani state by these jihadi groups and organisations like the TTP, this battle has already been lost.

The TTP and its cohorts have executed four high-impact attacks in the past ten days, which have taken a total of 140 lives. This is not the work of “misguided” people. These are cold-blooded killers who have no hesitation in carrying out what they have been indoctrinated to believe is a “higher cause.” The government has been announcing the operation in South Waziristan for months now; yet, for some reason, the assault has not begun. Ministers in shiny suits and garish ties who have been threatening to wipe out the scourge of terrorism in South Waziristan remind me of schoolyard brawls where a boy would ask his friends to hold him back otherwise he would demolish the opponent in a sort of noora kushti. So the enemy has had a couple of months to prepare for what’s coming and the element of surprise is gone. They must have collected supplies and equipment, and managed to dig in for the long fight ahead.

In the meantime, they have launched these four attacks meaning to let the government, and more importantly the military, know that they can punch above their weight and give anyone a bloody nose – not just the civvies. The symbolism of the attacks have not been lost on anyone either. The UN Food Programme was targeted to let the goras know that they’re not safe. The suicide bombing in Swat, which had been declared clear of the TTP, to let everyone know that it was still susceptible. Then there was Peshawar, to let everyone know who’s boss. And then, of course, one of the most heavily-guarded installations in the country, the GHQ, to let the army know that even their headquarters wasn’t safe. Ordinary people cannot help but ask that if ten civilians can tie up two battalions for 22 hours, then how safe are they?

Like societies, military forces must evolve; and they have evolved. The Pakistani Army has been geared to fight a set-piece battle since its inception. After fighting three wars with India, this is understandable. Yet, today the greatest threat to Pakistan is internal, and not external. Even if the TTP and its friends are being “handled” by the “foreign hand” as the nutters would have us believe on a regular basis, the bulk of the fighting is being done by Pakistani citizens. Sure we have a smattering of Uzbeks and Arabs running around in the North; but the bulk of the recruits are Pakistani kids recruited from madrasas all over the country. We have the intelligence assets and systems in place to find out the who, when and what – it’s time to change our collective mindset and kill the enemy before they inflict more damage to an already battered state. The military needs to understand that we need more counterinsurgency troops, equipment, and training. And not tanks, submarines, and other high-priced items which are being peddled. This is a battle which requires agility, mobility, and lucid minds – not hysterical rabblerousing. (The News)