PESHAWAR: Close reading of the inquiry report into the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak is certain to send chills down the spine, particularly the sketch contained therein showing police and military deployment (at a time when an attack seemed imminent) as opposed to the pickets set up by militants.
The ease with which militants effectively demobilised law enforcement agencies from responding to the attack, freed 253 prisoners and then returned to their tribal sanctuaries ought to have set alarm bells ringing at multiple levels. The raid was, in the words of one analyst, akin to briefly having taken over the town.
Instead, the 21-page inquiry report — a copy of which is now available with Dawn — was shelved.
The attack on the D.I. Khan jail took place this summer on the night between July 29 and July 30. The report records how a group of some 20 to 25 Mehsud militants, aided by a number of Punjabi militants as well as several Uzbeks and other supporters, travelled undetected from their hideout in South Waziristan to assemble at the Town Hall just across the prison (see sketch) by 8:30pm.
Three hours later, seven teams of militants had taken up position on roads and rooftops at ten different places around the prison. These were aimed at blocking the movement of security personnel and reinforcements, sealing off the area and preventing access from the eastern and western ends of the city.
This was followed by a spectacular series of explosions and gunfire designed to create confusion and inspire fear in security personnel and citizens, the report notes.
Having cut off all access to the prison, the militants then fired rocket-propelled grenades at its gate, broke open the cells and barracks “methodically”, and freed 253 prisoners. The report concedes that four prisoners from a minority sect were identified and executed.
Chillingly, “about 25 minutes into the attack a militant using the call sign of Tariq 2 (DSP City) came on the police wireless frequency taunting the police — threatening to raze the city to the ground”, notes the report.
According to the findings of the inquiry committee, the entire operation inside the prison took no more than 45 minutes. However, militants in the pickets on roads and rooftops around the incarceration centre maintained a presence for nearly two hours.
“The attacking party took the Daraban and Aarra road routes to reach their safe haven; a couple of militants used the Yarak (Bannu) road to make their escape good [sic], while those manning roads and positions disappeared in the city,” says the report.
The document is silent, however, on what action — if any — was taken by the police and the military that were also holding positions in the vicinity (as shown in the rough sketch annexed to the report) to capture the fleeing militants and prisoners.
What it does provide are details of the elaborate measures taken by the police, the Elite Force, the army, and district and divisional commissioners to ward off the attack following a July 27 intelligence warning. These included meetings, visits to the prison, joint mock exercises and the deployment of personnel.
Having probed the role of the district officers of the civil administration and that of the police and the Elite Force, the inquiry committee recommended punitive action.
None was taken. The brunt of what was actually the failure of the state apparatus to prevent or respond to the raid was borne by officers of the prison department — whose jail manual authorises them to quell unrest within prisons alone.
The Pakistan Army, says the report, was conducting its own investigation into the debacle.
Terming the failure of the political agents in North and South Waziristan to report the movement of militants towards settled districts “deplorable”, the inquiry committee did not recommend action against them on the grounds that Fata was in control of the army under Article 245 of the Constitution. What it missed, however, was that the North Waziristan political agent who had been in charge when the Bannu jailbreak occurred in April, 2012, had already been made OSD (officer on special duty) as a result of an inquiry against him over that incident.
Similarly, the report refers to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister having taken exception to not having been informed of the threat to the D.I. Khan jail. But it fails to take into consideration the call data record to the chief minister’s personal staff, forensic evidence (annexed to the report) or a July 29 letter (copy available with Dawn) from the D.I. Khan commissioner addressed amongst others to the principal staff officer of the KP chief minister, acknowledging the threat and detailing the measures taken by his administration to counter it.
Either the chief minister did not take that early morning briefing or his staff did not inform him. Either way, no action was recommended or taken against any of the officers at this secretariat.
Significantly, the inquiry committee recommended that the provincial PTI-led coalition government request the federal government “to seriously evaluate the situation with a view to dismantle headquarters of militant organisations”. The report refers to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan as a “Frankenstein” that “refuses to go — taking a toll especially on the society and law and order agencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and snowballing to threaten the very survival of the country from within”.
The report dismisses the “thinking” as “flawed” that “this state of affairs [would] taper down and eventually halt with the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Afghan soil. The withdrawal of foreign forces will only eliminate the Nato versus Taliban layer of conflict within Afghanistan — militant groups’ presence in Fata will continue and so will the attacks in settled areas,” it warns.
Concluding its recommendations, the inquiry committee asked the PTI-led government to emphasise upon the federal government the need to “extricate all armed groups” from the country. As long as even a “semblance of these outfits” continues to exist, warns the report, “attacks on government installations and personnel shall continue unabated, irrespective of any obsessive strengthening of the provincial security apparatus”.