The attack on the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex,Kamra,on August 16 was a rude reminder to Pakistan and the world that the spectre of terrorism will not leave the country easily. Although the security staff managed to overcome the nine intruders,these terrorists managed to do partial damage to one of the US-supplied airborne early-warning aircraft parked there. Journalist Aamir Rana said the attack was a result of the regrouping of the Haqqani network,al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. However,he also assessed that this operation was a few notches less successful than what these terrorists did earlier. It was less thrilling,for instance,than the PNS Mehran attack in 2011,when 15 terrorists penetrated the naval facility and managed to damage the US-supplied P-3C Orion aircraft.
Even if the intensity of the Kamra attack was lower,it is clear that the terrorists have retained their capacity to hit hard military targets. Kamra alone has been targeted four times,not to forget the attack on the army GHQ in 2009,when terrorists came close to holding some members of the army high command hostage. Nonetheless,the military has shied away from calling this an intelligence failure. A series of television discussions was dedicated to presenting the event as an example of military preparedness. The reality is that the military intelligence was caught with its pants down,since it had been warned of an attack by the Punjab police intelligence. Columnist Farrukh Saleems hunch is that the base was under observation by the terrorists for at least a couple of months before the actual attack.
Official sources are claiming that this is the handiwork of the Qari Yasin group,which is connected to Ilyas Kashmiris Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. It is also believed that these attackers had been away from home for the past two months and were trained in a camp in Kunar,Afghanistan. So this may eventually boil down to cross-border activity. However,the latest reports on the capture of the attacks mastermind show that the manpower was Pakistani. Suspects were picked up from Multan,Lahore,Taxila and Kasur all in Punjab. The Kamra attack,in fact,is a reminder of the involvement of air force personnel in an attack on former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf in 2004. Although those apprehended for the attack were junior officers,investigators claim that the level of penetration of militant groups in the air force was chilling. Some people link the Kamra attack with the rescue of the air force personnel involved in the attack on Musharraf by the Taliban through a jail break in Bannu in May this year.
The terrorists might have benefited from the background knowledge of the released prisoners,but they would have required more information regarding the location of the aircraft,which are said to be one of their main targets.
This raises the need for a combing operation within the military to weed out those who may have links with banned outfits or may be inclined towards a peculiar ideology. In a recent speech at a military facility,the army chief,Ashfaq Kayani,talked about the war on terror being Pakistans own war and the need to eliminate terrorism. The fact is that there is still no clear indicator of a shift in policy as far as jihadi outfits are concerned. Groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT),Jaish-e-Mohammad,Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangavi,which have safe havens inside the country,continue to thrive. In fact,groups like the LeT are actively involved in legitimising themselves through use of the media,especially social media. The impression being created is that these are now benign entities,propaganda that helps in remaining underground. Although some of the aforementioned groups are considered relatively friendly by the army,there is no mechanism to ensure that members of friendly groups will not defect to the unfriendly ones and become a threat to the state.
Columnist Kamran Shafi believes that there is enough evidence to indicate that these groups are thriving inside Pakistan. For Shafi,the evidence is not necessarily the Kamra attack but the numerous attacks on the religious minorities or the Shias of Pakistan. In fact,on the day of the Kamra attack,20 Shias were offloaded from a bus and gunned down. Targeting the minorities is an essential part of the ideology of these religious-minded terrorists.
The question now is: Kamra may yet be another eye-opener but will it prove to be a mind-opener as well? Will the state now strategise to effectively fight the menace of terrorism?
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst and the author of Pakistans Arms Procurement and Military Buildup,1979-99: In Search of a Policy. email@example.com