Sunday, October 11, 2009

GHQ Attack: Security Failure Needs To Be Investigated by Azfar-ul-Ashfaque

GHQ Attack: Security Failure Needs To Be Investigated by Azfar-ul-Ashfaque

On April 4, 2004, a group of armed terrorists stormed into the Karachi’s Gulistan-i-Jauhar police station. They killed five policemen there and walked away. Except a few shots fired by a police constable who was preparing for Fajr prayer at the mosque situated on the premises of the police station, the assailants were not resisted. Although, the perpetrators of the attack were arrested, the incident left a question mark over the security of the secure places like police stations. Thus a plan was devised of and among a number of measures, it was suggested that a rooftop picket be set up at each police stations and other important buildings so that in case of any eventuality, the guard(s) could retaliate in minimum possible time from their rooftop picket.

And yes, almost everyone had at least once in their lives noticed elevated pickets, at petrol pumps, banks, etc, where armed guards seen sitting in a ready position watching vigilantly the situation on the ground. But, unlike an ordinary petrol pump or a bank or even a police station, ironically, it seems that the nerve centre of our army, known as the General Headquarters (GHQ), in Rawalpindi lacks such strategic watchtowers to guard the military heartland by keeping an eye on any suspicion activities in and outside the facility from an altitude. And if these towers exist, who is going to believe that they have any effect on the security of the GHQ.

Contrary to what is being propagated by our infant electronic media that the army foiled an attack on the heavily-guarded complex and the ISPR claim that all terrorists were killed and everything is under control, we have reasons to believe, especially when most of us had already read about an intelligence warning regarding an imminent attack on the military’s heartland, that the Saturday attack at the GHQ is an absolute security failure and it was possible not due to the audacity of the militants, but sole ‘credit’ goes to those responsible for the army headquarters security.

At about 11.30am Saturday, nine assailants, camouflaged in army uniform, in a Suzuki van reached the checkpoint No 1 at the GHQ. They started firing and the guards deputed there retaliated. Six soldiers and four militants were killed. Whatever happened there, it is now a fact that rest of the assailants managed to enter the heavily-guarded military complex, killed security personnel, including a brigadier and a Lt-Col, got control of a security building where they made over 40 personnel and civilians hostage. Sadly, the military had no idea about the exact numbers of assailants and, therefore, it claimed that an attempt to launch an attack on the GHQ has been foiled and four terrorists were killed.

Coming back to the importance of watchtowers or elevated check-posts, it could easily be argued that had there was any such facility the assailants could not get hold of a building and its inmates so easily and perhaps they could be killed much before. The incident also points to a lack of proper training to those guarding the main entrances of such high-profile facilities. I wonder in this modern age why not there were any surveillance or close circuit cameras installed at the entry/exit points of the GHQ. And if the cameras were in place then why their live feed failed to alert the man in charge of the overall security who was supposed to monitor the screens broadcasting live images of the gun fighting.

The commando operation to get the hostages release should be praised. But we should not ignore the fact that some SSG personnel and three hostages lost their lives in the final action. The military is no more a sacred cow in the country and, therefore, it is demanded that those responsible for the security failure should be held accountable.

It is indeed a shameful incident which exposed the professionalism and abilities of our military. “Your army has failed to protect its headquarters. How can it (army) protect the Kahuta plant from Taliban?” this question was asked by an Indian friend. I don’t have the answer, can anyone help, please.

The incident demands a high-level and impartial inquiry to fix the responsibility of the security failure. This would in addition to the army’s internal investigations into the Saturday incident – which is an attack not on the GHQ but on Pakistan and the people of this country have every right to know that who is responsible for the security lapses. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, being the ultimate head of the government, should order an inquiry, but he should strictly prohibit Interior Minister Rehman Malik from poking his nose in it. Instead, an inquiry committee comprising noted parliamentarians or sitting judges of the superior judiciary should be constituted for the very purpose.

The writer is a journalist associated with Dawn.


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