Thursday, June 30, 2011

PNS Mehran Naval base attack - Time to reverse the policies or another nail in the coffin?

A fire truck is parked near a damaged aircraft

Abbottabad attack was some way justifiable for Pakistani army. After all, in normal situations not many countries in the world dare to attack a US aircraft even if it crossed the borders. In the case of Abbottabad US with its full stealth technology may be able to reach the city without making any traces in Pakistani radars (or all the Pakistani radars are facing east?), or simply Pakistani army allowed it, or simply they were unable stop it. As US drones regularly hitting targets inside Pakistan there is nothing new in that. It is another matter that Pakistani army may not be able to sell these arguments to the people or people may find it too hard to digest.

But in the case of PNS Mehran naval base attack things are different. This is one of the premier naval stations in the nation and also hosts US supplied PC-3 Orion aircrafts - the core group of Pakistan’s early warning system. 

According to the reports, insurgents scaled the rear wall to enter the base, then exploited a blind spot between the security cameras and moved (some reports indicate that they were able to travel 1.5km inside the facility) to the area where Orion aircrafts are parked. During the 16 hour long attack insurgents were able to destroy two Orion aircrafts (equipped with Hawkeye 2000 AEW system), another helicopter and at least 10 Pakistani officers. It is believed that four terrorists were killed and two managed to escape.

An armed military official cordons off the entrance
This is not the first time insurgents are targeting Pakistani institutions, earlier they attacked air force bases, busses carrying servicemen, visiting Sri Lankan cricket team, at least five offices of ISI, Army’s national Head Quarters in Rawalpindi - which killed 16 and lasted for at least 24 hours etc. Apart from this; numerous bomb blasts are rocking various Pakistani cities and the situation is worse in Af-Pak border - a place where Pakistani establishments have virtually no control apart from the geographical maps.

These insurgent activities raise many questions about the future of Pakistan as a working country. Already its economy is on the bottom - which for many decades after independence clocked more growth rate than her eastern neighbour, resources are flowing to strengthen its army - which is more concentrated in eastern border than on the places where it needs to be, chronic power shortages are crippling industry and people alike, civilian establishment- which for its part publishing statement after statements which seldom results in actions, growing terrorist activities - yet the authorities aren’t interested in cracking down India centric terror groups. 

There is no doubt that today or tomorrow US will exit from Afghanistan with or without making it stable - after all Afghanistan has no border with US but Pakistan has. The growing insurgency in Afghanistan may or may not offer a strategic depth for Pakistan but it will certainly keep the border provinces out of government’s control. Once after the exit, US may be more sensitive to the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the growing insurgency in the country.

Contrary to Pakistani wishes, China may not be able to replace US completely in Pakistan equation. They have their own priorities, limitations and there is no doubt that a safe Pakistan will better serve Chinese interests too. They may help in developing natural resources and funding other projects but will not be interested in running Pakistani economy and may not be able to spend/grant that much amount of money to Pakistan as US does.

Pakistani army commandos drive through the main gate
As far as India threat is concerned - which Pakistani establishment used to play when all other doors are closed, a war with Pakistan will be the last option in New Delhi's priority list. India will not be interested in a full scale war with Pakistan, it is the last thing Indian industry and her delicate economy can afford. The situation in other neighbouring countries like Iran or Tajikistan will remain more or less the same as far as Pakistan is concerned.

It’s the time for Pakistani establishment to think about themselves. A bomb planted in street can’t recognize whom to kill and whom not - no matter even if it is a common man or a general in uniform. So if the military establishment is not ready to take the insurgency head on, it will not take much time to change the country from a working anarchy to full chaos.

According to a recent New York Times report "There is no evidence that any nuclear weapons were kept in the base’s arsenal, though they are believed to be stored in large numbers about 15 miles away." The words just 15 miles away requires special attention here, this raises questions about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. If terrorists can attack and able to hold on for atleast 16 hours in a premier Pakistani naval facility, apart from destroying some of the priced assets of Pakistani Navy, then the attack on a nuclear installation is not a remote possibility.

Just imagine a takeover of a nuclear facility by terrorist organizations - they may not be able to launch a full bomb to a neighbouring or remote country. But certainly their hand will reach to the fuse of some of the killer weapons human beings ever developed. Do we really need any Chernobyl (accidental explosions) or Hiroshima (target bombing)?

Time is not too late; still they can deviate from the path which leads to total chaos and alter their future, but it requires a strong political will to carry out deep reforms. Reforms have to be started from the educational system - putting a blind eye towards a modern educational system will not lead the nation anywhere. The second one is to recognize what India really means to them - Partition and wars are part of the history, it should not come in the way of future. If Pakistani establishment is not able to solve the Kashmir problem then leave it for the time being, let the status-quo go on, if both nations are not able to find a solution for Sir-creek then leave it - let the status-quo go on. But there are many other fields where we can cooperate; for example trade, power etc. There are more things to trade than weapons, more things to study than military doctrines and certainly more ways to live than die as a suicide bomber.

Still she is the most powerful Islamic country. But the question is, will Pakistan try to become a working democracy country like India, Turkey and become a ray of hope or will it become another Somalia? Future is in the hands of current Pakistani military establishment and her civilian government. Mogadishu is not so far...


Photo Courtesy : Yahoo, OnePakistan

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