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Pakistan in Disarray: Introspection and Finger-Pointing

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Last Sunday, Islamic terrorists in Pakistan made good on their threats following Osama Bin Laden’s death by launching a well-coordinated and devastating attack on the Mehran naval airbase in Karachi, Pakistan. The attack left many dead and caused billions of dollars in damage. More importantly, the attack has left the country reeling and has led to worries about the safety of other high value targets — including nuclear weapons. For some, the assault on the naval base is a natural consequence of the Pakistani military’s double game, while others see the hand of regional actors, namely India.

The tone of most of the Pakistani dailies was a introspective one, calling for more vigilance and soul-searching about the way forward. The Pakistani International News editorial, while supportive of the government’s efforts, stated: “We simply cannot afford any more such episodes which raise questions about our ability to defend ourselves. There are some welcome indications that our military leadership is engaged in serious thinking. We are also confident of its ability to do so....We must hope that in the aftermath of the biggest attack on our security establishment, we can obtain information shedding light on what exactly happened and how it was all planned. Much of this is also tied in with the broader security picture across the country....What we really need is to be able to prevent such attacks from happening and cracking down on the groups behind them. Reacting after the event can serve only a very limited purpose and expose Pakistan to still greater dangers. The primary duty of the government is to ensure our nation is safe. It cannot afford to neglect this duty.”

According to another Pakistani daily, The Dawn: “[T]he war on terror is Pakistan`s own war which it cannot afford to abandon. However, for the world community to help Pakistan in this endeavour, Islamabad has to set its own house in order. The dual shame of the May 2 raid and the Mehran disaster has exposed loopholes in Pakistan’s security apparatus and served to highlight the gross inadequacy of our intelligence system to both foreigners and those at home. The chaos in the domestic scene and the absence of strong democratic institutions cancel out international sympathy for us and reinforce skepticism in our ability to use aid for the right purpose.”

The Daily Mail, however, forcibly raises several questions: “the whole gory episode has left behind a number of unanswered questions in its wake, which the Daily Mail seeks immediate response to on behalf of the people of Pakistan….A valid point, which the western media has immediately started parroting, is regarding the security of our nuclear weapons. Our own analysts opine that our nukes are the real targets and even a false flag attack would raise the level of danger, prompting international bodies to take action. Under the circumstances, it is imperative that the political leadership shelve its petty differences, put its collective wisdom together, and firstly address the nation, reassuring them of the measures at hand, evolve a sound and actionable strategy to respond to the challenge at hand and execute it; for our very survival depends on it.”

Others have started looking beyond the borders of Pakistan to look for the culprits and objectives behind the raid. The Pakistani Tribune argues: “the obvious objectives set of this plan could be: to isolate Pakistan globally, hitting its maritime defensive and strategic capability, lowering of national morale, providing a chance to local traitors to criticize security forces, causing instability, targeting economic capital, posing Pakistan as the world most insecure country and ultimately paving the ground for landing their unholy forces for capturing Pakistan’ nuclear assets, stopping China’s and Russian economical activities in the Arabian Sea, paving way for keeping some type of U.S. task force of brigade size…, and providing a chance for India to act as regional watchdog. In the light of the above objectives we can visualize the hidden hands behind the attack on Pakistan Naval Base, i.e. India, the U.S, and Israel.”

The Indian media had its own answer to the Pakistani dilemma. The Asian Age editorial asks: “When will Pakistan wake up to reality?... The 17-hour assault…is yet another warning that Pakistan is hurtling at the bend with some speed, defying the laws of gravity, thanks to its decades-old policy of consorting with jihadi terrorists especially raised to hurt India and Afghanistan, its immediate neighbors....There is no knowing when the country will be thrown off its axis, notwithstanding all the aid it manages to collect as rent from Beijing and Washington. In spite of the gravity of the situation, however, there are no signs that Islamabad has taken any meaningful political lessons from terrorist attacks of this nature, which are now probably hitting it harder than they are India or Afghanistan…. The primary issue to emerge is that Pakistan’s strategic policy will remain India-centric. Quite simply, this means that jihadists will continue to be nurtured as they are seen as “strategic assets” in the military configuration against India.”

Afghanistan’s Daily Outlook editorial wonders: “How couldn't they have [known that] the Taliban were to carry out such a major assault, though such assaults require planning for weeks, and the country was already expecting retaliatory reaction from Taliban?... [The] International community is already questioning the security measures regarding the nuclear weapons of [Pakistan], and this lapse would further [encourage] the world to do so. From Pakistan's point of view the assault adds another question mark regarding the security of the important assets of the country…. The carelessness regarding the security arrangements must not be exaggerated but the questions can be raised regarding the role of secret agencies that are working in Pakistan and have had an important role in the security of the country.”

Other regional newspapers have also been quick to raise questions and put the Pakistani government’s response under the microscope. For example, the Saudi Gazette asks: “Are the armed forces finding it difficult to make the change from fighting set-piece battles to countering the kind of sophisticated urban terrorism that Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates have unleashed on the state and people of Pakistan?... Another question: did the Taliban raiders have informers inside the naval base? Such a possibility cannot be ruled out, because the involvement of serving personnel in several previous attacks has been well established. The intelligence failure in the Mehran tragedy highlights one more damning truth: the safe sanctuaries aren’t only present in Fata; they exist in Karachi too, for Sunday’s assault would not have been possible without the existence of a well-oiled Taliban machine in the city.”

Another Saudi paper, Arab News, draws attention to the existential threat such attacks pose to the state of Pakistan: “That Pakistan is fighting for survival is not a question of academic debate anymore. It's an existential reality and the sooner the Pakistanis confront it the better for them....Even the army to which Pakistanis often look in troubled times appears to have withdrawn itself into its shell after the Abbottabad embarrassment. What Pakistan badly needs now is real leadership and a bold vision to lead the country out of the wilderness it finds itself in. Extremism has emerged as the greatest existential threat to the country founded in the name of Islam. It must be confronted head on. This is no time to dither or dawdle.”

Two UAE dailies also weigh on the discussion. Khaleej Times hints at the possibility that perhaps Pakistan’s strategic alliance with the United States has become too burdensome for the country: “The question Pakistanis should ask themselves at this point is the feasibility of an alliance that has only created more insecurity. Has the war on terror and the alliance with the United States not been costly in terms of precious human lives? Has Pakistan’s dependence on U.S. aid not eroded the country’s pride and self-respect?”

The other UAE daily, The National, points to the forces within Pakistan that might be pulling the country apart. This, the editorial argues, “is a point that seems to elude many of the country's supposed allies, notably vociferous politicians in the U.S. Congress. But this internal struggle has to be understood, even if it is not always clearly defined, if Pakistan is to become a better partner against fanaticism, not to mention a better home for its 187 million people....Pakistan is a strong and resilient country, and there is every reason to believe that the rational side can win this struggle for the soul of state and society. Pakistan's friends abroad can help, not with threats but with steady support.”

 


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