Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Pakistan: Obama Administration must wake up to the Afghanisation of Pakistan

See also: www.southasiaanalysis.org

The available details regarding the fedayeen (suicidal)-come- suicide attack on the US Consulate in Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, on April 5, 2010, are still confusing.

2.However,certain aspects of the attack are clear: It was a single target swarm attack, meant to penetrate the US Consulate in a manner similar to the penetration of the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi in October last year. It was not a multiple-target attack similar to what one had seen in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008, and in Kabul subsequently. As in Mumbai and Kabul, it was a multiple modus operandi attack too involving the use of explosives and hand-held weapons As in Kabul, there was also a mix of the suicidal and the suicide techniques.In Mumbai, the suicidal technique was there, but not the suicide technique. As in Mumbai and Kabul, there was also a mix of the army-style commando attacks and conventional techniques, not requiring knowledge of military tactics.

3. As in Mumbai (10 terrorists), the number of terrorists involved was small. There are contradictory versions of the number, which varies between four and eight. As in GHQ, Rawalpindi, the terrorists managed to maintain the surprise element of the attack---- with the security guards becoming aware of their intentions and plans only after the terrorists reportedly used two car bombs against two security barriers outside the Consulate---one at a distance of about 40 metres and the other at a distance of 20 metres. At the first security barrier an armoured personnel carrier of the Frontier Corps was disabled through a car bomb. At least two suicide bombers were killed in the attempt to find their way across the two barriers. Thereafter, before they could approach the gate, which was damaged by the second vehicular explosion, the security detail of the Consulate consisting of the Frontier Corps personnel deployed by the NWFP Government and private security guards employed by the US Consulate retaliated effectively and killed the surviving terrorists wielding assault rifles and hand-grenades. The number of suicide terrorists killed seems to be between two and four and the number of commando-style attackers killed between four and six.

4. The reported fatalities are eight--- three members of the Frontier Corps, two security Guards of the US Consulate and three passers-by. It is not known whether the two security guards and the three passers-by were Pakistani or US nationals. The US Consulate is located in the Hospital Road which is closed to public vehicles. The terrorists managed to enter the road in police-like vehicles and move for some distance ---about 40 metres--- towards the Consulate before they were mowed down. Thus, the approach road security failed enabling the terrorists to move towards the gate of the Consulate. But, the physical security enhancements at and near the gate and the good reflexes of the Frontier Corps and Consulate security personnel manning the external perimeter security mowed down the terrorists before they could succeed in pentrating the Consulate.

5. The reports from Peshawar bring to mind the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament House on December 13,2001, in some respects. The attack on the Indian Parliament was a single-target, single-MO attack, but the terrorists, who employed the suicidal and not the suicide technique, evaded the approach road security by coming in vehicles resembling Government vehicles used for transporting members of Parliament and security personnel. While they breached the approach road security, they could not breach the external perimeter security due to the alertness and good reflexes of the security personnel guarding the outer perimeter.

6. In the case of the attack on the GHQ in Rawalpindi, the approach road security as well as the outer perimeter security failed enabling the terrorists to penetrate the premises. They could be mowed down only after they had gained entry into the GHQ campus, including the offices of the security staff.

7. The Peshawar attack illustrates two lessons in counter-terrorism, which are well-known but rarely followed: First, a well-trained and well-reflexed physical security can thwart a terrorist attack even if intelligence fails. Second, in a multi-layered physical security set-up, even if one layer fails, others can stop the terrorists. A multi-layered security set-up is a must for all sensitive establishments.

8. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Consulate. It has been threatening attacks on US nationals and interests ever since the reported ( but not yet confirmed) death of Hakimullah Mehsud in January last following a US Drone strike. Presuming its claim is correct, it has taken it three months to form the attack team and train them. American nationals and interests have been the targets of terrorist attacks in Pakistan right from the 1990s, but almost all the previous attacks involved explosives or hand-held weapons. This is the first time a US establishment in Pakistan has been the target of a military-style commando attack. Will the Taliban be able to mount a similar attack on the US Embassy in Islamabad or the US Consulate in Karachi? That is a question that must be worrying the US and Pakistani authorities.

9. Despite Pakistani claims----endorsed by a naiva Obama Administration---of successes in its counter-terrorism operations in the Swat Valley of the Malakand Division of the NWFP and in the South Waziristan and Bajaur Agencies of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA ), the Pashtun and the Punjabi Taliban remain as well-motivated, as resourceful, as innovative and as determined to kill as ever. They are feeling no shortage of suicide volunteers as seen from the Peshawar attack and the suicide attack (45 fatalities) the same day on a rally of the secular Awami National Party (ANP) in the Lower Dir District of the NWFP. Lower and Upper Dirs are the strongholds of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), founded by Maulana Fazlulla, who hails from the Dir area. The indications are that while the Lower Dir attack was carried out by the TNSM faction of the TTP, the Peshawar attack was carried out by the Mehsud faction from South Waziristan. It is difficult to say whether the two were co-ordinated by the same command and control./

10. If the Obama Administration does not wake up to the on-going Afghanisation of Pakistan with a rainbow coalition of terrorist groups having a free run, the ultimate humiliation of the Administration could come not from Afghanistan, but from Pakistan. ( 6-4-10)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Strudies, Chennai.

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