A well trained group of terrorists attacked the Mehran Naval Base (MNB) at Karachi and destroyed two naval anti-submarine Orion P-3C aircrafts, besides killing 10 naval and rangers commandos. The statements issued by the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) are the most depressing. First he said that the attackers were very well trained, yet the damage is not that serious. Then he said that it was not a breach of security. This is not indifference; it is outright criminal to put it mildly. The attackers destroyed two valuable naval aircraft costing millions of dollars, have rendered the Pakistan Navy (PN) ineffective against submarine threats, a number of officers and men died. Most importantly, the PN - a branch of Pakistans defence forces - suffered a telling humiliation at the hands of a handful of terrorists and yet the CNS says that neither the damage was serious nor it was a security lapse or failure. The navy, held hostage for 17 hours, showed lack of professional skill to deal with the situation, while the attackers inflicted the heaviest damage. Now there will be an enquiry, but the past experience shows that nothing will come out of it. For instance, the armys GHQ was attacked in which a number of soldiers, including a Brigadier, were killed. A terrorist was claimed to have been involved in the incident, was arrested. A high level inquiry was also instituted. But even today the nation does not know anything about its findings and actions taken or those findings. One may offer the excuse that the inquiry and its findings were classified, but the punishment meted out to the culprits should have been made public to send a strong signal to the terrorists that they would be sternly dealt with. More so, the rumour floating around here is that the men captured may be again roaming freely somewhere in FATA and preparing for another terrorist action. It is indeed depressing, but it depicts the impression that the people are developing about our defence forces. It is unfortunate that we are living a lie. We almost lie about everything and take shelter behind verbosities, clichs and false promises. Our defence forces were one of the best in the world, highly professional and competent. But presently the nation is witnessing the conduct which sends shudders throughout the population that these forces are supposed to protect and defend. It is true that they are facing an unconventional enemy. It will be difficult to chase it, but defending their own installations where the entry and exits are strictly regulated and a parameter defence is in place should not be difficult. There are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for defence against such attacks. Does one deduce that MNB had no such SOPs and did never put them into practice? Or was there a sense of false safety and complacency on the base? However, it is hoped that the inquiry will establish the lapses and fix responsibility squarely where it belongs. In military norms, the responsibility for what a unit achieves or fails to achieve rests with the command. In this case, it should rest with the base commander and the higher echelons of command that were responsible for providing direction, guidance, training and resources. Pakistans armed forces are collectively engaged in nationwide anti-insurgency operations and the enemy has shown its designs very clearly. Intelligence in military operations is an integral and necessary aspect; in an operation against the enemy we are faced with, it is an absolute must. The PN intelligence apparatus had completely failed to provide any kind of intelligence and warning before the PNS Mehran attack. Nevertheless, the details coming out in the media are disturbing. Initially, the terrorists were assessed to be four to six; four were claimed killed, but only three bodies have been recovered. Two terrorists were claimed to be captured, then they reportedly escaped. They knew the lay out, weak spots in the parameter, coverage span and range of surveillance cameras and the places without guards. This shows that they had inside help. However, the number of suspects named in the FIR is about 10 to 12, confirming this doubt. The inquiry will take its own time. But there is a dire need to conduct a deep and realistic probe in the armed forces to locate and then eradicate the causes that have caused the deterioration of professionalism in the military. For considerable length of time, the military has been indulging in non-professional and commercial activities. PN was the first to set this trend when it went into real estate ventures by establishing a cooperative housing society in Karachi. This malady spread in the other services too and now the commercialism has seeped deep into the services. The big industrial and construction concerns are well known; the commercial ventures at combat field command level are not that well known. Field formations are running marriage halls, gas stations and commercial plazas. There are welfare shops, bakeries and dairy farms at unit level. Pakistans military, perhaps, is the only military in the world that is engaged in commercial activity at such a large-scale. With the financial attraction that such ventures contain, the soldiers will be distracted from their professional duties. Militaries all over the world are not money making or fund generating organisations. These are an insurance policy that nations take out for their protection against foreign aggression and to safeguard their freedom. Those who join them are handsomely rewarded with good pay, privileges, pensions and benefits for which a nation collectively pays a heavy premium every year. The people, who take up this task, are a special breed; they are not motivated by profits and loss, they rise above it and stand tall against all odds that threaten the national freedom, honour and sovereignty. The rot in Pakistans military started the day we took traders in the officers cadre. We have to revert to the age-old traditions to stem the rot and bring back professionalism. A military cannot indulge in real estate business, run marriage halls, dairy farms and be a professional fighting force at the same time. Since success and failure in military is a command responsibility, the 'military should establish the tradition of assigning responsibility where it belongs. If the higher command is rewarded for successes, it should be held accountable for failures. Unfortunately, we find scapegoats for failures. When failures will be fixed at appropriate level, professionalism will flourish. The Abbottabad and MNB episodes are being investigated. The outcome of these investigations will demonstrate how serious our forces are in projecting professionalism. Merely declaring that they are sorry for whatever has happened will not generate any confidence in those who have an insurance policy, which does not deliver. Correcting the malady that our defence forces have plunged in will need drastic and ruthless measures. Select the officers and men from the ranks of gentlemen who value honour, and not from the hordes of those who seek profits and worldly pleasures. The forces should reward those who deserve it and punish those who err in the performance of duty without any discrimination for rank and status. These rewards and punishments should be open and judicious. There is a strong tendency in the ranks of the forces to toe the line. Those who are called upon to lay their lives for the good of the nation should be encouraged and groomed to voice their opinions and suggestions and be heard. That will raise their morale and confidence and they will face all challenges. The lethargy and ineptness witnessed at MNB is result of this lack of initiative at junior level. This was a military installation under attack; the Minister of Interior had no business to be in control, who said it happened because the police was deployed elsewhere. The police does not and should not defend military establishment. The nation witnessed that even the CNS was relegated to subordination. If we want to survive, our armed forces must revert to professionalism and the senior command has that responsibility to move in that direction. n The writer is a freelance columnist.