Samson Simon Sharaf

It took less than an hour for the specialised Rangers Anti Terrorists (RAT) and Airport Security Force with a small contingent of police, to kill seven terrorists who had entered the Western side of the airport terminal through two entries between Gerry’s Dnata warehouse and Fokker Gate. First, five terrorists broke through in the direction of Fokker Gate. One blew himself up, killing 5 ASF soldiers on duty. The remaining four entered the premises firing small arms and rockets. ASF detachment led by Colonel Tahir Ali and a small group of RAT led by Brigadier Basit established a blocking position towards the tarmac. Three terrorists were killed instantly. One was wounded, who blew himself up. The other five terrorists were engaged by RATS and Police and prevented entry to the tarmac. Four were killed and one blew himself up. In terms of time, all terrorists had been eliminated by midnight. By dawn, the area was sanitised. The retaliation was swift, effective and lethal. Shooting dead seven terrorists before they blew themselves up is a first. There was no damage to any aircraft or logistics facility. It defeated and frustrated the planners and abettors of terrorism.

Whatever happened at Gerry’s Dnata is a sorry tale of incompetence of civilian administration to react in emergencies. Had officials of the cargo handling company, district administration and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) displayed alertness and initiative, much damage to property and human life was preventable. Constant visits by VIPs to the main terminal were disruptive and aggravated the tragedy. Had these officials followed SOPs, the civilian side of the rescue and salvage would have been a different story.

The fact that Rangers and Military swiftly moved into the airport without requisition by the civil administration highlights the initiative in the absence of orders. It reflects disconnect and insensitivity of the civilian administration. District, Sindh and federal governments either neglected or forgot to requisition LEAs under Article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Accusations by Sindh government that the federal ministers failed to respond throughout the night raises many doubts. Where were the Ministers of Interior, Defence and Information? What does their mysterious silence imply? Was there a makeshift national command centre to handle a situation that could have isolated Pakistan internationally? A cardinal principal of good governance is ‘each man to his job’. At Karachi Airport that night, this was violated lock stock and barrel.

For the media it was time for sensationalism from a standoff. Unaware of what was actually happening; they picked up flashy images with nonstop chatter and yarn spinning, least cognisant that the event warranted responsibility. In the middle of firefights, a senior Rangers officer requested me not to believe the media. Long after the last bullet was fired, the media kept describing hidden suicide bombers and gun fights. Fake IDs on social media sent out tweets of commandoes entering aircrafts or terrorists hijacking airliners. A reporter of a leading TV Channel was seen arguing with ASF and Rangers officers over the difference between war and a firing incident; alas least appreciative that two of the three had personally led the charge and restored Pakistan’s credibility within 30 minutes of the raid. There was another pseudo expert commenting that the nation had wasted money on ASF at a time when the assailants had already been killed. Remember, this was ASF’s first baptism in fire and they came out with flying colours.

There is no denying that the incident was an intelligence and security failure. Federal government cannot issue an alert and absolve itself. It is the responsibility of the civilian administration to coordinate with LEAs to convert this information into actionable intelligence and deterrence. Usually, it is the DCOs office and the Home Ministry where such coordination is carried out. My information is that no coordination was planned. Actions taken by Rangers were the result of their own evaluation and the close coordination they had forged with the police.

This apathy leads to two serious reservations. First, concerns the role of the federal government and the second begs the question, What if the terrorists had succeeded?

CAA operates under the Ministry of Defence and is responsible for efficient operations at airports. Where was the defence minister, and what directives did he give? Broadcasts by the media that night were irresponsible. Where were the Information Minister and PEMRA to control unbridled sensationalism? Where was the commander in chief of the Rangers and Police? Was it not obligatory on the Interior Minister to take stock and command the situation? This criminal neglect could have caused severe damage had the LEAs not exercised initiative in the absence of political directives. In case the government wishes to keep the army out of all decision making, it is high time it sets in place a credible mechanism as an alternative. Commands can never be changed in the midst of a conflict.

Secondly, what if the terrorists were also well trained pilots and flew off with an aircraft? It could have gone anywhere, or what if they had managed to destroy the entire fleet on the tarmac? All international traffic to Pakistan would have been shut down indefinitely. Damage to Pakistan’s reputation would have been irreparable. Grace â LEAs, all such scenarios had been brainstormed and discussed. Small squads of RATS, ASF and Police stood as a firewall between the terrorists and the tarmac.

Due to the multi-dimensional nature of this threat, it is time that the government establishes a permanent National Strategic Command Centre (NSCC) to act as the nerve centre that evaluates all forms of threat ranging from physical to psychological warfare.

It is also time to enunciate a detailed and actionable counter terrorism policy, to fight, persecute and neutralise the menace of terrorism. NSCC operating under this policy could provide the missing synergy in counter terrorism operations, security of urban areas and warding off threats other than militancy. Maybe a constitutionally sanctioned emergency could be an alternative to this lack of policy.

Last, who raised, supported and financed the Uzbek/Chechen militants, and for what purpose? Egypt, Syria and Iraq are latest case studies. The government ought to wake up and stop being a minion to Saudi Arabia. Let Pakistan be for Pakistanis.

Perhaps no country is as fiercely at war within itself as Pakistan. The enemy is us. We are past the beating war drums, under invasion from multiple dimensions under a larger game plan. Peace doves need to grow talons. It is time to ‘make ready your strength to the utmost of your power’. Pakistan is at war and it must fight. Otherwise, anarchic-fascism will prevail.

    The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist and a television anchorperson.