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Saturday, August 18

Further to the attack on Minhas air base, Dawn's Editorial Board notes Pakistan's army appears to have a militancy problem

The attack seems to have targeted early warning surveillance aircraft at the base. From B Raman's report on the attack:
6. The significance of the Minhas base as a Taliban target arises from two factors. Firstly, it is the base in which the entire PAF holdings of aircraft fitted with Airborne Early Warning Systems are located. In 2007, the PAF had ordered five Swedish-made SAAB 2000 aircraft, four of them fitted with Saab-Ericsson ERIEYE Airborne Early Warning system. The first of these fitted with Erieye was delivered to the PAF on April 3,2008, and the second in April last year. The PAF has also ordered from Sweden six ground receiving stations.

7. In addition, the PAF has reportedly ordered four Shaanxi ZDK-03 ‘Karakoram Eagle’ airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) aircraft from China, the first of which was delivered in November 2010.Thus, the PAF presently has two SAAB 2000 and one Chinese ZDK-03 planes fitted with airborne early warning systems.

8. According to reliable Pakistani sources, the main objective of the TTP raiders into the Minhas base was to locate and destroy these three planes fitted with airborne early warning systems. These sources say that the raiders managed to damage at least one of them.

9. The Minhas raid resembled the TTP raid into PNS Mehran, the headquarters of the Pakistani Naval Air Arm, located inside the Faisal base of the Pakistan Air Force at Karachi on the night of May 22, 2011, during which the TTP managed to destroy two of the three US-made Orion P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft of the Pakistan Navy. After having destroyed two of the maritime surveillance aircraft, the TTP has now tried to destroy the aircraft of the PAF fitted with Airborne early warning systems.

10. The second significance of Minhas as the target arises from the fact that the Sino-Pakistan aircraft manufacturing complex at Kamra is located next to the PAF base. At this complex, Chinese engineers are helping Pakistan in the assembly and ultimate manufacture of Chinese-made JF-17 aircraft.
Now I'll skip to paragraph 13 of Raman's analysis:
13. Sections of the Pakistani media have reported that advance intelligence regarding the likelihood of TTP attacks on PAF establishments around this period had been conveyed by the Ministry of the Interior under which the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the internal intelligence agency, functions. If true, despite this, the PAF has been taken by surprise. The repeated successful raids of the TTP into supposedly heavily-protected military establishments underlines once again the poor state of physical security in these establishments and the likely complicity of insiders with the TTP raiders.
Now to what might be the most important opinion piece on Pakistan's military in several years -- important because it wasn't written by one particular Pakistani editorialist or politician but by the Editorial Board of Dawn, Pakistan's oldest and most widely-read English-language daily newspaper.

In writing on August 17 about the attack on the Minhas base attack, the Editorial Board didn't bother with patriotic praise for the Pakistani military's handling of the attack and stayed away from the favorite Pakistani pastime of blaming outsiders. Instead, Dawn went straight to the heart of the matter, raised every question that needed to be raised, and made every point that needed to be made (emphasis throughout mine):
THE attack on the air force base in Kamra has raised disturbing — and disturbingly familiar — questions. That only one security personnel was killed as opposed to nine dead militants is only a small consolation: the first and foremost question is, how were militants able to yet again infiltrate a high-security armed services’ base and engage security forces inside for many hours?

Given that some kind of military operation in North Waziristan against at least the Pakistan-centric militants is in the offing, the possibility of preemptive strikes by the militants is high. Had the warning of a blowback only been made at the policy level without it filtering down to the security forces likely to be in the crosshairs of the militants?

Already, the very specific threat against PAF bases in Punjab by the TTP in revenge for the killing of a militant leader earlier this month had been picked up by the intelligence apparatus. Surely, then, at this stage of the fight against militancy, the security apparatus should be able to repulse attacks on at least critical sites with more efficiency, particularly with both the circumstantial and direct forewarning appearing to have been available.

As with previous attacks, the possibility of insider help to the militants in the assault on Kamra is also very high. From sympathisers of radical Islamist thought to direct supporters of militant groups, the army appears to have a militancy problem, the severity of which is hidden from the public because investigations and court martials are often carried out in secret.

The wider concern going forward ought to have the army’s screening procedures: how robust and effective is the surveillance and vetting of the armed forces’ personnel to prevent an incident before it happens? Clearly, as recent history suggests, not robust or effective enough — but what will it take for a more serious and sustained effort?

Finally, the question that has bedevilled the fight against militancy: when will the state, both the army and the political government, drive home the message to the Pakistani public that the war is real, it is against a radicalised fringe of Pakistan and that unless the war is fought with total commitment and purpose, the state and society itself will spiral towards irreversible disaster?

Gen Kayani’s Independence Day message [to cadets at a military academy] contained the first strands of that message but it has to be sustained and spread to the farthest corners of the country.

The ones shouting ‘this isn’t our war’ — many on the political right — need to be countered, firmly and unequivocally. Delay that battle any longer and the already manifold complications will grow yet more complicated.
It can't be put any clearer than that. Will Pakistan's rulers listen to Dawn? No. If they weren't scared straight by the attack on PNS Mehran, no internal pressure, and no appeals to reason, will make a dent.

However, the IMF can make a dent, and there are signs it's getting ready to do so. See IMF raises stakes for Pakistan loans, August 16, Asia Times Online.

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