Militants in Soldiers’ Clothing

Pakistan is back under the international spotlight as attacks across the country escalate – the military has been accused of being lax and allowing the situation to worsen.

In October, an attack in the headquarters of the UN’s World Food Programme killed five and injured 6; Tehrik-i-Taliban have claimed responsibility.

In Peshawar’s Khyber Bazaar, over 49 were killed, with 100 injured.

An attack on the Pakistani Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi drew the most international attention. 22 were killed – five commandos, six soldiers, eight gunmen and three civilian hostages.

In Alpuri, 41 people – among them, six soldiers – were killed in an area controlled by the Army.

In Lahore, 19 people – including 14 security officials – were killed, while 41 were injured.

In Kohat, 11 – including three policemen – were killed with 22 injured. Tehrik-i-Taliban once more claimed responsibility.

Peshawar’s Cantonment suffered an attack, as 15 – including three policemen – were killed and 21 were wounded.

The attacks on Rawalpindi and the World Food Programme have attracted the most international attention. Terrorists dressed in the uniform of soldiers were able to enter, with arms. They then took hostages, threatening execution unless fellow terrorists were freed. A semi-successful rescue mission later, a handful of the terrorists were apprehended and shot.

The first question that popped into our heads was this – how could the military allow terrorists to enter their complexes? Simply because one is dressed as a soldier does not make him one. There must have been some level of security check conducted before they allowed these terrorists into such complexes, but they were clearly insufficient and not thorough enough.

That then leads to the issue of Pakistani security. What is the level now, if there is any at all? Why is it not stricter? In this age of global terrorism, all nations are on their guard. With Pakistan being one of the largest terrorist breeding grounds in the world, surely security and checks there must be stricter. The simple fact that terrorists dressed as soldiers could walk in, armed with explosives and detonate them is almost laughable, if only the death count was not so soberingly high.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama could do with putting Pakistan at the top of his agenda. Allowing these attacks to happen and in doing so, encouraging them, will lead to a disastrous situation in neighbouring countries and the region.

If the military is so uncapable of performing checks, and in tightening their security, what choice do they have but to allow foreign intervention? Why are military IDs not screened properly? Why are arms not checked? How could it take a government decades to realise that its army is out of control and utterly out of sync with its people?

Christiane Amanpour talked to CNN’s Pakistan correspondent as well as a scholar and author to understand the deeper issues surrounding this catastrophe. Across the board, experts and correspondents have pointed fingers at the government’s incompetency and called for either a reshuffle or a complete change of tack.

Now that the war on Iraq is coming to a close, ‘rogue states’ in the Middle East should be addressed, and quickly. If suicide bombs go off in the street or in other such public places, that’s one thing. A tragedy, yes. No one screens your bags in the street though.

Doesn’t it go without saying that a military compound and the headquarters of an international agency should have at least some form of proper security? Rather than waving in any man dressed in camouflage, shouldn’t there be proper machines and specially-trained security guards at every gate of these complexes?

This is standard procedure in the West where the threat of daily suicide bombs is nowhere near this high. In a country as unstable as Pakistan, is it really too much to ask that these basic checks be stepped up several notches?

There is no better time than now to prove to the world that military dictatorship and daily terror attacks need not go hand-in-hand. Zardari’s government should either play a proactive role in reforming military practice and domestic security, or stop whining about foreign governments’ intervention and approach to resolving this quagmore.

If Pakistan wants to be left alone, they should prove that they can handle the responsibility of taking care of themselves.

Not unlike a teenager.

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