Thursday, November 12, 2009

Attack on GHQ – some questions

The News, Oct 25, 2009


Attack on GHQ – some questions

By Omar R Quraishi

The attack on GHQ on Oct 10 has left dozens of questions unanswered. For the benefit of readers, some of these are (in no order of importance but written down as each comes to mind):

From where did the men who allegedly carried out the attack get hold of the military uniforms that they were wearing? Can any Tom, Dick and Harry go to a store in a cantonment area and purchase a military uniform? Most countries in the developed world have stringent checks on civilians obtaining military and/or police uniforms. Are any such checks in place in Pakistan?

From where did the attackers get hold of military plates and insignia for the car that they were travelling in as they approached the GHQ main gate? Most published reports of the attack, quoting officials, say that the Suzuki hi-roof in which the attackers approached the checkpost had a military number-plate and also that a raid carried out by the secretariat police at a house on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, in Awan Town, netted several items of interest including military signs and insignias. What is the authenticity of these items and if they are indeed genuine, how did the attacks come to possess them? Is it possible for civilians or for former soldiers to get hold of such materials from military stores? What checks, if any, are in place to prevent such material from getting into the wrong hands?

The alleged ring-leader Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, had been arrested (first pointed out in a letter in this newspaper on Oct 14) by the Secretariat police in Islamabad in late 2008 for suspected involvement in the attack on the Marriott hotel. He had been arrested, according to several newspaper reports published on Oct 25, 2008, along with three other suspects and this was told by investigation officer Altaf Khattak to a local anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi on Oct 24, 2008. The question to ask here is that why was Dr Usman released at that time? Assuming that he was released for lack of evidence, was anything done to rectify that fault in the investigation process. Perhaps, most importantly, once he was released, was any effort made by the civilian and/or military intelligence apparatus to keep him under surveillance and if that wasn't done, what was the reason for that?

The alleged mastermind, Dr Usman, served as a nursing assistant in the Army Medical Corps, and he reportedly left the military in 2004 and joined a militant outfit. How was his time as an active duty soldier spent, given that right after leaving the military he joined a jihadi outfit? It has also been reported that the organisation he joined was affiliated with Ilyas Kashmiri -- killed some weeks back in a drone attack in Waziristan -- but who Hamid Mir claimed had served earlier in the military as an SSG commando. Though ISPR did not deny this, eventually a retired colonel, who was in the SSG, by the name of Colonel Imam, wrote a letter to this newspaper saying that Kashmiri had never served in the military. If one's memory is correct, Col Imam is the same former military official who has been accused of helping the Taliban post-retirement and was some months ago the subject of a detailed interview in a British newspaper.

The fact that the alleged mastermind -- presently in custody and severely injured -- has been acknowledged by security officials as being a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammad and that he has close links with other jihadi outfits seems well established by now. Why then are pro-establishment commentators or others known for links and/or sympathies with the establishment trying to suggest that somehow the Americans or the Indians are involved in the attack? How can the Jaish possibly be involved with anything to do with India? Wasn't it the Jaish which was founded after Maulana Masood Azhar was released from an Indian jail, as a result of the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 on Dec 24, 1999? How could the Indians -- though they secretly wouldn't have been all that upset over the attack on GHQ -- possibly do business with the Jaish or any of their affiliated outfits after this? As for the Americans being allegedly involved, as is being advocated by the usual gang of conspiracy theorists, isn't there presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan often cited as the primary reason by the Taliban and other extremists for waging "jihad" in this reason?

How on earth, then, could the Jaish, or other jihadi outfits work with the Americans and private US mercenaries such as DynCorp? (Of course, this doesn't take away from the fact that DynCorp may well already be in Pakistan as part of a security detail to provide protection to American or other foreign diplomats.) This type of argument was often given -- also by the same elements -- with regard to Baitullah and even in some cases with the Swat Taliban. Those who wish to define the concept of national interest for all Pakistanis -- though they have no real constitutional authority to do so -- usually raise the American/Indian/Israeli bogey whenever things with the Taliban/al Qaeda/jihadis begin to get out of hand and the state itself comes under sustained attack. Again this doesn't discount the possibility that both India and Israel may well prefer a weak Pakistan but what one is trying to suggest is that past history and experience suggests that the attackers are very much homegrown. And hence the question that why are these elements so keen on making a link with a foreign hand when security and government officials themselves have said that jihadis are involved and that the ring-leader is a former member of the JeM? Even if some government officials have tried to bring in the so-called 'foreign hand' and linked it with the GHQ attack, that has been done later, after a couple of days had passed, and without offering even the slightest bit of evidence.

In that regard, the question that comes to mind is that why do we want to blame the rest of the world for ills and problems which are quite clearly of our own making? And that if we haven't been able to realize that after an attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army when will we ever search for the actual perpetrators of such terrorist acts?

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News. Email:

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