The irony of Pakistan’s founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s words ‘Expect the best, prepare for the worst’ cannot be lost on its rulers today as the country found itself in a homegrown version of 26/11. The siege of its highly fortified Karachi naval base, a facility which houses its southern air command and air war college is a blow to the very might of the Pakistani State, its much vaunted-armed forces. At the time of going to the press, 12 security personnel and nine militants had been reported killed and there are unconfirmed rumours that some Chinese military officers working at the base had been taken hostage. To add to the doomsday day-like scenario, reports are rife that Mullah Omar, one of the most wanted terrorists after Osama bin Laden, has been killed in Pakistan.
US President Barack Obama was clearly prescient when he recently labelled Pakistan’s India obsession a mistake. The biggest threat, he said, came from within. There was no doubt that the Taliban and its ilk would mount a spectacular strike within Pakistan to demonstrate their relevance in a post-Osama order. In fact, vital installations in Pakistan were on high alert for such an occurrence. But the seeming ease with which the terrorists were able to storm a top security facility with so much arms and ammunition suggests that there has been more than a fair degree of collusion from within the armed forces. The armed forces, whose once awesome reputation is in tatters after the Americans walked in and took out bin Laden from under their noses will be hard put to explain how a bunch of militants have been able to challenge them right on their own home ground. Experts have long warned that there has been a considerable degree of fundamentalism growing within the armed forces. This has created a situation in which serving officers are often sympathetic to the goals of the jihadis. The dangers of this in a nuclear armed State can’t be overemphasised. The Karachi siege should serve as an eye-opener to Pakistan’s armed forces that it can no longer use the militants it has nurtured as puppets to hit out against India or western targets. The latter, simply put, are out of control.
The last barrier between Pakistan and total anarchy is the armed forces. If it crumbles, as seems to be happening, then not just Pakistan but the world will have to — as Jinnah put it — ‘prepare for the worst’. It is still not too late for the armed forces to change its role from being innkeeper to terrorists to doing their job of keeping Pakistan safe for its own people. But for that it needs to take a reality check and admit that its duplicity so far has been counterproductive. And perhaps go back to the words of Jinnah who said, “Our object should be peace within…”