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Mehran attack : Pakistan military under cloud

world Updated: May 23, 2011 23:22 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

Sunday's attack on the Mehran Naval Air Base in Karachi in which armed men were able to destroy two Orion helicopters in a matter of minutes is being seen as another blow to the Pakistan military's image with many questioning the ability of the military with deal with such attacks. Observers say that the initial reaction of the Pakistan Navy to the attack was that of confusion, which may have allowed some of the attackers to get away scott free.

But the Navy insists that most of the attackers were cornered and surrounded in the building where they finally were either killed or captured. The Navy is quiet about how many of the attackers were captured alive, say insiders.

As Karachi begins to recover from the well-executed attack on the PNS Mehran base on Sunday night, the questions and conspiracy theories around the incident have begun to circulate.

Where other attacks have targeted military personnel, the PNS Mehran attack is different in that it directly targeted the P-3C Orion aircraft. “The attack has rendered the navy deaf and dumb,” said security analyst Ikram Sehgal. “The P-3C aircraft acts as the navy’s ears and eyes. There are three basic elements – anti-submarine warfare, radar capabilities and electronic intelligence.” Sehgal said that the beneficiaries of Sunday’s attack are countries that have ‘had designs on Pakistan." He added: “India’s Research and Analysis Wing’s signature all over it”.

There are other who dispute this. Some argue that it is the Taliban policy to attack at the heart of the military establishment "in a bid to expose their vulnerability."

Pakistan’s armed forces have been under attack by militants for several years now, however the navy has rarely been targeted. In 2008, seven people were killed in a suicide attack at Lahore’s Naval War College. On December 1, 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the naval headquarters in Islamabad. On April 26, 2011, four people were killed and 26 injured in twin bomb blasts on naval buses in Karachi. Two days later, six people were killed and seven injured in another attack on a bus carrying naval personnel near the Karsaz base in Karachi.

What is interesting is that the police has been unable to make any arrests in any of these cases. The Tehreek-e-Taliban was quick to claim responsibility.

Pakistan's military has been under attack for some time now. "It is a plan to demoralize the security establishment and they have suceeded in doing that," analyst Imtiaz Gul commented. The attack on the military’s general headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009 as well as frequent attacks on security forces’ check posts, bases and training centres is part of a pattern, both of infiltration of and radicalisation in the security forces, and the lack of adequate security measures, concluded Gul.

The aircraft attacked on Sunday were inducted into the navy in June 2010, as part of US military assistance to Pakistan. A press release at the time said that Pakistan Navy will receive eight P-3C aircraft by 2012.