Pakistan Attacks Underscore Militants' Resilience

A soldier takes position outside a building stormed by gunmen in Lahore, Pakistan. i i

hide captionTroops take position outside a law enforcement building stormed by militants in Lahore, Pakistan, on Thursday. Militants staged coordinated attacks on three law enforcement facilities in the city. There were separate car-bomb attacks that killed 39 people in two cities near the Afghan border.

K.M.Chaudary/AP
A soldier takes position outside a building stormed by gunmen in Lahore, Pakistan.

Troops take position outside a law enforcement building stormed by militants in Lahore, Pakistan, on Thursday. Militants staged coordinated attacks on three law enforcement facilities in the city. There were separate car-bomb attacks that killed 39 people in two cities near the Afghan border.

K.M.Chaudary/AP

The wave of violence across Pakistan in recent days reveals a militancy that may be more robust than authorities previously thought.

Many in Pakistan's defense establishment portrayed the Pakistani Taliban as diminished and demoralized after the bruising they took in the army's campaign in the Swat Valley this summer. Soon after, the militants were said to be in disarray after the killing of their leader in a U.S. drone missile strike.

But a spree of attacks that began 10 days ago culminated in a stunning series of simultaneous strikes in Lahore on Thursday. Two dozen gunmen stormed three law enforcement agencies in Pakistan's cultural capital, taking the security establishment by surprise. The mayhem that began shortly before 10 a.m. ended with 28 people dead, most of them police personnel.

In the carefully planned strikes, the militants managed to breach even the wall of the Elite Force Training Center, Pakistan's anti-terrorism force whose job is to repel precisely these sorts of attacks.

"It's all over the place. It's tragic," Lahore-based commentator Kamran Shefi said. "It's painful."

Brazen Attacks

Shefi said earlier assessments that the Taliban in Pakistan were spent were hasty.

Militants fought their way into the Pakistan Army General Headquarters, or GHQ, taking 42 hostages this past weekend. For Pakistanis, it was a breathtakingly brazen attack. It ended in an army commando raid that killed four terrorists and left five of the commandos dead.

"I've never believed this thing of down and out," Shefi said. "They were not bottled in when they should have been. There has been a huge intelligence failure. What could be a bigger failure than the attack on GHQ?"

Analyst Shafqat Mahmood, also from Lahore, said he sees in this string of attacks both the strengths and weaknesses of the militants.

"The strength is there because all the radical terrorist groups have gotten together with some kind of central command and control," Mahmood said. "The weakness is in the fact that these look like desperate acts to me."

But Pakistanis asked who was safe if the army was not. Mahmood said, however, that if the security apparatus appears flat-footed, it does not suggest an inability to grasp the obvious. Rather, he says, it is an inability to adapt quickly enough to a rapidly evolving security environment. He said it's especially true for the police.

Changes In Attitude

"I think that it is the kind of huge attitudinal change to go from being completely unprofessional, as far as security is concerned, to being very, very professional," Mahmood said. "It's not lack of intent, it's not lack of desire. It's just that it takes a long time for organizations to change."

But Mahmood says the public hasn't regarded the worsening security situation with any great sense of urgency either. Not much changed, he said, even in Lahore.

"Whatever routine we all have, and mine is to go to the gym in the evening, that routine was followed," he said.

Analysts say the militants hope to derail public confidence and to throw off the military's plans for an offensive against them in their stronghold in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border. Shefi wonders what the army is waiting for.

"It's all doable, it's all doable," he said. "But the point is, you have to have the will."

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