October 12, 2009 / 12:14 PM / 10 years ago

Q+A: Militant raid on Pakistan's army headquarters

(Reuters) - Suspected Pakistani Taliban militants disguised as soldiers attacked the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi on Saturday and later took 42 people hostage in a nearby office building.

Commandos stormed the building, rescuing 39 of the hostages early on Sunday. Nine gunmen, 11 soldiers and three of the hostages were killed in the weekend of violence outside the tightly guarded headquarters.

Following our some questions and answers about the implications of the attack:

WAS THERE A SECURITY FAILURE?

Security analysts say it is very difficult to guard against determined gunmen disguised as security force members who are prepared to kill anyone who challenges them, and to be killed. Such militant attackers are known as “fidayeen,” meaning they are prepared to sacrifice themselves. The gunmen got through a first checkpoint on the approach to the army headquarters but were stopped at second one near a main gate. So the guards there, several of whom were killed, did their jobs.

WAS THERE AN INTELLIGENCE FAILURE?

The security agencies obviously failed to penetrate the gang and disrupt their preparations or round them up before they could launch their attack. They also failed to take effective preventative measures even though a warning had been circulated. The News newspaper reported on October 5 that the Punjab provincial Home, or interior, Department had sent a letter citing a source as revealing that the Pakistani Taliban, in collaboration with militant factions based in Punjab, were planning to attack the General Headquarters (GHQ). “They plan to make their way into GHQ clad in military uniform and riding in military vehicle ... and resort to indiscriminate firing,” the paper said. The News said it had seen copies of “dozens of such letters” warning police chiefs of threats to various political leaders and “other VIPs.”

SO WHAT WENT WRONG?

Pakistan’s numerous security agencies do not reveal details about how they operate but analysts say one can assume large amounts of information are regularly coming in from various sources to various agencies. Such information has to be processed, vetted and analyzed. Then a determination has to be made on the credibility of any threat. As in the United States before the September 11, 2001, attacks, where competition between agencies and a lack of coordination led to vital clues being missed, so in Pakistan such issues could have been in play. Main security agencies apparently did either did not take seriously, or act effectively, on the warning from the Punjab provincial government.

The army said the attack was planned in South Waziristan, the main base of the Pakistani Taliban, which was also the “main training area” for the attack. The Taliban have killed numerous people they have accused of being spies. The army says it is very difficult to get information from the area, which soldiers have sealed off and where, the army says, it has no “credible intelligence presence.”

WHAT ABOUT NUCLEAR SECURITY?

Pakistan says its nuclear weapons and facilities are protected by a “foolproof” system. The United States and Britain both expressed confidence on the weekend in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.

Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alex Richardson

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