MAY 24, 2019
The audacious assault at the Pearl Continental Hotel at Gwadar resulted in the death of the assailants but also three security guards and a number of injuries. The ferocity of the attack can be gauged by the fact that it took the security forces 22 hours to clear the hotel and declare the premises safe. While the armed forces’ quick reactionary force (QRF) must be appreciated for denying the attackers their heinous aim of taking hotel guests as hostage and causing greater mayhem, a number of questions arise.
It is a known fact that some countries, who are opposed to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are sponsoring the Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) and other dissidents in furthering their heinous aims. Special Security Division (SSD) comprising nine composite battalions having 9,229 personnel while six wings of civilian armed forces comprising 4,502 personnel, established for protecting the CPEC, should have been able to thwart the attack before it occurred.
Only last month, the atrocious carnage on the coastal highway of fourteen persons including Pakistan Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel should have been enough to raise hackles at all concerned quarters. Instead of being bogged down, the enemy upped the ante. PC Gwadar is a high value target. The 26/11 Mumbai attack where the Taj and Oberoi Hotels were targeted serve as negative examples in point defence. Unless 26/11 was a false flag operation, the security forces and Indian commandos had botched the counter terrorism operations and resulted in a high death toll. We should have learnt lessons from the Mumbai attacks. The Pakistani QRF managed to evacuate all hotel guests before harm could reach them but for the assailants to have entered the five-star hotel raises questions on the ability to deter any terrorists. Reportedly the attackers used the maritime route to reach Gwadar.
The detractors of CPEC would like to see the mega project fail by making it appear insecure. Chinese and other international investors would be driven away by the protagonists who have sworn to destroy the venture. Riding astride the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi, during his Republic Day address, Narendra Modi had warned of Indian adventurism in Baluchistan garbed under the support for the Baloch. It was only weeks later that the RAW “Monkey” Commander Kulbhoshan Jadhav was apprehended. He sang like a canary spilling the beans on his terror network to sabotage CPEC, but fresh “monkeys” have replaced him, and their handiwork is visible. The attack on the Chinese Consulate at Karachi and the various locations in Baluchistan and elsewhere spell out the seriousness of the progenitors of anti-CPEC campaign.
The announcement of the possible discovery of undersea oil and gas reserves must have spelt doom and gloom to CPEC’s adversaries. The presence of US Navy’s carrier strike group led by USS Abraham Lincoln to the waters near Iran is not just a “a message” to Iran but should also be perceived as a gimlet eye to watch the progress on Pakistan’s perspective under-sea fossil fuel discovery as well as CPEC. Although now hopes of a finding are dimmed.
The detractors of CPEC would like to see the mega project fail by making it appear insecure. Chinese and other international investors would be driven away by the protagonists who have sworn to destroy the venture
The task for the government, the Interior Ministry as well as the armed forces of Pakistan is clear. There has to be zero tolerance for any further attacks. This will necessitate a two-pronged approach. Reaching out to the dissident Baloch separatist groups, who have made no secret of their hostility towards CPEC, which they perceive as yet another manifestation of state plunder of Baluchistan’s resources. They seem to have stepped up their campaign in recent months with a number of high-profile attacks. Their tenacity to launch attacks will only increase because they are being trained and launched by powerful international protagonists. The government must reach out to disaffected nationalists and individuals who have some influence with the more obstinate Baloch. Negotiations must not be made from a position of weakness as it will only embolden the antagonists. It should be endeavoured to explain to the dissidents the benefits of laying down their arms and joining the development projects, which will bring prosperity to the long-neglected province of Baluchistan.
Simultaneously, security for CPEC must be enhanced, with a greater preference of preemptive action rather than reactive ones. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) play a major role in keeping the terrorists at bay. It will incur higher expenditure, but aerial ISR must be given preference as it will pay rich dividends. There is no substitute to human intelligence and it should be cultivated carefully with all its sensitivity.
Additionally, there is no place for ethnic or sectarian intolerance. The security forces must be tasked by the government to do all they can to eliminate extremist groups of all creed and faith. This scribe believes that the assault on PC Gwadar could have been avoided but it should be a wake-up call to ensure that it is never repeated.
The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host