Militants attack police academy near Lahore
Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu, Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009
8 trainees killed; security forces establish control over centre
A quick operation: Pakistani paramilitary soldiers arrest a suspected militant near the site of the Manawan police training school on Monday, hours after armed men seized the premises.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani security forces took control of a police training school in a grim eight-hour gun battle with armed militants who seized the premises on the outskirts of Lahore early on Monday after killing at least eight recruits and taking others hostage.
The training school at Manawan is a mere 10 km from the Wagah border with India.
Contrary to fears of a high death toll, government officials said eight police trainees were killed and 95 injured in the attack. At least one civilian bystander was also killed in militant fire, while two others were injured.
Interior Ministry head Rehman Malik said that of an undetermined number of gunmen who captured the school and tore through it with grenades and automatic weapons, three blew themselves up during the siege. None was captured alive from the premises. But one suspect was arrested outside the school, with police saying they found two grenades on his person.
Mr. Malik told journalists that the man was from Paktika district in Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border. The bearded Pashto-speaking man, whose capture was seen live on television, was an associate of the South Waziristan Taliban commander, Beithullah Mehsud, Mr. Malik said, adding that the “whole planning was done there.”
He said two others were also detained and being questioned. Following successful operations against militants in FATA (tribal areas) and in the NWFP, terrorists were turning to other parts of the country, Mr. Malik said. “We now have two choices: to hand over the country to the Taliban, or to fight them.”
The media deliberated on the “Indian hand” and the closeness of the location to the Indian border, especially after another remark by Mr. Malik that “foreign involvement” was a possibility, although he did not name any country.
The incident shook Pakistan for the brazenness and apparent ease with which it was carried out within a month of the March 3 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Mr. Malik and other officials refused to comment on a possible link between the two attacks.
The attack began at 7.30 a.m., when an estimated 850 unarmed recruits at the school were assembled for the morning parade. The gunmen, said to be at least 10 in number, jumped over the 6-foot wall, threw grenades at the assembly and fired indiscriminately. All the personnel who were killed fell victim in this first assault.
The attackers were in their 20s, dressed in salwar-kameez, had beards and carried backpacks, in which they were apparently carrying a huge stock of arms and ammunition. Media reports said some were wearing police uniforms. They quickly took control of the buildings.
When it became clear within an hour that the situation was beyond the local police force, the government called in the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and the Army. Television footage showed troops closing in on the school, while some terrified looking police trainees, including those with injuries, were seen scampering or crawling out.
It was 3.30 p.m. when troops emerged on the roof of the building, showing the victory sign.
Pakistan split from within by terrorist threat
By David Blair, Diplomatic Editor
30 Mar 2009, telegraph.co.uk
THIS was not the first victory that Pakistan’s security forces have achieved over gunmen striking an urban target, but it was certainly among the quickest and least bloody successes in recent history.
Compared with the brazen assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, when all the attackers managed to escape and only a handful of police fired a shot against them, the security response was far more effective. But it could scarcely have been worse. And the fact that the gunmen chose to raid a police training centre, surely one of the toughest targets on offer, showed their confidence.
More than anywhere else, the struggle against Islamist terrorism in Pakistan has some of the features of a bitter civil war. Many of the extremist groups were once nurtured by the security forces, not only to resist the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but also to fight what Pakistanis regard as a just war against India’s “occupation” of Kashmir.
In Lahore, barely half an hour’s drive from the Indian border, the Kashmir conflict looms larger than Afghanistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the armed group which executed last year’s raid on the Indian city of Mumbai, has its stronghold in Lahore.
LeT was founded to wage “jihad” in Kashmir and once enjoyed the full support of Pakistan’s security forces. By promising to shut down groups such as LeT, the Pakistani state has made itself a legitimate target in their eyes. But many Pakistanis passionately support LeT’s ambition to force India out of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority, and unite this territory with their own country.
If they are forced to choose between their government and LeT, many Pakistanis would support the self-styled “liberators” of Kashmir. This struggle splits Pakistani society from top to bottom, rendering the country acutely vulnerable. In Afghanistan, 62,000 Western troops limit what the Taliban and its allies can achieve.
Pakistan has no such insurance and the country is split from within. At present, it is probably more vulnerable than Afghanistan.