It is a chilling developing story of Meharan Naval base and the armed personals giving a great set back to entire nation and the image of its Armed Forces.
This story starts when General Ziaul Haque during his tenure used religion as a tool to strengthen his dictatorial regime and prescribed a new motto to Pak armed forces. The emblem of Eman, Taqwa and Jehad were seen erected all over on the walls of military units. It was first time that Armed forces personals were also seen exposed to the most active religious movement —Tableeghi Jammat, a transnational religious movement which was revived in 1926 by Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in India. The movement primarily aims at Islamic spiritual reformation by working at the grass roots level, reaching out to Muslims across all social and economic spectra to bring them closer to the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This Jammat is offshoot of the Deobandi movement.
Zia ul Haque introduced Friday as holiday. Tableeghi Jammat would run a special Thursday nights congregation to attract troops for spiritual evenings. Troops in hundreds were seen joining their brief indoctrination cadre at their specific mosques where they would also spend the night. This night out used to be of great inspiration for the lower ranks as in congregations they would find their senior officers even to the rank of Generals sitting among them and even sleeping and sharing the mats spread to spend nights. Many officers had started growing their beard. The word piety and righteousness was in the air and this was bringing General Zia’s dream come true as he saw his applied tool —religion bringing the desired fruits of loyalty in military ranks to strengthen his powers. This served him a catalyst to prolong his tenure of dictatorial regime. He stayed in power for long eleven years till his death part when he was blown in the sky in a military C-130 blast, orchestrated by CIA; that he had started challenging the hegemony of Super power US and her ally in the region.
Later after 9/11, when Al Qaeda started emerging as powerful movement even in Pakistan picked up the religious thread and marinated it with anti Americanism. It was not long that old flame of indoctrination once inflamed by Tableeghi Jammat among troops was seen rekindled by some what a mystique personality of Al Qaeda leader —Osama Bin Laden.
But after US invasion of Afghanistan; US declared Osama bin laden as their enemy and later Pakistan as US ally was given the task to hunt down Al Qaeda which have fled Afghanistan and now were found in Pak tribal area. Ever since, the hunting down of Al Qaeda has not gone well among the troops. The troops in naval and Air force comparing to the army are seen more perturbed to see a leader like Osama Bin laden being degraded and undermined and Al Qaeda made a target.
Earlier numbers of suicidal attacks were carried out against General Pervez Musharraf who chose to be US proxy, where personal from Air force were seen involved.
At killing of Bin Laden at the hands of US naval seals, Mehran naval base where foreign engineers including American were stationed was declared a target by Al Qaeda. It is now revealed that Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links. Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants. At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.
An official statement placed the number of militants at six, with four killed and two escaping. Unofficial sources, though, claim there were 10 militants with six getting free. Saleem shezad, Asia Times Investigative reporter claims that attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.
Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda’s demands over the detained suspects.
The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan’s surveillance capacity against the Indian navy.
The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy.
Volcano of militancy
It is further revealed by Asia Times that several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country’s largest city and key port.
“Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces,” a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
“We never felt threatened by that. All armed forces around the world, whether American, British or Indian, take some inspiration from religion to motivate their cadre against the enemy. Pakistan came into existence on the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and therefore no one can separate Islam and Islamic sentiment from the armed forces of Pakistan,” the official said.
“Nonetheless, we observed an uneasy grouping on different naval bases in Karachi. While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces. That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities.”
The official explained the grouping was against the leadership of the armed forces and opposed to its nexus with the United States against Islamic militancy. When some messages were intercepted hinting at attacks on visiting American officials, intelligence had good reason to take action and after careful evaluation at least 10 people – mostly from the lower cadre – were arrested in a series of operations.
“That was the beginning of huge trouble,” the official said.
Those arrested were held in a naval intelligence office behind the chief minister’s residence in Karachi, but before proper interrogation could begin, the in-charge of the investigation received direct threats from militants who made it clear they knew where the men were being detained.
The detainees were promptly moved to a safer location, but the threats continued. Officials involved in the case believe the militants’ feared interrogation would lead to the arrest of more of their loyalists in the navy. The militants therefore made it clear that if those detained were not released, naval installations would be attacked.
It was clear the militants were receiving well inside information as they always knew where the suspects were being detained, indicating sizeable al-Qaeda infiltration within the navy’s ranks. A senior-level naval conference was called at which an intelligence official insisted that the matter be handled with great care; otherwise the consequences could be disastrous. Everybody present agreed, and it was decided to open a line of communication with al-Qaeda.
Abdul Samad Mansoori, a former student union activist and now part of 313 brigade, who originally hailed from Karachi but now lives in the North Waziristan tribal area was approached and talks begun. Al-Qaeda demanded the immediate release of the officials without further interrogation. This was rejected.
The detainees were allowed to speak to their families and were well treated, but officials were desperate to interrogate them fully to get an idea of the strength of al-Qaeda’s penetration. The militants were told that once interrogation was completed, the men would be discharged from the service and freed.
Al-Qaeda rejected these terms and expressed its displeasure with the attacks on the navy buses in April.
These incidents pointed to more than the one al-Qaeda cell intelligence had tracked in the navy. The fear now was that if the problem was not addressed, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines could face a new threat. NATO convoys are routinely attacked once they begin the journey from Karachi to Afghanistan; now they could be at risk in Karachi port. Americans who often visit naval facilities in the city would also be in danger.
Therefore, another crackdown was conducted and more people were arrested. Those seized had different ethnic backgrounds. One naval commando came from South Waziristan’s Mehsud tribe and was believed to have received direct instructions from Hakeemullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban). Others were from Punjab province and Karachi, the capital of Sind province.
After Bin Laden was killed by American Navy Seals in Abbotabad, some 60 kilometres north of Islamabad, militants decided the time was ripe for major action.
Within a week, insiders at PNS Mehran provided maps, pictures of different exit and entry routes taken in daylight and at night, the location of hangers and details of likely reaction from external security forces.
As a result, the militants were able to enter the heavily guarded facility where one Assault group targeted the aircraft, a second Cover group took on the first strike force and a third finally escaped with the others providing covering fire. Those who stayed behind to assist cover the escape of the assault group and others were killed. (Investigative revelations are by Asia Times)