Some vital lessons unlearnt

There are some similarities between the attack on the PNS Mehran Base in May 2011 and the one on Karachi Airport earlier this month. For one, both attacks took place on a Sunday, when security is more lax.

Entry was gained in both instances from an area where there was least chance of resistance. This suggests a failing on the part of the guard detail but also of some possible inside information.

The attackers in both instances were Central-Asian and they had a clear objective in mind.

The idea was to cause as much damage as possible. In the airport attack, this could be seen later with the amount of firepower recovered and the preparations they had made. It was sheer good luck and the bravery of a certain few that saved us from complete disaster that day.

What is unfortunate is that no lessons were learnt from the earlier attack. Entry to high security zones remains a question mark.

Simply putting on a uniform and riding in a car with official number plates gives one an edge.

At a time when we should be allowing entry to restricted areas only through the help of identification technology, we continue to rely on manual methods.

In the case of the Mehran base, the attackers came through the rear perimeter wall. In Karachi Airport, they used the rear fence next to the Ispahani Hanger as one of their entry points.

The cargo terminal gate continues to be a security concern in airports across the country.

Memories are short. In almost every major incident of hijacking, that has occurred starting in 1986 when a PAN-AM airliner was hijacked by the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organisation, terrorists have entered the airport wearing uniforms and come through these gates.

They have used entry points other than the main terminal, because entrances located next to Wide Body Hangar, Cargo Terminal, Catering Terminal, Private and Charter Airline terminals have always been poorly guarded, making them an ideal choice for nefarious activities, including smuggling.

The other issue raised by aviation expert Tariq Ali in his piece in this paper is how residential or commercial projects have come up next to our airports, whether in Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad.

Even the land around the new Islamabad airport seems to have been sold before-hand. In the case of the Mehran Base and other bases in the country, the issue is commercial activity.

We have wedding halls and other commercial projects coming up within visual range of the operational section of these bases. These are a security risk. It is perhaps rampant commercialisation and greed that has compromised security and safety at these facilities.

Take for example the fact that the Civil Aviation Authority did not have the proper equipment to save the poor souls who ended up dying in the cold storage area of the Gerry Dnata facility at Karachi Airport. Why don't we have this in place?

Despite all the checks and double-checks the ASF makes passengers go through, there still isn't a plan in place where different agencies can coordinate in case of an attack. The onus for this falls on the CAA and the ASF which have been found lacking in this respect.

Both organisations have also let down their own staff. Take for example the report that the ASF staff does not have the proper equipment or safety apparel for most of its staff deployed at airports. This is only used at certain points in the airport, while the rest have to make do with substandard protection equipment.

So far, what have we done? Not much. Not one person has been sacked, removed or reprimanded over the Karachi Airport attack. As such, no serious effort has been made to understand what went wrong and who could be held responsible.

There is still no talk of a plan to make the airports secure other than declaring them on "red-alert" which means manually checking the contents and bodies of those entering the airports all over the country.

Much of this, however, does not come as a surprise to many of us. While both CAA and ASF are not under-funded, one wonders where much of the money has gone. It certainly has not gone on running safe and secure airports.

The Express Tribune


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