Three days after the Taliban attack on the Mehran naval air base, startling discrepancies are surfacing in accounts provided by Pakistani government officials and eyewitnesses. On Monday afternoon, while Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik claimed that six attackers entered the naval air base from the rear wall that overlooked a storm water drain, the first information report (FIR) registered by the navy puts the number of attackers at eight. Malik also said that while four attackers were killed, two escaped.
However, eyewitness accounts suggest that there were around fifteen attackers and most of them escaped after attacking the Orion aircrafts that were parked in the apron area. Also, despite officials claims to the contrary, some of the attackers entered a building at the base and held several naval employees hostage. This led to a delay in rescue operations by navy commandoes, observers said.
Another detail that Malik overlooked was that the attack was launched from three sides. A senior official who requested anonymity said, “terrorists managed to penetrate the inner cordon of the base from all three sides, which showed how poor security was.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that the chief of the navy, Admiral Noman Bashir, would handle the investigation into the attack. But observers said that the investigation would not yield any result, as the navy would try to cover up its shortcomings.
The military, on the other hand, insisted that the investigation be conducted by serving officers and not by local law enforcement agencies. On Tuesday, Karachi police officials complained that they were not allowed into the air base to carry out investigations.
Anti-Extremism Cell chief Chaudhry Aslam fumed that the navy “had something to hide” and that is why the local police were not being involved. While questions about the ability of Pakistan’s military to protect its key installations from terror attacks have already been raised, its ability to protect its nuclear assets is now been questioned.
So far, the military has kept quiet on the issue.