Pakistani hostages freed from Taliban, no word on tunnel link to nuclear arsenal
A day and a night after an armed Taliban takeover of Pakistan’s main military headquarters in Islamabad, a Pakistani military spokesman said early Sunday, Oct. 11, that all the assailants were killed or arrested and 39 of the 42 hostages they took freed. In the rescue operation Sunday, three hostages, two soldiers and four assailants were killed. Pakistani news coverage was blocked from Saturday, after Taliban gunmen dressed as soldiers burst into its headquarters firing automatic weapons and hurling grenades from a white van. Four assailants were killed and 8 soldiers including a lieutenant general in the ensuing gunfight. The remaining gunmen roamed through the compound and seized the 42 officers hostage.
debkafile reported earlier that the secret department in charge of securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is at the headquarters compound.
During the 22-hour siege at the HQ compound, a second battle took place between Pakistani paramilitary forces and a second group of insurgents for control of a road tunnel which connects the towns of Darra Adam Khel and Kohat in the North West Frontier Province. There was no word on its outcome.
On May 15, DEBKA-Net-Weekly exclusively named Kohat and the Wah Cantonment Pakistani Ordnance Complex in the city of Kamra, both in the NWFP, as keys to Pakistan’s nuclear and missile arsenals.
Our military sources stressed at the time that Kohat’s fall to the Taliban would cut off Islamabad and the Pakistani high command from Kamra and its nuclear arsenal. This appeared to be the object of the Taliban push on the tunnel-road coupled with its assault on the military headquarters.
In a rare news conference Saturday, Khalid Kidwai, chief of Pakistan’s strategic planning division which controls its nuclear program, rejected international fears that Pakistan’s weapons could fall into the wrong hands and warned against any foreign intervention over the issue. “‘The state of alertness has gone up,” he admitted without going into details, but stressed: “There is no conceivable scenario, political or violent, in which Pakistan will fall to the extremists of the al Qaeda or Taliban types.”
A day before, the chief of Pakistan’s army, General Ashfaq Kiyani, dismissed as “unrealistic” fears that al Qaeda could seize the country’s nuclear weapons.
In its first report, debkafile‘s Washington sources reported: The attacks occurred at a defining moment in Washington for the Afghan/Pakistan conflict. President Barack Obama is completing a military review of US military strategy in the two arenas with his top advisers and military commanders. The conference is tilting toward shifting the US military focus away from the Taliban to al Qaeda, despite three factors now illustrated in blood Saturday:
1. Just as Taliban and al Qaeda are inseparable, so too are the Afghan and Pakistan warfronts.
2. Those two organizations hold the war initiative, rather the American army. They are capable of answering the White House’s decisions on strategy in unexpected places and ways.
3. Pakistan, America’s chosen senior ally in the war against Taliban and al Qaeda, is a broken reed in military terms and too vulnerable to lean on.
By striking inside Pakistan military headquarters, those adversaries demonstrated their ability to reach into any part of government, including the presidential palace, and topple his regime, the same tactic employed in Kabul. They also appeared to be within range of key locations for Pakistan’s nuclear and missile arsenals.
For some weeks, the Pakistani army has been concentrating a large force of more than 100,000 men for a big offensive against Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in the lawless tribal territories of Waziristan bordering on Afghanistan. The attack on its headquarters in Islamabad carried a message: If this offensive goes forward, Pakistan’s major cities will pay the price.
Pakistani army chiefs are flatly opposed to President Ali Zardari’s deal the Obama administration for $1.5 billion in US aid in return for seriously battling the Taliban and al Qaeda. They accuse the US of interfering in relations between civil government and the military.
The attack on the army’s headquarters Saturday would have been taken as a gesture of support for the opponents of a US-Pakistan alliance. It was also a warning that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal may not be entirely safe from terrorist control.