Who was behind the attack on Pakistan’s naval base?

The deadly and brazen attack on Pakistan Navy’s base in Karachi on May 22 has dealt another humiliating blow to the reputation and morale of Pakistan’s armed services. According to the initial accounts the small group of militants, as few as six, who attacked the PNS Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi gave its defenders no time.




by Yousuf Nazar


The deadly and brazen attack on Pakistan Navy’s base in Karachi on May 22 has dealt another humiliating blow to the reputation and morale of Pakistan’s armed services.

According to the initial accounts the small group of militants, as few as six, who attacked the PNS Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi gave its defenders no time.

“You cannot imagine how quick they were,” said a Pakistani security official who asked not to be named. “When they entered, one of the Navy commandos saw them and tried to react.”

He never got the chance. “It was a single shot in the darkness which took his arm off,” the official said. “You can imagine how good they were.” The commando died on the spot.

A security official said the assailants were dressed in black with night-vision goggles and armed with Russian hand grenades, rocket launchers, assault rifles and suicide vests. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said they looked like Star Wars characters.

A BBC report has lent further credence to the “Star Wars” description of the attackers. The BBC said that the terrorists wore combat uniforms, had intricate knowledge of the base, and just aimed RPGs at  the P-3C Orion reconnaissance aircrafts {supplied by the U.S. for about $35 million each} parked on the tarmac.  P3C Orion is a four-engine turbo-prop, anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft.  It is almost out of question that India could be behind this. Then who else may have the motive to destroy these planes since the attackers were apparently not interested in shooting people.  They did take some Chinese technicians hostage according to a report in the New York Times.

Three days after the Taliban attack on the Mehran naval air base, startling discrepancies surfaced 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 10-12. Malik also said that while four attackers were killed, two escaped. How two managed to escape through hundreds of security personnel beats me!

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. A day after denying that any of its citizens had been involved, China confirmed on May 24 that Chinese technicians were taken hostage during a militant attack on a Pakistani naval base.  Another detail that Malik overlooked was that the attack was launched from three sides.

The attack on the naval base came at a time when the whole world media was still debating how Pakistan Army and the country’s intelligence services could not have been aware of his Osama’s presence in Abbotabad and how safe Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were?

The Obama’s administration changed Osama’s assassination story within days raising doubts and many questions and came under criticism bordering on ridicule but this did not help Pakistan.

President Zardari made a feeble attempt to explain Pakistan’s position in an opinion piece in Washington Post and reminded the world,” more of our soldiers have died than all of NATO’s casualties combined. Two thousand police officers, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians and a generation of social progress for our people have been lost.”  But the manner of his response, as has characterized his previous responses in crises, left many wondering if that’s all head of the state of perhaps the most troubled country in the world could do as a third of Pakistan’s army remained deployed in the country’s northwest to fight the Pakistan Taliban.

Gen. Kayani’s response was that of a besieged soldier. He rushed to see the troops to boost their morale and calm seething anti-American anger and maneuvered behind the scene to rally China’s support. 

It was a classic repeat of what the Generals in 1971 did.  They turned to China hoping against all hopes that somehow it would bail them out of a crisis created by their own blunders.

There were serious holes in the official OBL story and in the absence of any evidence presented, the story, strictly speaking, did not represent more than just the US claims. But Pakistani political and military leadership is too weak and dependent on the US to assert itself and come up with a more plausible explanation than we just failed.

That the most wanted man on earth who used satellite telephone could have escaped the electronic reconnaissance for nearly a decade tested the limits of imagination and plausibility. An assertive Pakistani government while perhaps admitting failure could have asked the CIA whether it deliberately looked the other way after Bush and Cheney had allowed Osama to escape from Tora Bora in December 2001, as a U.S. Senate Foreign Relation Committee report had concluded in November 2009. But by allowing the American narrative to go completely unchallenged, Pakistan’s security establishment helped destroy whatever was left of Pakistan’s international credibility and image. Pakistan has never come so close to being declared a terrorist state.

And as if the OBL saga and the Naval base attack were not enough, on May 23, the star witness in a terrorism case in the United States, related to Mumbai attacks, testified that the Pakistani government helped support a terrorist group that carried out a massacre in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans.  David Headley, a 50-year-old twice-convicted drug dealer, and a former employee of the U.S. Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) turned informant who has pleaded guilty to helping plan the 2008 massacre, said Pakistan’s intelligence service ISI worked with the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. “They coordinated with each other. The ISI provided assistance to Lashkar,” David Headley testified. Asked what kind of assistance, he said, “Financial and military.” It should, however, be pointed out that Headley has so far failed to provide anything concrete about the ISI connection other than naming some ‘Major Iqbal”. But that may be a legal question because a Pakistani anti-terrorism court charged seven suspects, including LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, with planning and helping execute the Mumbai attacks in November 2009.

While Pakistani establishment’s inability to challenge American narrative about Osama and its helplessnesss to prevent the inevitable fallout of Mumbai attacks is understandable, never mind how twisted the grounds might be, what is even more mind boggling is the most scandalous and utterly incomprehensible failure to bring to justice a man described as the master mind behind the attack on the Army’s General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi in October 2009.

The sequence of events documented below and the public record speak for themselves and would raise grave questions in any one’s mind.  The evidence is strong to support the case for complicity than incompetence. But at whose behest? How  did some low ranking and poor former security personnel turn into extremely resourceful and dreaded terrorist? Who is sponsoring and financing them?

They are not operating against India or NATO forces in Afghanistan? They have been operating in Pakistan yet they, the likes of Qari Saifullah Akhtar and Mohammed Aqeel (aka Dr. Usman) are arrested and then released to conduct deadly strikes in our own country. It does not appear to be negligence.  This raises several questions.

Why these cases are not highlighted and relentlessly pursued by the electronic media?  Is this part of a conspiracy by the elements in the security establishment? Which elements? What are the motives or objectives? We need to focus on specific cases and the trail and sequence of events and move beyond the “easy explanation” that blames everything on Al Qaeda or TTP.

The trail of events points to a conspiracy of a managed chaos but by whom, at what levels of government, and to achieve what?  The explanations like blow back are not nearly adequate to explain some of the following cases where repeated offenders of big terrorist attacks are well known and are let go again to strike again.


Let’s start with the case of the attack on the GHQ, Pindi. Enter Mohammed Aqeel (aka Dr. Usman) who was the leader of the terrorist gang that stormed the GHQ and took hostages in October 2009. He was captured in an injured condition.

Dr. Usman,  also known as Mohammad Aqeel, served in the Pakistani Army Medical Corps until 2004 as a male nurse with a rank of an ordinary sepoy, when he left the military and joined the Jaish-e-Mohammad, according to the Daily Times or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi per a TIME magazine report.

Mohammed Aqeel then joined the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami (HuJI) led by Qari Saifullah Akhar. Qari has been arrested and released a few times during the last decade including on charges of carrying out a bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto’s procession on October 18, 2007 in Karachi.

Later Mohammed Aqeel (Dr. Usman) was reported to have served under Ilyas Kashmiri, the former Special Services Group commando who served as the operations chief for HuJI before he reportedly split with Qari Akhtar and formed his own group.

Kashmiri had rejected orders to serve under Maulana Masood Azhar in 2001 in the newly founded mujahedeen organization Jaish-e-Mohammed and was once even targeted by the group.  He was taken into custody and tortured in late 2003 in the wake of an attempt to assassinate President Musharraf. From his February 2004 release until the 2007 Siege of Lal Masjid he apparently did little, but afterward he returned to the 313 Brigade in the terrorist organization Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. The US had claimed to have killed Kashmiri during a drone strike in North Waziristan in September 2009 but he reportedly resurfaced again.

According to a report in Asia Times:

“The (PNS Mehran) attack has been claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban), but Asia Times Online contacts are adamant that the operation was orchestrated by al-Qaeda to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden this month by US Special Forces and carried out by 313 Brigade – the operational arm of al-Qaeda that is headed by Ilyas Kashmiri.”

Before the incident in Karachi, Asia Times Online claims that it was contacted by militants by telephone to confirm future attacks in the following words: “We don’t want any trouble inside Pakistan or in the Pakistan army, but we do want to create an environment in which it would be conducive for pro-Islam and patriotic elements in the armed forces to dislodge incompetent and pro-American military officials.”

It should be recalled that the same Asia Times correspondent had claimed within hours of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination that Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility for her murder. It is difficult to verify such stories and it remains unclear that if Al Qaeda had anything to do with Benazir’s murder, specially given that the US report pointed mostly towards the establishment with a particular emphasis on cover-up angle. Only the guilty try to cover up.


Dr. Usman had been linked to the murder of Surgeon General of Pakistan army, Lt-General Mushtaq Baig, in February 2008.

On September 20, 2008, one person driving a dump truck filled with explosives detonated in front of the Marriott Hotel Islamabad, killing at least 54, injuring at least 266. A group calling itself Fedayeen-i-Islam had claimed responsibility for the deadly suicide attack on the Marriott hotel. A spokesman for the group had told Al Arabiya TV in Islamabad on phone about its involvement in the bomb blast. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had denied responsibility.

A Dr. Muhammad Usman Safi was arrested on October 17 2008 in Peshawar for his alleged involvement in Marriot Islamabad suicide bombing case and presented before an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi on October 24, 2008.

On Dec. 22, 2008, Rehman Malik in his capacity of Adviser to Prime Minister on Interior told the National Assembly that the banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was involved in blast on Islamabad`s Marriott hotel while presenting a report on the findings of the blast. `The entire matter has been solved… Basically it was assisted by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,` Malik told federal lawmakers.

On August 11, 2009, an Anti Terrorism Court-I in Rawalpindi completed hearing into an acquittal plea filed by Dr. Muhammad Usman Safi and rejected the plea on Sept. 22, 2009.

Following the attack on Sri Lankan team in March 2009, SSP Lahore told the media on June 18, 2009 that “The police had established identity of the main accused Aqeel alias Dr Usman within 48 hours of the terrorists attack on Lankan Team,” He also said, “The identity of two other terrorists Muhammad Umer and Zubair had also been established within one week of the incident.”

Earlier on March 4, 2009, Governor Punjab (late) Salmaan Taseer had stated that the attack was carried out by the same people who had executed the Mumbai attacks last year.

On 10 October 2009, another (or same) Dr. Usman (Mohammed Aqeel) led the team of 10 gunmen in military uniform, who opened fire on the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.  Soon after the attack, the militant infiltrated the security buildings where 22 civilian and military officials held were hostage by the militants. The attack killed nine soldiers, nine militants and two civilians. Dr. Usman was the only survivor among the attackers and was wounded and captured by security forces.

A first information report (FIR) was registered at Royal Artillery Bazaar (R.A Bazaar) Police Station against Mohammad Aqeel, alias Dr. Usman, for the attack. FIR no. 674 was registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). It alleged murder, attempted murder, and possession of explosives and illegal arms.

A Tehrik-e-Taliban (Amjad Farooqi Group) claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to an AFP reporter. The call was made by TTP spokesman Azam Tariq.

On October 11, 2009, the New York Times reported that Mohammed Aqeel (aka Dr. Usman) was behind the attack on Sri Lankan team in Lahore on June 18, 2009 and behind the suicide bombing that killed Army’s Surgeon General, Maj. Gen. Mushtaq in 2008.

In a warning to the authorities in July 2009, the criminal investigation department of the police in Punjab said the militants who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009 would make a similar kind of assault on military headquarters. The warning, contained in a letter to the leading intelligence agencies, predicted militants would dress in military uniforms and would try to take hostages at the headquarters.

On May 5, 2010, Dr. Muhammad Usman Safi (of Marriot bombing case), and three other accused – Rana Ilyas, Muhammad Hamid Afzal and Tahseen Ullah  – were acquitted of all charges as no evidence was ever presented against them.

A navy commando of Hakimulah Mehsud’s tribe posted at the PNS Mehran, who was arrested in January this year for his links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates, had then disclosed about the impending attack on the naval base.  According to the News International besides attack on the PNS Mehran, credible intelligence was also available on the impending attack on GHQ six months before it was carried out but the army sat over the info.

It is clear that terrorists allegedly involved in some of the worst terrorist attacks in the last decade have not only been known to the security agencies but were arrested and then later released.

Many of them were very low ranking former security officials. Furthermore, beginning with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the alleged mastermind of 9/11 – none of the major terrorists have been prosecuted and sentenced to imprisonment except a few.

All this is a matter of public record. The security agencies (both Pakistani and US) would surely know much more.

I am tempted to draw some conclusions but I would not and would stop here with a thought for the readers. Is militancy a reality in the form as we are led to believe? Or some forces are hell bent upon creating a reality and a narrative that serves their agenda?


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3 replies to “Who was behind the attack on Pakistan’s naval base?

  1. It’s a terrible mess and one sincerely hopes that it gets sorted out soon enough and without another coup d’état. The citizens of Pakistan have a right to govern themselves through their elected representatives and all of us in South Asia have the right to life and liberty.

  2. The only Journalist Shashzad who was working for Asia times on line who had the courage to tell two truths
    1.Attack was carried out by 313 Brigade as navy was not releasing the 8 navy personnel arrested by it are not being released.
    2.Mullah Baradar was released and talking to Karzai and Americans through ISI

  3. A clear situation now seems to be emerging in Pakistan; which suggests that the terrorists in cahoots with religious extremists are in a mood to directly collide with the army and the state as their men in army and paramilitary do know that soon they are going to be deployed against whom they have good relations for a long time back. The emerging scenario could be critical though, yet should be handled successfully by the progressive Pakistani forces, the U, S, and the NATO allies.

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