The Parliament House, located in the ‘secure’ confines of federal capital’s red zone, faces serious threats of terrorist attacks. Intelligence reports shared with National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq warn that militants might attack the building and try to hold parliamentarians hostage.
Last Monday, several armed militants stormed into the district courts compound and killed 11 people including an additional sessions judge and lawyers. Eyewitnesses said a couple of them fled, leaving a big question mark on the preparedness of the police, intelligence agencies and security forces.
The reports, shared with the speaker who is considered the custodian of the House, called for extra carefulness and preparedness. Following the district court attack, the red zone was sealed with deployment of more security.
[quote]Each entry point has a walkthrough gate that is either out of order or rarely used[/quote]
Not too long ago, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had said he had turned Islamabad into the safest city, with measures like the registration of citizens living in sectoral areas and on the fringes of the city.
A day before that press conference, the Interior Ministry had told a parliamentary committee about imminent threats to Islamabad. The minister refuted the reports of his own ministry. The March 3 attack on the district courts proved that the interior minister was wrong.
When militants attacked the military General Headquarters in October 2009, intelligence agencies had issued similar warnings that more such attacks on other government installations including the Parliament might occur.
Leader of Awami Muslim League Sheikh Rashid Ahmed did not mince words questioning the preparedness of the intelligence agencies and security forces to avert an attack on the Parliament. He said parliamentarians were not safe in the so-called Red Zone.
The courts that were attacked on Monday are not too far from the Margalla Police Station. The interior minister told the National Assembly that 47 policemen were present inside the compound at the time of the attack. Hardly any of them engaged the militants to stop the killing spree.
The district courts are surrounded by plazas, shops and lawyers’ chambers. Each entry point has a walkthrough gate that is either out of order, or rarely used. At least two policemen guard each entry point, but do not normally check every person.
It was the same compound where former President General (r) Pervez Musharraf appeared before a sessions judge in April 2013.
Within a one-mile radius of the compound are the Naval Headquarters, Air Headquarters, the National Defense University, Bahria University, Air University, the Federal Government Boys School, OPF School, branches of private schools and residences of several high profile officials, politicians and diplomats.
People’s Party candidate Faisal Sakhi Butt ran his electoral campaign from his office just outside the compound. There are food outlets that attract a large number of people.
Mohsin Akhter Kiyani, president of Islamabad High Court Bar Association and a witness to the attack, claimed he only saw two policemen firing at one of the militants.
One of Kiyani’s interns, a girl called Fizza, died in the incident. Another intern Madeeha was injured. He remained unhurt miraculously. He said there were five militants operating in two teams, and not two militants as claimed by the interior minister.
Other lawyers who saw the raid said the first to run away were the police personnel. Some of them asked the policemen to engage the militants, but they declined. Witnesses say two of the attackers managed to flee.
Kamran Murtaza, president of Supreme Court Bar Association, said around a dozen militants carried out the attack. They had ample time to search the judges’ chambers, and found and killed additional sessions judge Rafaqat Awan. He had refused to register a criminal case against Gen Musharraf on a petition from aides of Lal Masjid clerics.
Officials admit that intelligence agencies had intercepted a phone call on February 26 in which two people were talking about an attack on district courts. They said the agencies arrested seven people from various neighborhoods of Islamabad, but failed to avert the mishap.
Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani took suo motu notice of the incident. He summoned the interior secretary to explain the government’s position. The secretary startled everyone by revealing that 42 threat alerts and 22 information reports about a possible terrorist attack were sent to the Islamabad administration and police.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied involvement in the attack. A previously unknown group that called itself Ahrarul Hind claimed responsibility.
Defense analyst Zahid Hussain said it was very easy for the TTP to hide behind such splinter groups while pressing for dialogue with the government on equal terms.
The federal capital is surrounded by several illegal or haphazard localities where thousands of people live. These localities provide sanctuaries for militants planning and executing attacks inside the capital. Dozens of unregistered and unauthorized mosques and seminaries have also become a threat.
A son of Afghan Taliban Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani was assassinated in Barakahu area of the capital recently. The place is a few kilometers from the Parliament and from the residence of the interior minister.
Shahzad Raza is a journalist based in Islamabad. Follow him on Twitter @shahzadrez