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"Deciphering the Attack on Pakistan's Army Headquarters"

An army soldier passes by the main gate of the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Oct. 10, 2009. Gunmen wearing military uniforms and wielding assault rifles and grenades attacked Pakistan's army headquarters.
AP Photo

"Deciphering the Attack on Pakistan's Army Headquarters"

Op-Ed, Foreign Policy

October 11, 2009

Author: Hassan Abbas, Former Senior Advisor, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Science, Technology, and Public Policy


"Before Pakistan could start recovering from a suicide bombing at a U.N. office in Islamabad and a massive bomb blast in a Peshawar market last week, the brazen October 10 attack targeting Pakistan's most secure military complex — Army Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, just a few miles from the capital of Islamabad — jolted it further. This latest attack dragged on for 18 hours as around 40 officials were held hostage by terrorists in a building that belongs to a very important military department. During initial gun battle, the Army lost a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel. This episode concluded with the arrest of the commander of the operation Aqeel, alias Dr. Usman, and the killing of his some seven associates who wore army fatigues and had coordinated their attack on GHQ from at least two directions.

This was neither the first attack on an army structure in the country nor the most deadly — but it is unprecedented given the extent of the breach of the GHQ security, the confusion that it created in its initial stage (raising concerns about the safety of army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani), and its timing vis-ŕ-vis the planned launch of a ground military operation in South Waziristan. It could be a transformational event for the army — cementing its resolve against local militants, bridging internal divisions and forcing a review of its intelligence estimates. However, jumping to conclusions without a thorough investigation and reacting rashly based on preconceived notions would be highly counterproductive. Additionally, though Pakistan's nuclear installations are not in the immediate vicinity of GHQ, the nature of the attack raises questions about how security agencies would react if a future attack targets any of the nuclear weapons facilities...."

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For Academic Citation:

Abbas, Hassan. "Deciphering the Attack on Pakistan's Army Headquarters." Foreign Policy, October 11, 2009.

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