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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

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Arthur Scott

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 August 3, 2013

Jailbreaks new phenomena in political struggle?

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

On July 30, 2013, Pakistan elected little known Mamoun Hussain as the 12th president to replace Asif Ali Zardari. Hours before the election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's loyalist (read crony) the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) sent a strong message to the ruling elite about the precarious security situation in the strife-torn country with a military precision raid on the Dera Ismael Khan prison securing releasing of their imprisoned comrades.

The fragmented reports about how the attack on a well guarded 100 years old prison housing about 5,000 prisoners provides the following narration:

      The attack on July 29 took place at around 11.30pm and went on till 2am – three hours with one hour inside the jail compound. The militants equipped with megaphones called out names of their comrades and broke open their cells with explosive devices. 

      Interestingly, there was no breach of wall of the prison. The main gate remains intact and the guard manning the gate told investigators that when he saw the militants blowing up the APC and when they approached the gate and ordered him to open it he had no option but to open it.

      The militants walked in, made announcements on the megaphones and took away their men. They also went on a slaughtering spree, beheading four Shiite  inmates, taking away heads of two of them.

      In all, by the last count, 248 prisoners have escaped, among them 30 hardcore militants, including Qari Asif and Khalil, the group allegedly involved in bombing in Dera Ismail Khan that had left 25 mourners dead on the ninth and tenth of Muharram last year.

      Dera Ismail Khan’s Central Jail holds as many as 5,000 prisoners including 250 inmates belonging to various banned outfits.

      Those who escaped are believed to have been whisked away to nearby South and North Waziristan, areas where the Taliban has strongholds.

      The Tehreek-e-Taliban sources said it took them one month to plan the operation that cost them about 10 million rupees (approx. $ 100,000.00). 

      A commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Adnan Rashid, who was spirited away in the raid, told a private TV channel that the Operation titled Merg-e-Najaat was accomplished with the help of most sophisticated weapons and advanced gadgets including the night vision lenses.

      Adnan Rasheed, a former junior technician of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), was convicted for allegedly planting a bomb under a bridge in Rawalpindi near Islamabad in December 2003. The bomb exploded moments after the passing of former military ruler General Parwaiz Musharraf's motorcade. He was also freed in a similar attack in Bannu by the Taliban last year. His appeal was pending before the Supreme Court. 

      Besides eighteen special commandos, he said, were also tasked to facilitate the successful completion of the mission that was aimed at setting free eight comrades including six from Quetta. He said two important commanders from Parachinar and six from DI Khan were also released from the jail. Scores of Taliban militants escaped from the jail have reached the safe places in the South Waziristan agency, he added.

Many commentators in Pakistan have expressed their astonishment and questioned how the Taliban were able to transport their freed comrades to north or south Waziristan where military is deployed and there are dozens of military check posts in the area.

Taliban freed 384 prisoners in Bannu jail attack

The Taliban storming of the Dera Ismael Khan prison followed a similar ‘successful’ attack on Bannu Central Jail last year.

More than 200 heavily armed Taliban militants travelling in several vehicles attacked the Central Jail in Bannu, Southern District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, releasing 384 prisoners in a pre-dawn assault on April 15, 2012.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) claimed responsibility for raiding the jail. The TTP spokesperson Asimullah Mehsud told The Express Tribune from an undisclosed location that they (TTP) attacked the jail with hundreds of fighters. “The purpose was to free some of our men”, he said, adding “we attacked with 150 militants and took over the area for more than two hours.”

Among those freed was Adnan Rasheed, allegedly involved in a life attempt on former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. Inspector General Police, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Akbar Khan Hoti, said that the whole plan seemed to have been for the release of the top militant.

Adnan Rasheed was later recaptured by the security forces. He was freed again in the Dera Imael Khan prison raid.

Military-style assaults on Abu Ghraib

The Pakistani Taliban attack on Dera Ismael attack came just one week after a similar military-style assault on infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

According to media reports, suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of Abu Ghraib on July 21 night  and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.

Ten police officers and four militants were killed in the ensuing clashes, which continued until dawn, when military helicopters arrived, helping to regain control. By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by US soldiers.

"The number of escaped inmates has reached 500. Most of them were convicted senior members of al-Qaida and had received death sentences," Hakim al-Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament, told Reuters.

The military-style assaults on the Abu Ghraib prison came as Iraq witnessed unprecedented sectarian violence. More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq in July, the highest monthly death toll in five years. Iraq had never witnessed any sectarian violence before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis is attributed to the deliberate US policy of divide and rule that was fomally suggested by the semi-official think tank Rand Corporation in December 2005 to exploit Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world.

“The majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunni, but a significant minority, about 15 percent of the global Muslim population, are Shi’ites….. The expectations of Iraqi Shi’ites for a greater say in the governance of their country presents an opportunity for the United States to align its policy with Shi’ite aspirations for greater freedom of religious and political expression, in Iraq and elsewhere,” said the study titled US strategy in the Muslim World after 9/11.

Afghanistan's great escape: 480 Taliban prisoners broke out of jail in 2011

Since we are talking about prison attacks, it will be appropriate to recall Afghanistan's great prisoners escape in April 2011 when Taliban militants tunneled more than 480 inmates out from the Saraposa prison in the city of Kandahar, whisking them through a 1,000-foot-long underground passage they had dug over month.

Prison officials only discovered the breach about 4 a.m., about a half hour after the Taliban said they had gotten all the prisoners out.

The 1,200-inmate Sarposa prison has been part of a plan to bolster the government's presence in Kandahar. The facility underwent security upgrades and tightened procedures after a brazen 2008 Taliban attack freed 900 prisoners. In that assault, dozens of militants on motorbikes and two suicide bombers attacked the prison. One suicide bomber set off an explosives-laden tanker truck at the prison gate while a second bomber blew open an escape route through a back wall.

A man who claimed he helped organize those inside the prison told The Associated Press in a phone call that he and his accomplices obtained copies of the keys for the cells ahead of time from "friends." He did not say who those friends were, but his comments suggested possible collusion by prison guards.

The Guardian newspaper published graphic details of the Taliban operation:

 According to people involved in the break-out, the Taliban's great escape began with a team of  18 insurgents on the outside spending five months burrowing hundreds of metres underground  through the brown soil west of Kandahar city and into Sarpoza prison, taking their tunnel right into  the prison's political section where hundreds of Taliban were held.

 As the great escape was a break-in rather than a break-out, there was no need to surreptitiously  get rid of the earth inside the camp; according to one local media report, the Kandahar plotters  simply sold lorry loads of the earth in the city's bazaar from a tunnel stretching a reported 320  metres.

 According to one of the escapees, the tunnel was of sufficient diameter and high enough for the  prisoners to stand upright for most of their walk to freedom. Sections were lit by electric light and  ventilated with fans, he said.

 When the escapee prisoners got to a construction company compound at the end of the tunnel,  they were met by their commanders and taken off in cars to safe locations.

The Pakistani Taliban have perhaps taken cue from the Afghan Taliban to secure release of their comrades.

It may also be pointed out that the Taliban attacks on prisons came in the wake of US-financed military operations in Pakistan’s tribal territories along the border with Afghanistan.

The military operations, which have killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands others, continued behind a smoke screen. The mercenary army has taken thousands of 'militants' into custody since the operation was launched in 2004 at the behest of Washington.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Muslim League-Nawaz Party captured absolute majority seats in the parliament in May 11's tainted general elections, has shown inclination to hold peace talks with the TTP but Washington is against such talks.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.