ISLAMABAD — An IED attack on a paramilitary convoy in Peshawar on Sunday has once again drawn attention to Pakistan’s lack of suitable vehicles to combat what will likely remain terrorists’ favored mode of attack.
The Associated Press of Pakistan quoted an official saying the IED was composed of mortar rounds and improvised explosives weighing some 40 kilograms hidden in a car parked by the roadside and detonated once the convoy drew close.
However, nearby women and children appeared to make up the majority of the 14 dead and approximately 20 injured.
Nevertheless, it has highlighted the continuing threat from such devices, and the lack of suitable MRAP vehicles in sufficient number for the security services.
The threat was further underlined today by the death of four soldiers in and IED attack near Miranshah in Northern Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan.
With the drawdown of ISAF forces in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan has been mentioned in media reports as being in line to receive some surplus US equipment.
The equipment does not include MRAP vehicles, many of which are reported to be scrapped in Afghanistan.
When contacted for clarification on what surplus equipment Pakistan may receive, the US Embassy here in Islamabad could not provide details.
A spokesperson for the Embassy said, “Military gear that has been determined to be excess defense articles will not be brought back with US forces from Afghanistan as they redeploy elsewhere. The United States intends to offer this equipment to Afghanistan and other partners, but no final determinations have been made yet.”
The spokesperson further stated, “It is premature to speculate on what may be provided and to whom.”
Neither Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence, nor the military’s Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) media branch replied to requests for clarification, or indeed confirmation that surplus MRAP vehicles were offered to Pakistan, but declined.
Pakistan’s indigenous MRAP vehicle, the Burraq, manufactured by the state-owned Heavy Industries Taxila AFV builder, also appears nowhere in sight despite Defense News being told in March it was only a matter of months from finally being unveiled.
Former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, said there could be a good reason for such an offer being declined.
“Of course it would be attractive to acquire such vehicles” he said, “but the associated problems are probably too great to make this practicable.”
While highlighting that MRAP vehicles are becoming increasingly important in global conflicts, Cloughley says, “costs and practicalities have to be considered.
“First of all, the vehicles are enormously expensive. Pakistan simply couldn’t afford a state-of-the-art MRAP vehicle. But even if they were donated by the US on grounds that they were surplus stock [and even then, Congress might not give approval], the operating and maintenance costs would be enormous,” he said.
With Pakistan beset with crippling economic woes, keeping finances tight is a major concern for the military, but operational costs, especially against the Taliban, are already prohibitively expensive.
“It is all too often forgotten that Pakistan is finding it extremely difficult to meet the day-to-day costs of military operations in the Tribal Areas, where so many thousands of its soldiers have died in the conflict that erupted after Afghanistan went critical,” says Cloughley.
“The expense of running ordinary resupply vehicles, alone, is extremely high. Factor in a brand-new type of vehicle, with requirement for training, and staggering running and maintenance costs, and it’s a very big problem indeed,” he adds.
If the door on surplus US counter-IED equipment has closed, the two day visit of UK Prime Minister David Cameron over the weekend may offer something of an alternative.
A joint statement issued during the visit said, “The UK will work in partnership with Pakistan providing expertise in support of Pakistan’s developing strategy on counter terrorism. The UK will provide more equipment to tackle the scourge of improvised explosive devices and support Pakistan in improving the security of its infrastructure, including sharing the UK’s expertise in safeguarding sporting events.”
However, the details of this offer are not known, and despite requests no clarification was forthcoming from the UK’s High Commission here in Islamabad, with a spokesperson referring Defense News back to the joint statement.
It appears to be part of or a follow-on from similar efforts announced in April 2011 as part of the Anglo-Pakistani Strategic Dialogue.
At the time, a spokesman at the High Commission said Britain welcomed “Pakistan’s efforts to develop a national counter-IED strategy aimed at combating this phenomenon using a holistic, interagency approach.”
Britain was to help establish “a ‘center of excellence’ that will train and equip front-line law enforcement and security forces to deal with IED threats whenever and wherever they occur.”
British help would also extend to dealing with the aftermath of IED attacks, specifically “training experts to make sure that forensic evidence can be recovered from IEDs,” in order to strengthen the legal cases against terrorist suspects and those suspected of manufacturing and using IEDs.
This latter aspect was not thought to be a specific strong point of Pakistan’s security and law enforcement bodies at the time.