Jailbreak attack boosts Taliban confidence and exposes government weaknesses

Policemen and ranger soldiers stand outside the prison following the Taliban attack. Photo: REUTERS/Stringer

They knew it was coming.

Pakistani officials received intelligence of an impending attack on the jail two weeks ago. But prison officials say they didn't expect it to come as soon as last night.

The jailbreak, which freed around 300 prisoners, many of them Taliban militants, isn't just embarrassing for Pakistan's government.

It will boost the numbers of fighters determined to take on the state and it will boost the confidence of the Taliban that they can continue the fight in areas where the state is clearly weak.

Burnt rooms inside the prison after the midnight raid. Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

The attack was well planned and brazen. The Taliban say they sent a hundred fighters and seven suicide bombers to storm the jail. They cut the electricity cables, plunging the prison into darkness and then detonated bombs at the wall, allowing them to storm the jail, call for the prisoners they most wanted with loudhailers, and leave with a small army of jihadi fighters.

The attack shows the capability of the militants and the lack of capacity of the government to control the Tribal areas and those close to them. This was a heavily guarded jail and although the Taliban attacked in force, it was an attack that could have been repelled.

Policemen collect evidence today outside the prison. Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

The identities of the prisoners isn't clear but several commanders are among them.

It is a carbon copy of a raid last year that freed around 400 Taliban militants, a raid that almost certainly involved inside information and help.

The Prime Minister now has a hard choice to make. He has promised talks with the insurgents for months. But he may now have to accept that the use of force against them is unavoidable.

And all this on the day Pakistan chooses a new President. The timing of the jailbreak is, perhaps, no coincidence.