In its increasingly violent effort to destroy the Pakistani state, the Pakistani Taliban have attacked, among other targets, army headquarters in Rawalpindi, a naval base in Karachi, an air base in Kamra and an airport in Peshawar. The brazen assault over the weekend on the international airport in Karachi takes the campaign to a new level, striking at the country’s largest city and one of its most important commercial centers. Though militants and gangs operate freely there, Karachi is home to Pakistan’s central bank, a stock exchange and its hopes for desperately needed economic resurgence.
Will this be the crisis that finally persuades Pakistan’s government and its powerful military to acknowledge the Taliban’s pernicious threat and confront it in a comprehensive way? It should be. The attack is proof that the security is crumbling and the military, the country’s strongest institution, is in danger of losing control.
The siege lasted five hours after 10 gunmen, disguised as security forces and armed with rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests, breached checkpoints near an old terminal used mostly for cargo or private flights for senior government officials and business leaders. Paramilitary security guards pinned them down; when the firefight was over, the militants and 19 others were dead.
It was another humiliating security breach for the army and the spy service, and many Pakistanis are rightly wondering why it was not prevented. Only weeks ago, the Pakistani Taliban appeared to be fractured and in disarray. One reason is the military’s long fixation with India. Wedded to an outmoded vision of India as the mortal enemy, the army plays a double-game, taking American aid while supporting and exploiting Taliban groups as a hedge against India and Afghanistan, and ignoring the peril that the militants have come to pose to Pakistan itself. While that attitude has slowly begun to change, the army still has not assigned enough urgency to the Taliban, the real threat.
The result has been a total absence of any sustained, coherent military response to the militants. Torn between fighting and negotiating, the army and government have undertaken episodic military strikes interspersed with peace talks, which invariably fall apart. The collapse of the most recent peace process undertaken by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February was followed by a campaign of airstrikes against Taliban strongholds in North Waziristan.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the airport massacre, which a Taliban spokesman said was in retaliation for recent attacks by the government. He said that more such assaults could be expected, meanwhile insisting that the group still wants to revive peace talks.
Which on the face of it seems preposterous — given recent events, one has to assume the militants will stop at nothing until the state is utterly destabilized and they have taken control. Pakistani political and military leaders need to be honest about the militant threat that they and their people are facing, and that time to find a solution is fast running out.
Courtesy: The New York Times