Nurtured and nourished by the Pakistani state as a bulwark against its enemies, the Taliban now poses a direct challenge to its own godfather. The armed Islamic militancy was created by the establishment in Islamabad as a means of protecting the country from what they thought of as an existential threat from India. But the group has become a threat to its own people and now calls into question the existence of the Islamic republic.
The two back-to-back daring attacks at Karachi International Airport over the past couple of days demonstrate the strength of the Pakistani Taliban and their direct challenge to the same authorities that honed the Taliban for decades, hoping to use them against Afghanistan. Militants attacked a security training camp on Tuesday just outside the airport. The fire fight there lasted for one hour and ended without any casualties, but created a panic in the country.
The incident happened on a day when Pakistan’s security forces killed 15 insurgents in an aerial bombing in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, in the northwest of the country that hosts a large number of terrorist hideouts.
The military offensive is believed to be in response to Sunday’s attack at the airport by the Taliban which claimed around 40 lives, including those of 10 infiltrators.
Tehrik-e -Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took responsibility for the aggression and said that the attack was in retaliation to the killing of its chief last year in a drone attack. The group vowed to launch such an offensive again if security forces keep the operation going in the Khyber Agency.
It is an open secret that the TTP received sustenance and support from Pakistan’s ISI (Inter Service Intelligence) and has been one of the ISI’s tools for fomenting trouble in Afghanistan and other neighboring states. Carlotta Gall in her book The Wrong Enemy vividly describes the role of the ISI, military establishment, and other state agencies in protecting and nurturing the Taliban when they were chased away from Afghanistan.
The attack in Karachi should act as an eye opener not only for the elected government in Islamabad but also other stakeholders in Pakistan – ISI and the army in particular – to stop feeding milk to snakes in the belief that they are going to bite the enemy.
Karachi International Airport is Pakistan’s gateway to the world. With the security situation deteriorating, if some of the international airlines stop flying to Pakistan it would deliver a big blow to the prestige of the nation.
With the nation’s existence and credibility at stake, the government in Islamabad cannot afford to stretch out the futile talks with the insurgents. The dialogue does not serve any purpose; it only grants the Taliban more time to regroup and prepare.
The Express Tribune in an editorial writes that “it is obvious from this point on the peace process is over. It had never really begun in the first place.Essentially, the black network of terror has spread out across our country. The war is at our door. The question now is how effectively we can fight back and what tools we can use for this purpose.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, The News says that “this is an attack so damaging to the government that it will have no choice but to continue pushing back in North Waziristan. Even if it does not end up achieving anything it may appear to give the government greater comfort than admitting that it is helpless in the face of the militant threat.”
The overwhelming sentiment in the country is in favor of launching an all out war against the Taliban. Can the Pakistani government do that?
“Any action against the Taliban, as ever, is fraught with skullduggery and politics. There is little indication that, for all its tough talk against the Taliban, Pakistan’s military has abandoned its decades-old policy of indulging some militant groups, like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, who have been willing to further the army’s foreign policy aims,” asserts Declan Walsh in The New York Times.
Pakistan is passing through a critical phase in its history. It faces a serious existential crisis from a number of extremist religious groups. It needs a united front now more than ever.