By Ruth Conniff
The dual attacks earlier this week on the airport complex in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, mark a new level of brazenness by the Taliban.
A Pakistani Taliban assault on the Karachi international airport that began Sunday left dozens dead. And, in an audacious gesture, members of the group on Tuesday fired shots at a nearby training facility.
The consequences of the incidents are serious for Pakistan, since they happened in a city that provides roughly one-third of the country’s GDP and handles almost all of its foreign trade.
“The fact that the airport was attacked leaves open the question of which international airlines will continue to fly into the city, and will it continue to function as the commercial center it has been,” Rafia Zakaria, who grew up in Karachi and is a columnist for Pakistan’s premier newspaper Dawn, tells The Progressive. “There are no emerging answers and no comprehensive plans that can address this.”
Pakistan has long taken an ambivalent approach to militant groups operating from its soil, nurturing those it considers strategic assets against Afghanistan and India while going after those it considers threats to the Pakistani state. A recent book by New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall even alleges that the Pakistani security apparatus knowingly sheltered Osama bin Laden.
And the Pakistani establishment’s attitude still hasn’t changed. Instead of confronting the Taliban, it prefers to cast blame on India. Pakistan’s interior minister said “the attackers appeared to be foreign nationals, while the weapons they used also hinted towards a certain country.”
But the chances that Pakistan’s archrival India was responsible range from slim to none. In fact, the Taliban has already claimed responsibility for the Sunday airport assault, saying it was revenge for a U.S. drone strike that eliminated the group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, last November.
“Sadly the continued presence of the United States (drones and CIA operations) casts a wide shadow of imperialist meddling, which obscures the fact that this is an ideological battle that Pakistanis have to fight themselves,” says Zakaria. “Furthermore, American involvement continues to strengthen the Pakistani military—not the civilian institutions—which again leave a country that is dominated by the military and is unable to have the people's will reflected in its foreign policy and security directions.”
In response to the Sunday airport attack, the Pakistani military has launched an operation in the country’s tribal areas that has already killed more than a dozen individuals, and a major campaign seems imminent. There will be a lot of suffering for the civilian population but no end in sight to the messy policies of the Pakistani government that led to this pass.