The aftermath


The terrorist attack on Karachi airport that started on Sunday night appeared, at least according to official sources, to be over by Monday afternoon, when the military authorities declared the airport purged and flights resumed. However, on Tuesday there were unconfirmed reports of some more terrorists than the 10 killed being found and engaged within the airport complex. The total toll so far is 30 killed, including the 10 terrorists, and 26 injured. However, by all accounts at least seven more people died after being trapped in a cold storage facility where they had sought shelter, in the midst of a raging fire and the inability of rescue teams to reach them. The attack itself centred on a peripheral part of the airport complex, a terminal no longer used for passenger traffic except for VIP flights and largely for cargo operations. Perhaps that is why the security in that area had loopholes in it. The area in question may have been peripheral, but it gave the attackers access to the main terminals and planes parked on the tarmac. The attackers came armed with rockets that fortunately missed the planes. The ‘absent’ interior minister, when he finally surfaced in Karachi on Monday, said three planes had been slightly damaged, but by and large the assets of the airport were safe. The identity of the terrorists will be confirmed after tests, but visually they have been reported to have Central Asian features, and the first guess was they could be Uzbeks. This suggestion should be placed in the context of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) claim of responsibility, in which they said they had been aided in the attack by ‘allies’. If any further proof were needed, this incident highlights the existence of a ‘Terror International’ in our tribal areas, particularly North Waziristan (NW). Although the TTP claimed the attack was in revenge for their leader Hakeemullah Mehsud’s death in a drone strike, they added for good measure that it was also in retaliation for recent air strikes on their hideouts in FATA. Reports say further retaliatory air strikes were carried out in NW on Tuesday, in which nine hideouts were destroyed and 20-30 militants killed. Earlier reports that Indian-made arms and medicines had been recovered from the dead terrorists set off a chain of assumptions that our neighbour was behind the attack. This is just one more example of irresponsible media (particularly electronic) reporting. The Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad and the Indian External Affairs Ministry have denied any Indian role in these events and condemned the attack in no uncertain terms. Both Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and Information Minister Pervez Rashid found it convenient to blame a ‘foreign hand’, a theory that usually means an attempt to shift the blame and escape responsibility. However, there is no escape from such situations. The interior minister in particular, and the federal government in general have been roundly criticised for their lack of visible presence and tackling the crisis in Karachi. This has set off the latest round of the blame game, with the Sindh and federal governments now at daggers drawn over the perceived lack of help from Islamabad. The opposition in parliament has decried the ‘paralysis’ of the federal government and asked for Chaudhry Nisar’s head. The prime minister on the other hand has called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security to address the situation arising from the Karachi events.
The trajectory of events on the terrorist front since the PML-N government was elected to office last year makes an interesting study. The government had virtually hamstrung its policy options by putting all its eggs in the talks basket. Now when that approach appears all but dead in the water, the government appears confused, irresolute and directionless. As was our consistent analysis in this space since the talks process was mooted, it had little, if any, chance of success. Now that its failure is manifest, it appears that willy nilly the government is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into taking on the terrorists head on. In any case, this was likely to be the logical outcome of the government’s attempted nuanced policy of ‘restraint, containment and retaliation’, particularly the last part, which was bound to set in motion a dynamic that would burst these boundaries sooner or later. That moment has now arrived. There is therefore no time left for prevarication and policy paralysis. The government must itself take the initiative to mount a decisive offensive against the terrorists.  *

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Aaj Kal