COMMENT Pakistan's enemy within
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - The terrorist attack on Pakistan's largest airport on June 8 in Karachi was an attempt to disable the country's aviation system and cut communications from the rest of the world.
Though the security forces thwarted the bid by 10 heavily armed terrorists, all reportedly Uzbeks, after a five-hour battle into Monday morning, the attack raises many questions and international concerns over the poor state of security and failure of intelligence agencies in the nuclear armed country.
Just 48 hours after attack on the airport, terrorists attacked an
Airport Security Force camp nearby on Tuesday, June 10. The attack was repulsed and the attackers managed to flee. Responsibility for both attacks was claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistani Taliban is allied and well-connected with international militant networks. Uzbek fighters were involved in the airport attack, which killed 37, according to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an Al-Qaeda affiliate. The attack was carried out, according to some reports, as revenge for the latest air strikes with fighter jets by the Pakistan Army. The IMU is believed to have been based in the country's northwestern tribal areas since the US-led attack on Afghanistan in 2001. No doubt, Pakistan is the victim of international terrorism.
The airport attack underlines questions over Pakistan's ill-preparedness to fight the terrorist menace. Following the attack, a blame game developed between the federal government and Sindh's provincial government, with each trying to shift responsibility for securing the airport complex on each others' shoulders.
This and several such attacks in the past indicate a serial failure by the country's security and intelligence agencies. The 2009 attack on Pakistan' military headquarter s in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, the 2011 attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi, and last year's attack on the Minhas airbase may be cited as the major security failures. However, there is also a long list of attacks on police training centers, police stations, security check posts and jail-breaks across the country over the past five years.
The airport attack actually reflects the enormity of challenges the country faces on the security front. It also indicates the state's state of confusion, and reluctance to cope with the terrorism issue on a priority basis. It is amid this lack of seriousness that the TTP has now emerged as the strongest militant outfit in the country's tribal areas along the Afghanistan border.
It is aggressively following an expansionist agenda, making its presence felt almost all over the country. Now it is in a position to carry out its terrorist operations anywhere in Pakistan. It has so far launched thousands of attacks that have killed over 50,000 Pakistani citizens. Many slum areas in Karachi are now under the control of the Pakistani Taliban, and they hit their targets in the country wherever they want.
In comparison, the Pakistani government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif does not look serious about undertaking a full-scale military operation against the extremists in their strongholds in the tribal region. The Sharif government still wants to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, who also welcome dialogue to get space.
The government is still confused, while the TTP continue to target law enforcement personnel, armed forces, civilians and strategic installations. Even though the Pakistan Army this week decided to intensify air strikes on militant hideouts, it seems that the Sharif government is dealing with the terrorism issue from a position of weakness, while militants enjoy the position of strength.
Pakistan is fighting a war which is also being fought by NATO countries and the US. The international community must help the country in fighting for a global cause. Pakistan and its spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), has been blamed several times for having secret connections with Afghan Taliban groups, but the involvement of anti-Pakistan forces in fueling unrest in the nuclear-armed nation has not duly been reported and criticized.
Destabilizing Pakistan means weakening a key ally in the US-led war on terror. Unfortunately, Pakistan and ISI bashing by some rival states has become a fashion, even though the Pakistan Army and the ISI have been on the war's frontline, and paid heavy costs as a consequence.
Besides internal security lapses, some foreign rival forces are settling scores with Pakistan at a time when it is on the frontline position in the global war on terror. TTP's current chief Mullah Fazlullah has found a safe haven in Afghanistan from where he orchestrates attacks on targets inside Pakistan. He is believed to enjoy the support of officials of Afghan intelligence and India's intelligence unit, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). India-made arms and weapons were reportedly recovered from the airport attackers.
The TTP actually reflects an India-Afghan intelligence nexus, which is fiercely anti-Pakistan. This nexus may have gained strength after the installation of the right-wing Hindu nationalist administration of Prime Minister Narendara Modi in New Delhi last month. India's increased diplomatic presence in Afghanistan may enhance the operational capacity of the TTP but also of militant separatist groups in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province.
Pakistan's sacrifices in the war on terror are greater than any other state. Today, no place is safe in Pakistan, including mosques, temples, churches, saints' shrines, markets, schools, hospitals, courts and civilian transport. Even feeling safe has become an abnormal feeling in the terror-hit country.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US will have to join hands if they really want to defeat the terrorists, who cannot be classified as "good or bad", as they follow the same ideology of extremism. On the other hand, Pakistan will have to take a serious decision to root out the terrorist bases in its restive tribal region.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider (http://www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004). He can be contacted at[email protected]