Barbaric attacks

Close on the heels of an audacious attack on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, the Tehereek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has struck again at a training academy for airport security forces.

The twin attacks indicate that the TTP’s military capacity and reach is not confined to Pakistan’s tribal areas but extends into the heart of its commercial capital, Karachi. Karachi airport is among Pakistan’s most tightly guarded installations and that the TTP was able to breach its defences suggests it had substantial insider information and help. Its close ties with elements in the police and military have been exposed again. TTP terrorists who stormed the airport on Sunday night were heavily armed and carried supplies to last several days. Clearly, their siege of the airport was aimed at something bigger, perhaps the hijack of a commercial airliner.

A week ago, the TTP was grappling with a vertical split in the organisation. The attacks over the last few days indicate that its capacity for destruction is very much intact. While the TTP alone claimed responsibility for the siege of Karachi airport, among the attackers were Uzbek, Chechen and Arab fighters, pointing to a possible TTP-al Qaeda joint operation. The TTP has attacked state installations, such as the Mehran naval base in 2011, and the Minhas airbase and Peshawar airport in 2012. It could be eyeing Pakistan’s nuclear installations too. An attack on a nuclear installation would be catastrophic; its impact global. The international community cannot afford to ignore any longer Pakistan’s half-hearted, indeed selective attempts at fighting terrorism.

The military has responded swiftly to the Karachi attacks by launching aerial strikes on the TTP’s hideouts in the mountains of the border areas. But acting against the TTP alone is of little use. Across-the-board action against all terror outfits, even those seen to be pro-Pakistan is essential. Importantly, the military needs to strike at the nerve centre of terrorism, which thrives within the military, inside the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to be more specific. The ISI masterminds who use terror organisations as tools of foreign policy need to be eliminated. The military and the ISI need to purge themselves of terror apologists. They are operating in the open and in the heart of its cities, as the attack on Karachi airport underscores. Action to identify and eliminate them will not be difficult. It only needs political will.

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