With the Taliban launching yet another attack on the Karachi airport on Tuesday, Pakistani authorities are bound to be more cautious in declaring the country’s largest airport ready for resumption of services. The latest assault came less than 48 hours after a midnight strike on Sunday on the airport, taking the fight right to the tarmac, leaving observers guessing at the audacious aims the suicide attackers may have had in mind. It, too, has been claimed by the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban), or the Pakistani Taliban as they are more commonly known, militants headquartered in the country’s tribal regions. The attack coincided with — some say was hastened by — military operations in North Waziristan against their brethren. In any case, given the recent haziness over the status of the TTP’s peace talks with the civilian government and perceived divisions within their own ranks after a change in leadership in recent months, it should remove any doubt that may have remained about the TTP’s strength as well as its intent. The challenge before the state in Pakistan — before the civilian government keen to assert some political control as well as the military looking to reorganise the chess board ahead of the American drawdown in Afghanistan — is to infuse clarity in its articulation of the country’s security situation.
The lack of such clarity is, for the most part, a consequence of and a cause for the war being waged by the TTP and its affiliate groups. It is believed that there are divisions in the Taliban on talking peace with the government. The erstwhile dominant Mehsud faction is said to back talks; they lost their clout after a non-Mehsud, Mullah Fazlullah, took over leadership after Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike. The ferocity of the attack on Karachi has obviously dispelled expectations that these divisions would diminish the TTP threat. But even as the security forces take on the TTP squarely, the entire spectrum of militant organisations operating from Pakistani soil, with their varying degrees of separation from both the deep state and the TTP core group, needs come into focus. Groups like the Haqqani network, for instance, and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The security challenge before Pakistan is no less than to begin a reversal in its tolerance of, and sanctuary to, such “assets” — and to see the reversal as not just an international demand, but one needed in its national interest.
Attacks like the one on Karachi also pose a great challenge to India. While responsibly taking stock of the terrorist threat out of Pakistan, it needs to nuance its response with a substantive outreach to make clear to Islamabad that it is ready to invest politically in any transformation aimed at stabilising the country.