On Sunday, fighters from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) stormed into Karachi’s international airport. They separated into skirmishing cells, throwing grenades and attempting to hijack planes. By the time they were stopped, 26 innocents lay dead, and footage of the blazing airport was broadcast across the world.
Yesterday the Taliban attacked the airport again. This time a band of motorcyclists sprayed a security post with machine-gun fire.
These attacks are the TTP in its truest form: a band of murderers willing do anything to extract concessions from the Pakistani government. Their message is clear: Unless you grant us full dominion over the tribal regions, our terrorism will continue.
For the United States and Pakistan, these attacks should offer four specific wakeup calls.
First, Pakistani intelligence must abandon its support of terrorist proxies.
In many ways, the TTP is a monster of the Pakistani military’s own making, long viewed by elements of the ISI as a proxy to buffer against Afghanistan and India. Do these latest attacks represent the essence of blowback? Put simply, Pakistan has enabled a resourceful, ideologically dedicated enemy that it cannot control. Allied with remnants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other hybrid Salafi-Jihadist-inclined foreign fighters, the TTP poses a critical threat to Pakistani security.
This is especially true in Karachi, where a few courageous security officials have been left to resist the TTP’s aggression. It’s a dangerous job. Back in January, Karachi’s security chief was assassinated for taking the fight to the TTP constantly. Pakistan’s intelligence services must get real. Fortunately, the new army chief (and most powerful man in the country), Raheel Sharif, has made tackling the TTP a top priority. We must hope that these attacks will give him the ability to assert a more unified and aggressive counterterrorism strategy.
Second, Pakistani politicians must end their flirtation with the TTP.
The TTP’s power is about politics as much as military capability. While Pakistan has long struggled with endemic political corruption and gross patronage networks, a uniquely absurd dynamic has been the political relationships that the TTP has formed. This is best illustrated by the Movement for Justice party’s truly idiotic flirtation with the group. Using the U.S. drone program for populist mobilization, Pakistani politicians have ignored the real threat in their midst. Moreover, in the utter failure of governance, the development of Pakistan’s infrastructure and economy have been stunted. These festering problems are a spring from which extremists find recruits and/or toleration.