The terrible attack on Karachi’s Jinnah Airport which left, at least, 30 dead at the end of several hours of fear, exposes just what the Taliban intend to do to our country, and also how grave the security threat that we face is. The terrorists, 12 of whom died during the gunfire which raged at the airport for over five hours, ending at dawn, June 9, had obviously planned this attack as skilfully and precisely as those in the past.
They broke into the airport disguised as security personnel through the old Hajj Terminal and an unused engineering terminal, fully aware these were the weakest security points at the airport. A building was set ablaze, havoc created as security personnel fought back against the militants, some of whom, at least, detonated suicide vests. Others were killed by bullets.
Fortunately, no aircraft was set on fire, although there were reported attempts to do so and reportedly, even an attempted hijack. Among the dead were eight ASF personnel, two Rangers officials, one police officer and three PIA officials, including a young trainee flight engineer. Over two dozen people were injured in the attack. Passengers aboard various aircraft parked at the airport described sounds of loud blasts and general terror as the long gunfight continued. The airport was closed after the incident, though the prime minister has given directions for it to be reopened as quickly as possible.
Clearly, for the government, signs of normalcy are important in any country. But things are not normal. We are engaged in a bitter war, with the Taliban claiming the assault on the airport was intended as revenge for air strikes in tribal areas. The war in these remote parts of the country, when it comes into our cities, seems to engulf us all. It is no longer a remote event from which we are largely detached. The Taliban have also warned there will be more such attacks. This is hardly a comforting idea. Lahore and Islamabad airports are already on high alert as are other sensitive installations in the country. It is obvious from this point on the peace process is over. It had never really begun in the first place.
A meeting of the National Security Council, chaired by the prime minister, is due to take place within days. It is obviously very badly needed. We have a situation of chaos once again. The Karachi Airport attack is no minor incident. It highlights the worst sort of intelligence failure on the part of the state and reveals that the militants are able to reach our most carefully guarded centres at will and destroy what lies within them. For how long can we rely on luck? How many lives can we continue to sacrifice to terrorists? In this case, it is thought they may have had logistical support from areas in Karachi to carry out this operation, notwithstanding the claim of senior security officials that the attacker were ‘Uzbek’.
Essentially, the black network of terror has spread out across our country. We seem to have found no way to grasp a strand which can help us disentangle it and free people from the menacing web that enwraps them. It has been noted that the audacious airport attack targeted essentially civilians, though the bulk of those who lost their lives were members of the security forces. The war is at our door. The question now is how effectively we can fight back and what tools we can use for this purpose.
Yes our security set-up needs to work better. Yes, our personnel on the ground probably need better training. But, it is also worth noting they fought back bravely against the terrorists who invaded the airport in the dark of the night, giving up their own lives to save others. What more can be expected of them? We must also go further and address the roots of terrorism by offering to people the development and opportunities they so badly need to escape the trap that attracts the militants and makes attacks such as this possible.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2014.
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