The Pakistani Taleban's attack on the country's main airport a week ago was an encroachment that could not go unanswered. It was symbolically more damaging than attacks on military targets - including the army headquarters in Rawalpindi - as it froze civilian movements in a country not at war. No country could countenance the affront. The military's response came on Sunday, a welcome unified show of purpose to face up to a security danger that has grown as the powerful military and intelligence establishment found itself increasingly at odds with civilian leaders on how to check militancy.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan border badlands are the breeding ground of jihadi groups responsible for waging insurgencies and sneak attacks. Chechnya in southern Russia and lately Xinjiang in western China have been peripheral targets. But the most destructive handiwork of the Pakistani Taleban has been in Pakistan itself. Local cells are active in cities and villages. In an acknowledgment that the latest military operation could bring reprisals, the authorities have secured urban centres, military installations and soft targets like hospitals.
This is a cycle of punch and counter- punch that has troubled Pakistan ever since the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan, led by the United States, spawned ideological reactionaries who found the inaccessible Waziristan tribal region to be a cocoon inside which they could hatch plots. To an outside world fearful of mounting terrorist tendencies among religious dissidents, the Waziristan brew of doctrinal belief and militancy is similar to what has occurred in Yemen, Somalia and the Arabian peninsula. This is why hopes are riding on the Pakistani offensive succeeding where peace talks that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif began with the Pakistani Taleban had not borne results.
It is not only Pakistan's future that is on the line. Pakistanis may recall the determined rule of a strong leader like president Pervez Musharraf, who did what he could to keep harmful tendencies in check. But events in Afghanistan and now Syria and Iraq, where established order has dissolved under sectarian assault, have given freelance militants a stage on which to project their power and prejudices. Pakistan, in this contest, has been a prize to fight for as it is a volatile nation with a huge Muslim population which happens to have a nuclear arsenal.
It will be a calamity if Pakistan succumbs. A potent front for jihadism opening up in a South Asia of two nuclear states would be unthinkable. It is to be hoped the Karachi airport breach will have shown Pakistan's feuding power centres that their enemy is adept at exploiting leadership fissures.
This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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