Pakistan in peril: Taliban’s deadly airport attack illustrates the menace

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On Monday, Pakistani Taliban forces brazenly attacked the international airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and business capital, leaving 36 dead. The attack, made possible when gunmen sneaked through security checkpoints, shut down the country’s largest airport for 14 hours and is the latest embarrassment for the Pakistani military.

The Afghan Taliban, nurtured and supported by the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the country’s powerful spy agency, as a hedge against India and Afghanistan has emerged as a Frankensteinian threat to its creator. The ISI still allegedly supports the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, which carried out the 2011 U.S. embassy bombing in Kabul and was responsible for holding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl captive.

But after the 2001 NATO invasion, veterans of the conflict established Tehrik-i-Taliban, or the Pakistani Taliban, whose aim is to destabilize the Pakistani state. The Karachi attack is the latest strike in their decadelong Islamist insurgency, which seems able to attack any target at will: naval bases, army headquarters and countless market squares.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been pursuing reconciliation with the Pakistani Taliban, which has splintered over the talks. But peace seems far at hand now. On Tuesday, the Taliban struck the airport a second time and the Pakistani military launched fresh airstrikes against military hideouts in the country’s Khyber region.

Like the scientist Victor Frankenstein in the Mary Shelley novel, the Pakistani military seems unwilling or unable to kill off the monster it has unwittingly created, no matter how much instability it causes in the region. 

The Pakistani army’s outdated fixation on India left it blind to the serious, existential threat that the Taliban now poses.

Perhaps the latest crisis will motivate it to fully combat the Pakistani Taliban in order to avoid in the long run the failed-state fate of its Afghan neighbor.

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