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Air war is breaking the Pakistani government—but not the Taliban

An attack on Karachi airport exposed how weak the deadly conflict has left Pakistan’s rulers, writes Geoff Brown

Issue No. 2408

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif (Pic: Official photo by Z A Balti)


Ten members of the Pakistani Taliban, wearing security uniforms and carrying fake ID, attacked Karachi airport earlier this month.

There were five hours of intense fighting before police retook control and 15 hours before the airport re-opened. 

At least 36 people died in the attack, including all ten Taliban. A day later the airport was closed again following a further, smaller, Taliban attack.  

The Pakistani state was unable to stop the Taliban shutting down a key facility of its largest city, with around 20 million inhabitants. 

This is despite its huge military and intelligence services, and a specialised army unit covering the airport.

As the Taliban announced afterwards, the attack was in response to last month’s air attacks on North Waziristan in the Pashtun tribal area. 

The air strikes killed nearly 100 civilians and forced thousands to flee. 

The cargo terminal that was attacked is used to transport military equipment to help the Kabul government.

Drone

The US has now resumed hated drone attacks on Waziristan. This follows a six month pause during which Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, tried and failed to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban.

Over a ten year period the drone strikes killed thousands in Waziristan—possibly as many as 3,646 according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This includes civilians numbering possibly more than 1,000, and several hundred children.

Restarting the strikes is a risky strategy that opens up the threat of “blowback”. 

This is highlighted by the collapse of the al-Maliki regime in northern Iraq and the withdrawal of US and Nato units from Afghanistan this year.  

Nawaz Sharif’s government is committed to launching a new offensive in Waziristan as a condition of the ongoing £600 million a year in US military aid it receives.

Nawaz Sharif enjoys the support of big business. But much of Pakistan’s ruling class see no prospect of winning in Waziristan and oppose this operation. 

They believe that the army collaborated with right wing religious organisations to sabotage negotiations with the Taliban.

A new offensive now underway in Waziristan involving 300,000 troops will only further increase the flow of refugees. Many come to Karachi to join relatives and look for work. 

Even here they will find no peace. Since September the Pashtun communities in Karachi have faced daily “counter-terrorism” raids by police and paramilitaries. Hundreds have been killed in shootouts and thousands more arrested.  

Now the Taliban look stronger than ever in Karachi. It is beginning to replace the traditional Pashtun parties in controlling large parts of the city. This base made the well-planned attack on the airport possible.  

By contrast support for the pro-business Nawaz Sharif government is falling amid an energy crisis, with load shedding—power cuts—of ten hours a day and more. The government is failing to solve this. Instead it is privatising the power industry.  

A mass strike earlier this year in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan’s northernmost area, shows the possibility of a fightback by working people. Tens of thousands came on the streets and stopped the government from removing the bread subsidy.

 


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Article information

International
Tue 17 Jun 2014, 17:14 BST
Issue No. 2408
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