The latest Pakistani Taliban attack at the country’s largest airport is one of the most brazen, deadly assaults by the Islamist group. But as FRANCE 24’s Leela Jacinto notes, there have been similar attacks in the past.
For passengers on board various commercial flights Sunday night at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, the nightmare began slowly, with few realising exactly what was going on in the country’s busiest airport.
“I think some local airline got hijacked by terrorists,” tweeted Syed Saim Rizvi, who was on a flight. “I can see army jawan are on run way [sic] now,” noted Rizvi, using the common Pakistani term for army soldiers.
As the minutes and hours ticked by, Rizvi’s Twitter feed reflected the shock and horror in a country that’s no stranger to violence. “Huge blast !!!!!! I do not know whats going on out side -- heavy firing started again - full panic on board!” he tweeted.
By the end of his ordeal, Rizvi displayed the courage, resilience and humour that characterises residents of this teeming, vibrant, but violent city. “Never seen such a quick, responsive, accurate, calculated, modern, highly equip counter major action what Pak Army did today. Hollywood fail,” he noted.
Despite a professional response by the Pakistani security services, there’s little doubt that the security forces failed once again to thwart a major terrorist attack on the country’s busiest airport in Pakistan’s commercial capital.
By all accounts the overnight attack on the Jinnah International Airport has been one of the most brazen ones ever conducted by the Pakistani Taliban. But there have been similar attacks on military installations in the past.
A timeline of these attacks published by the Pakistani daily, The Express Tribune, lists a spate of assaults on military installations dating back to 2009.
Many Pakistanis are seeing similarities between the latest attack and a May 2011 assault on the Mehran Naval Base near Karachi, when the Tehrik-i-Taliban, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, launched a sophisticated attack on a highly secure compound using snipers, suicide vests, grenades and rocket launchers.
The attack, which took around 12 hours to bring under control, killed 18 military personnel and 15 militants.
Back in 2011, the militants entered the military installation by cutting a wire fence on a remote part of the base at night. Dressed entirely in black to avoid being spotted by security cameras, they then proceeded to storm three hangars housing naval aircraft on the base.
Pakistani media have been reporting that the Taliban used a similar strategy to enter the Karachi airport Sunday night. According to local reports, militants accessed the old terminal, which is now used for executive and charter flights, by cutting a wire fence in a more isolated part of the airport.
Uzbeks and the ‘foreign hand’
Shortly after the 2011 Mehran base attack, Pakistani officials noted that a “foreign hand” was behind the assault and that at least three militants were Uzbek.
Three years later, Pakistan's paramilitary force has also said that the attackers were
Pakistani officials often blame foreign militants holed up in lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border for staging attacks. There are of course foreign fighters in the tribal regions like Waziristan and it must be said that the Pakistani military often use the word “Uzbek” for other foreign fighters such as Chechens.
But it’s fairly credible that the Karachi airport attackers could include Uzbeks – most likely fighters from the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan).
This is a group that originated in the Fergana Valley, an Islamist hotbed that straddles the border regions of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The aim of the IMU was to oust the Uzbek secular strongman Islam Karimov and establish an Islamic state. But the group faced a brutal clampdown in the late 1990s, forcing fighters to move south towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At that time, most of Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban who were waging a pitched battle against the late Afghan resistance hero Ahmad Shah Massoud’s forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir region.
According to US media reports, at some point the Pakistani military intelligence service, the secretive ISI, realised that the IMU was “an ideal proxy” in the region for Pakistan, which was at the time aligned with the Taliban. By the late 1990s, when Massoud was barely hanging on in his struggle against the Taliban, sponsoring the IMU provided a way for the ISI to put additional pressure on him from the north.
The situation changed after the 9/11 attacks, when Uzbek militants in the tribal South Waziristan region were targeted by US drone strikes.
US and Pakistani officials have confirmed that IMU co-founder Tahir Yuldashev was killed in an airstrike in August 2009.
Estimates of the number of Uzbek fighters in Pakistan range from 500 to 5,000.
But there is little doubt that Uzbeks have a reputation as fierce, disciplined and driven fighters. Although they do not share tribal or linguistic ties with the Pashtun groups in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, they are often considered radical takfiris, hardened by their struggle against Uzbek strongman Karimov.
This does not mean that all the militants in the latest attack were Uzbeks. Details of the attackers and how they managed to stage such a brazen attack on Pakistan’s commercial heartland are likely to emerge in the days and weeks to come.
Date created : 2014-06-09