Why Did the Taliban Attack Jinnah International Airport in Karachi? And Where Does it Go From Here?
Sunday saw an unexpected Taliban attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan carried out, and since news of the assault first broke, international media has been awaiting more news surrounding the attacker's plot, and what will happen next. For the time being, the airport has been secured, retaken after a long, bloody night of firefights that left 29 people dead — the 10 Taliban attackers, 11 airport security workers, five airline officials, and three more unknown victims. Now, with a little distance and a little time, reporting on the backgrounds of the assailants is beginning to trickle forth.
Who Were the Militants?
It's the opinion of Pakistan's paramilitary force that the 10 attackers were from Uzbek in ethnic origin, hailing from a country that's no stranger to extreme Islamic militarism. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was formed in 1991 as an effort to overthrow the country's first and only President, Islam Karimov, who rose to power through the USSR's Communist Party and hasn't relinquished it since. Karimov is, in simplest terms, a strongman dictator in the mold of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak: the kind of "President" who wins elections with over 90 percent of the vote.
Amid this tumultuous political terrain, Uzbekistan's militants increasingly allied themselves with the Taliban in Afghanistan, who enforced a theocratic legal system (Sharia) over their populace similar to what the IMU aspired to create in Uzbekistan. But while fighting against U.S. forces alongside the Taliban in 2001, their forces were largely wiped out and dispersed. A full 11 years ago, however, the remnants were thought to be training forces in an effort to disrupt or dismantle the Pakistani government.
Why Did the Militants Carry Out This Specific Attack?
The Taliban said the attacks were “a response to the recent attacks by the government,” following air strikes directed at Taliban North Waziristan Agency. But their main intent was to cripple the government with a devastating attack that was ultimately thwarted. The Taliban stated it wanted to hijack an airplane, a potentially catastrophic possibility given the nearby metropolitan sprawl of Pakistan's largest and most-populous city, Karachi. It may have cost the lives of 19 people to stop the attack, but if their plan had been properly pulled off, it's impossible to know how many more could have died.
What Does This Mean for Pakistan... and for the U.S.?
If the attackers were indeed either directly or indirectly associated with the IMU, well, that would be dire news for the people and government of Pakistan. The country's already sustained a lot of violence over the last decade thanks to its long, mountainous border with Afghanistan, which allowed some Afghan Taliban forces to flee the 2001 U.S. invasion and shift focus to destabilizing their neighbor.
The stakes of a besieged or unstable Pakistan are high for the West — the country has a nuclear stockpile of over 100 warheads, a huge reason the U.S. has been waging a more-or-less secret drone war there for about 10 years. As such, a resurgence of IMU activity would mean more chaos at a time when the Pakistani government surely doesn't need it, having to weather both an invigorated Taliban and the regular casualties that follow America's drone program.