It was a spectacular and audacious operation by any standards. Ten gunmen wearing military uniforms staged a suicide attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi late on Sunday.
Armed with grenades and rocket launchers they detonated suicide vests and stormed an old terminal used for cargo and VIP flights, waging a night-long battle with Pakistan security forces that left 28 people dead.
This is another blow to Karachi’s reputation, a teeming metropolis of 18 million that is somehow able to be both Pakistan’s commercial capital and its most violent city at the same time. Around 3,200 people were killed last year in sectarian, criminal and political violence.
The attack raises fresh questions about the security of sensitive facilities in Pakistan as militants were able to storm a heavily-guarded airport and create mayhem.
A Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman said the group carried out the attack “to send a message to the Pakistan government” and “to avenge the death of Hakimullah Mehsud”, the former head of the TTP who was killed by a US drone attack last November.
The attack appears linked to increasing hostilities between the Pakistan army and the TTP in North Waziristan, after talks between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and Taliban’s intermediaries failed to make progress.
The Pakistani military has in recent weeks bombed militant hideouts and launched a major offensive in the region. More reprisals are expected.
The TTP spokesman warned of an all-out war against the Pakistani State, starting June 10, and said the group will do more to avenge the death of civilians in army operations.
This attack vindicates commentators and civil society actors who urged Mr Sharif not to negotiate with groups like the TTP that seek to overthrow the Pakistan State and impose sharia.
It underlines yet again the human and reputational costs on Pakistan imposed by the ill-conceived nurture of militants and religious extremists by its State agencies.
The attack is also a discouraging development to the new Indian government, as it again highlights the vulnerability of the Pakistani State to terrorist actions. Leaders on both sides cannot lose sight of that as they seek to take their dialogue forward.