Rafia Zakaria writes: Karachi has been smoldering for more than a week. On June 8 it burst into flames when the Pakistani Taliban laid siege to the city’s main airport, Jinnah International, killing at least 36 people. The firefight between the attackers and security forces was broadcast live on television, delivering images of carrier planes in flames and the sounds of gunfire and explosions. The megacity, with a population of 23.5 million, has been in a standstill since June 3, after the London arrest on money-laundering charges of Altaf Hussain, a prominent Pakistani politician and chief of the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). All transportation, businesses, schools and offices remain closed. Leery of violence from MQM activists protesting Hussain’s arrest, the city’s residents have been effectively confined to their homes. When he was released on bail last week, it seemed as though calm would finally return to Karachi.
The escalation of violence exposed the city’s vulnerabilities, including its lack of political leadership and deteriorating security infrastructure. The local law enforcement responding to the airport attack did not even have bulletproof vests and other requisite equipment to engage the assailants. Worse, it’s unclear who was in charge of the operation at the airport until the military took over.
On June 9 the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and promised more to come. In a similar ambush on June 10, unidentified gunmen attacked a security post at Jinnah, briefly engaging local police in gunfire. That the Taliban were able to take over the city’s only gateway to the rest of the world with little resistance underscores the MQM’s weakness and Karachi’s susceptibility to extremism. After controlling the city for more than two decades, the MQM is in total disarray — unable to advocate for Karachi’s security needs at the federal level or defend it from militants, including the Taliban. [Continue reading…]