Pakistani Community Shocked By Karachi Terrorism

Participants of Pakistan Day Festival wave Pakistani flags on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn in August 2013. Community organizations hold the festival each year to celebrate the country's independence from Britain in 1947. (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer)

Participants in the Pakistan Day Festival wave Pakistani flags on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn in August 2013. Community organizations hold the festival each year to celebrate the country’s independence from Britain in 1947. (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer)

Saleem Rizvi was at a friend’s birthday party in Edison, New Jersey, when someone at the table showed him the shocking news of a brazen attack on Pakistan’s largest airport in the southern port city of Karachi.

“My first reaction was a mix of anger, anguish, concern and helplessness,” the New York-based immigration attorney of Pakistani origin recalls about the June 8 attack. Rizvi’s reaction was shared by the majority of immigrants from Pakistan across the U.S. whose anxiety about the precarious security environment in their country of origin is increasing by the day.

Fear of Pakistan descending into more instability is growing within the New York-based community. Several community leaders and activists, reached by Voices of NY, said Islamabad must act against extremists now.

Fighting terrorism has remained a divisive subject in Pakistan and this is one reason that the country has virtually no coherent policy to fight it. Public opinion has been divided over whether to take military action against the militants or hold peace talks with them. But the Karachi airport attack seems to have tilted opinion against peace talks.

In the New York area, fear of more violence is making community members reconsider plans to send their families to Pakistan during summer vacations, notes Mohsin Zaheer, a Brooklyn-based editor of Sada-e-Pakistan, an Urdu-language weekly. The question has become a subject of newspaper columns as well.

“This Taliban attack on an international airport has put the Pakistanis living overseas in a serious dilemma,” wrote Azeem Mian, a New York-based journalist, in a column published in Pakistan Post, another New York-based Urdu weekly newspaper. “Why and how will Pakistanis based in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and other countries bring their families to their country of origin to spend summer vacations?”

At least 36 people, including the 10 intruders – all foreign militants – were killed in the attack. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an outlawed al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist network fighting the state for the enforcement of its brand of Islam, claimed responsibility for the attack.

A spokesman told Pakistani news outlets that TTP carried out the operation with the help of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters, a Central Asian terrorist group, also closely affiliated with al-Qaida. In a statement the IMU confirmed that all 10 attackers were its members. The TTP has given sanctuary to the IMU in the Waziristan tribal region since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Hours later on June 9, a second attack on the training academy of Airport Security Force near Karachi airport, the paramilitary force responsible for the security of airports across Pakistan, raised new questions about Islamabad’s ability to protect its vital assets.

News of the attack spread like wildfire within the U.S.-based Pakistani community.

Mujeeb Lodhi, who has run the Urdu-language weekly Pakistan News community newspaper since 1995, says his New York office was flooded with calls from readers. “People were worried and calling for the real information about the attack because every TV channel had different information,” Lodhi recalls. Community leaders from different cities sent him press releases condemning the attack.

Many analysts are criticizing the country’s 26 federal and provincial intelligence agencies for failing to foil the attack. The sentiment is no different among Pakistanis living in the U.S.

“The security lapse is primarily due to intelligence failure,” says Rohail Dar, a New York-based engineer who also heads the U.S. chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “The security agencies need to focus on national security issues rather than spying on civil society and political workers,” Dar said in an email response to a query from Voices of NY.

Relations between the Sharif government and the country’s powerful military have been rocky in recent weeks over a host of issues. Following the Sharif government’s fizzled-out peace initiative, feuding within the TTP intensified. But the June 8 massacre proved once more that the terror network remains dangerous and has not lost its ability to stage high-profile attacks.

This latest embarrassing security failure is bad news for Pakistan’s struggling economy and foreign investor confidence, and most of the members of the  Pakistani community here reached by Voices of NY sounded uncertain about the prospects of peace in their country.

Staten Island-based business executive Iqbal Ali Khan, who is a native of picturesque Swat Valley and has lost friends in the Taliban violence in the valley before the 2009 military operation, is not very upbeat about the country’s ability to root out terrorism. “Pakistan will never defeat terrorism, because of the unjust socio-economic system, illiteracy, unemployment and horrific social and economic disparities.”

Rizvi, who also hosts a show on a Pakistani television channel, says the community is “shocked and saddened but does not seem to fully understand the root cause of such ever-increasing security risks.” He says the community appears divided on ways to deal with the Taliban. He says terrorism can be defeated by “having an unambiguous national resolve and acting upon it with sophisticated intelligence gathering and strong law enforcement tools.”

Lodhi says the bloody drama has further tarnished the country’s image. “It is a really bad impression worldwide for Pakistan’s security system.”

The Sharif government seems to be poised for a major operation in Waziristan after the latest international embarrassment. Air force jets bombed extremist targets in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) hours after the Karachi airport attack, killing at least 15 militants. Besides international pressure, the Pakistani public and military have been pressing Sharif to order a decisive operation against militants in the tribal regions.

“Pakistani political and military leaders need to be honest about the militant threat that they and their people are facing, and that time to find a solution is fast running out,” New York Times concluded in an editorial on June 9.

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