It was expected that Karachi would be in the spotlight. The sudden arrest of the exiled Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader, Altaf Hussain, in London on money-laundering charges last week, was reason enough for the city’s administrators to walk on a razor’s edge. For long, the fortunes of Mr Hussain in a distant land have determined the volatility of inter-communal relations in Karachi, and trouble could be apprehended. The trouble, however, came from another source, one not entirely unanticipated. An overnight offensive by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Karachi airport on Sunday has left as many as 27 dead in its wake. The Pakistan military has ended the siege and will hand over control to the civil aviation authorities. But the army has been unable to stop the TTP from announcing from the rooftop, yet again, that it remains as deadly a force as before and that it will continue to bargain with the government from a position of strength, if it decides to bargain at all. A compelling reason for a reiteration of this point, made by the TTP many times before, could have been provided by the recent split in the TTP ranks. Towards the end of last month, the Mehsud group, under the leadership of Khalid Mehsud, finally separated from the TTP on grounds that it could not put up with its “un-Islamic” ways. Although this hinted at the discomfort with the Taliban’s ways of garnering money through kidnappings and extortion, the real cause of the split is likely to be the more fundamental issue of whether the TTP should or should not enter into peace talks with the government. The Mehsud group is known to support negotiation while the TTP faction under Maulana Fazlullah is virulently against it. Post-split, the airport siege could be the latter’s attempt to show that it still rules the roost.
Irrespective of whichever faction carried out the strike, the airport siege is evidence that the Nawaz Sharif government is going nowhere with its talks agenda. While continuing to preach talks as the only way forward, the government has been unable to suspend military operations in North Waziristan completely, given the Taliban’s incessant targeting of military posts and the population. The TTP has used this as a pretext to jeopardize the talks each time they have gone off the ground. Now a splintering of the group, said to have been engineered by the Pakistan army, has further endangered the talks.