Political violence in Pakistan is so routine that it has almost become part of the background noise of daily activity. But it is immediately clear that in terms of scale, daring, extent of damage and threat, this latest attack in Karachi was different.
According to news reports, the primary target was the CID office. CID had evidently made several arrests of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Taliban cadres recently, especially after the Abdullah Shah Ghazi attack. Initial reports suggest it was an example of the “new wave” type of attack that other cities (most notably Lahore) have seen — gunfire followed by a huge bomb. Even at this early stage, casualty figures are high: more than a dozen dead, and more than a hundred injured. Everybody expects those numbers to rise significantly, given that people are stuck under the rubble of collapsed buildings and so on.
Most noteworthy about this attack was how it targeted the heart of Karachi. The area targeted has government offices, big business, hotels, newspaper offices, and restaurants. People are saying the area should’ve been more heavily fortified, but honestly, it’s pretty damn fortified every time I’ve driven through it (admittedly the last time I did was when I was last in Pakistan, which was in July, so maybe things have changed, although I doubt it).
Seeing the images on TV was pretty gruesome. Actually, the very fact that I was shocked is kind of shocking. As I said above, political violence is so routine that it takes a lot for most to be shaken anymore, but I’m pretty sure this qualifies. Entire buildings have either collapsed or facades have been blown clean off. It looks like a powerful earthquake struck at the same time as a powerful tornado. I really can’t emphasize enough how ugly it all looks.
You’ve got to admire and feel sorry for the folks at Jinnah Hospital, where the injured are almost always taken whenever there’s an attack in Karachi. I remember doing a report on HIV/AIDS in Pakistan for The Review in 2002 when I was an intern there. I did a pretty extensive tour of the place, and frankly, the facilities and infratstructure there is not exactly state of the art. The people there — doctors, nurses, administrators — do the best they can under some pretty trying circumstances. And circumstances don’t come more trying than this.
Last point: every attack this size should buy at least a five week moratorium on the phrase “do more” from the US. I understand that they have serious concerns about a potential terrorist attack emanating from Waziristan, and consequently want Pakistan to take more action against militants. But Pakistan is not dealing with “potential” attacks. It is dealing, every week, with real, live attacks. Taking more action invites more blowback, it’s that simple. How the balance between retrenchment and offense should be struck is a question for another time. But my point is simple: no country or set of citizens have suffered more in this war than ours. Tens of thousands of people have died in the last six or seven years. Tens of thousands! And that doesn’t include the thousands of police and military that have died. Some recognition of these facts, and a relaxation of constant demands to “do more”, would be nice.