Karachi airport attack: Are painkiller shots the latest terror tool?

The Karachi airport attack is the latest in a series of Pakistan-specific fidayeen attacks. But terror outfits change both targets and tactics overnight. This presents a scary picture for India.

Rajeev Sharma June 10, 2014 07:30:38 IST
Karachi airport attack: Are painkiller shots the latest terror tool?

India's security managers need to draw two quick lessons from the deadly terror attack and the overnight siege of Karachi's Jinnah International Airport. One, firewall Indian airports against fidayeen attacks where the terrorists’ brief may be to dig in their heels and hijack a parked plane. And two, from now on, security agencies at all Indian airports need to look for painkiller injections as well, not just weapons.

In a first, terrorists in the Karachi airport attack were reportedly armed with a ready supply of painkiller injections. The idea was obviously to prepare them for the long haul and keep on fighting even after sustaining injuries, by using the painkiller injections.

Karachi airport attack Are painkiller shots the latest terror tool

Paramilitary soldiers arrive at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. Reuters

Terrorists have been known to have donned security uniforms and stuffed their pockets with dry fruit for long-drawn battles with security forces. Their weaponry is becoming more and more lethal. Terrorists in the Karachi attack were armed with rocket launchers (like in the terror attack on the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan), machine guns and assault rifles.

However, this is the first time that terrorists have been discovered to have kept with them painkiller injections. This is a dangerous development which has surely been noted by security agencies worldwide.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has rightly issued a nationwide alert at all airports. But one does not know whether the security agencies have been specifically directed to look for painkiller injections.

Interestingly, there is one more parallel between the Karachi airport attack and the Herat attack at the Indian consulate: Both were fidayeen operations and aimed at the long haul with much more sinister plans which could not materialise. In the case of the Karachi airport attack, the terrorists’ plan was to hijack a parked plane, while the perpetrators responsible for the 23 May Herat attack wanted to take hostages and ensure the drama plays out right up to Narendra Modi’s swearing in as India’s 15th Prime Minister on 26 May.

There is a minute but important difference between a suicide attack and a fidayeen operation. Both are inevitably suicide operations. A suicide operation invariably means an attack by a terrorist who kills himself/herself to kill the target. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by LTTE Black Tigress Dhanu was a suicide operation. Such operations are just one bang and it’s over.

A fidayeen attack, however, is a pitched battle by terrorists (who generally execute such operations in large numbers, not unlike a compact guerrilla army unit) and these pitched battles are a fight to the finish where the perpetrators come fully prepared with complete clarity that they won’t go back alive.

The Parliament attack (13 December 2001), the Kaluchak massacre (14 May, 2002) and the Mumbai terror attacks (26-29 November, 2008) are prominent fidayeen attacks.

Invariably, a fidayeen attack is far deadlier than a suicide operation unless the suicide operation is aimed at a top political leader like it was in case of Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur (Tamil Nadu) on 21 May, 1991.

The Karachi airport attack was a fidayeen operation launched by ten terrorists, many in airport police uniforms, who stretched the battle from shortly before Sunday midnight to Monday morning.

This incident is one in a long chain in Pakistan, a country where the security situation is alarmingly fragile.

Less than two years ago, another Pakistani airport in another Pakistani city was targeted by terrorists. On 15 December, 2012, ten terrorists (also of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, like in the case of the Karachi airport attack) had launched a similar operation at the Bacha Khan International Airport (BKIA) in Peshawar and the airport remained shut for 18 hours.

Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, was the the target of another audacious fidayeen attack when on 22 May, 2011, ten terrorists (also of TTP) stormed the PNS Mehran naval base and stretched their bloody fight with the security agencies to 16 hours. That raid was TTP’s way of exacting revenge for the May 2011 US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. The Karachi airport attack was TTP’s revenge for killing of TTP chief Haimullah Mehsud in an American drone strike last year.

Another major TTP fidayeen operation was on 16 August, 2012 when terrorists stormed the Minhas Airbase at Kamra, Pakistan’s biggest airbase that hosts about 30 fighter jets, and kept the security forces engaged for over five hours.

Yet another high-profile fidayeen attack against a Pakistani military facility and also conducted by the TTP, was the daring operation on 10 October, 2009 wherein ten terrorists dressed in army uniforms attacked the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

All these incidents are Pakistan-specific and apparently portray a picture of Pakistan in self-destruct mode. But one never knows about terror outfits. They change both targets and tactics overnight. All that matters is their capability. This presents a scary picture for India.

The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who has authored several books on terrorism. He tweets @Kishkindha.

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