After the killing of Osama Bin Laden by the US navy seals on May 2nd, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) issued a statement in which they threatened to avenge Bin Laden by targeting Pakistan’s army, navy and air force, along with the US and NATO interests. The Latin lex talionis translates as “the law of retaliation.” This principle finds its roots in Biblical times and refers to the precept of “an eye for an eye.” The TTP and other militant groups have affirmed the retaliation pledge, but with no end in sight.
As the ancient Greeks proclaimed prior to the start of Olympics, “let the games begin!”, so the TTP have issued a similar message in a sinister fashion for the Pakistani government and its armed forces. In the process, the TTP has unleashed its war machine using its most effective weapon, “the suicide bomber.”
During the last few weeks, we have seen numerous attacks, starting with the twin attacks on Frontier Constabulary headquarters on May 13th that killed 98 paramilitary recruits and civilians, the assassination of Saudi consulate official on May 16th, the attack on U.S. officials on May 20th, killing a passerby, and now the most embarrassing attack on the Pakistani naval base in Karachi on May 22nd. The TTP has taken responsibility for these attacks, each time issuing a statement afterwards that, “this was revenge for martyrdom of Osama Bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful.”
The May 22nd attack on the PNS Mehran base demonstrates the coordination and strength of the TTP and other al-Qaeda influenced groups. The naval base attack raises serious concerns regarding the ability of militant groups to launch small-scale combat against the seventh largest army in the world.
Indeed, the militant groups are deeply entrenched in Pakistan’s major cities. Through their recent attacks, they threaten to weaken the security institutions of the state. Incapacitating the state, supposedly the sole institution that has the right to exercise the use of force within the boundaries of the territory over which it rules, threatens to render Pakistan a failed state. According to the Weberian definition, the state is a “human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Thus the state via its security apparatus and institutions successfully asserts this use of force within its territory, as well as defending this territory from external threats.
The state of Pakistan today is at a critical crossroad in determining its security and defense from internal and external perils. The ultimate end for non-state actors like the TTP would be to reconfigure current state structures, and replace them with institutions that advance their extremist agenda. Their short-term objective is to cripple Pakistan’s security institutions, further leading it to collapse.
A failed or collapsed Pakistan would be a regional disaster for South Asia, particularly for the economic and political stability of both China and India. The effects of Pakistan’s failure are not limited to the region, but would have global repercussions. For the United States, Pakistan’s geo-strategic location is crucial. Policy makers in Washington are expecting a forceful response by the Pakistani army against the TTP’s attack on the Karachi naval base. At stake is the Pakistani state’s capacity to use legitimate force for its own self-defense.