KARACHI/ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR - Karachi airport Monday reopened for flights, several hours after a blatant attack in which around 20 people were martyred and 10 terrorists killed.
Officials said that Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport is now open for passengers and flights, and airport control has been handed over to the Civil Aviation Authority. The announcement came following clearance given by the security agencies.
According to reports, the government is convening an emergency meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) to discuss the security situation and future of peace talks. While a date for the meeting has not yet been disclosed, the CCNS is likely to convene this week at PM House.
PM Nawaz has pushed for a peaceful solution to the security crisis in the country, but critics point out that talks are merely a subterfuge being used by Taliban to buy time to rearm and gain strength. In a previous CCNS meeting, it was decided that peace negotiations would be held only if militants agree to disarm.
In recent weeks, the military has conducted several air attacks on militant hideouts in North Waziristan which the ISPR said were retaliation to the killings of civilian and security forces personnel by terrorists in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi. Observers believe that after the airport attack, there is no more possibility of continuation of negotiations and an all-out operation in Fata is imminent.
Sources informed that the prime minister is likely take the main political parties on board for launching a full-fledged operation against the militants for which now the leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the staunch supporter of negotiations with militants, are also coming up open to support the military operation to flush out miscreants of the troubled areas.
Earlier on Sunday, a squad of highly trained Taliban fighters, their backpacks stuffed with food and ammunition, attacked Pakistan’s biggest airport in what they clearly expected to be a protracted siege.
However, by dawn on Monday, the army said the airport had been secured but heavy smoke rose above the building. Seven fighters were shot dead by Pakistani forces after five hours of intense gunfire at the airport. Three died after detonating their suicide-bomb vests.
Authorities said all 10 militants were killed and that the bodies of 18 victims, including security personnel and four airport workers, had been identified at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC).
“Ten militants aged between 20 and 25 have been killed by security forces,” said a spokesman for the Rangers. “A large cache of arms and ammunition has been recovered from the militants.”
“Final Clearance of entire Airport is complete. Airport handed over to CAA/ASF, likely to open at 1400hrs,” DG ISPR Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said in a twitter message.
Normal operation of PIA flights from the airport resumed at 1600 hours (PST), a PIA spokesman said on Monday evening. He said 15-20 flights were disturbed due to the attack and these would be rescheduled to accommodate the passengers.
Claiming responsibility for the attack, Pakistani Taliban said on Monday it was revenge for their late leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in November, and also to avenge the death of ‘innocent’ tribal people killed in recent air strikes carried out by state forces in North Waziristan.
Dismissing the Pakistani government’s recent offer of peace talks as a “tool of war” and claiming they were sincere in the peace process, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid promised “more attacks in the future” as he called it just a “beginning”.
A report on the Karachi airport attack, which was presented to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday, revealed that terrorists wanted to destroy all the aircraft at the airport. It said terrorists wanted to paralyse entire air traffic operations but the Airport Security Force (ASF) blocked their march towards Jinnah Terminal. PIA spokesman disclosed that terrorists had entered the airport from two separate locations.
But TTP spokesman said, “The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations... This was just an example of what we are capable of and there is more to come. The government should be ready for even worse attacks.”
Umar Media, the official media wing of the TTP, claimed on their Facebook page that just six militants had attacked the airport. “The biggest reason for attacking Karachi airport is because it serves as the biggest air logistics centre supplying goods for the Crusaders’ war in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” a statement on their Facebook page claimed.
ISPR DG Major Gen Asim Bajwa in his tweets said “all vital assets are intact” after six-hour siege at Karachi airport. He said all the terrorists were eliminated and weapons, ammunition, including RPGs, rockets were recovered.
“Area cleared. No damage to aircraft, fire visible in pics (pictures) was not (coming out of any) plane but (from) a building, (and it has) now (been) extinguished. All vital assets (are) intact,” the military spokesman said in a tweet.
Bajwa said “Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif paid rich tribute to all shaheed and injured for their supreme sacrifice... Army Chief congratulated participating troops for a well coordinated, successful operation eliminating all terrorists.“
Director General of the Paramilitary Rangers, Rizwan Akhtar talking to media at the airport said the operation started at 11:30pm on Sunday night and continued till 4am on Monday. “Seven terrorists were killed by the security forces while three blew themselves up,” he said.
Furthermore, eight ASF personnel sustained injuries during the late night operation to secure Terminal 1 of the Karachi airport. One Rangers man was martyred while four others were injured. Fortunately, no plane was damaged in the attack, he added.
Rizwan also said that DNA tests of the militants will be carried out for their identification and to ascertain if they were foreigners, as they looked like Uzbeks from appearances. He said investigation was underway to confirm if the weapons recovered from the terrorists were Indian or not.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have also appreciated the successful operation of the security forces. They said the soldiers protected national assets with great courage and valour.