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Motivations for Pakistani Naval Base Attack

By Taylor Marvin

A major attack on a Pakistani naval base by the Taliban has killed at lease 10 people and reportedly destroyed two P-3C Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft supplied to the Pakistani Navy by the US.

The nature of this attack is puzzling and largely unexpected. Karachi is far from the Taliban-contested tribal areas on the Afghan border, and the Pakistani Navy’s mission is competition with Indian conventional forces, not counterinsurgency in north west Pakistan. Wired’s Spencer Ackerman reads this as a Taliban attempt to coerce the Pakistani military into abandoning its counterinsurgency efforts:

“The Pakistani Taliban appear to be saying: Continue your alliance with the Americans, and your struggle with the Indians — Islamabad’s major strategic concern — will be a casualty.”

However, P-3C Orions have been used in Afghanistan as a counterinsurgency surveillance platform, and it’s possible the attack was a direct attempt to reduce the Pakistani military’s counterinsurgency capability rather than to coerce Pakistani military decisionmakers.

It’s also possible that this attack was designed to allow the Pakistani leadership to credibly direct blame at India. By destroying a strategic asset used to combat both the Pakistani Taliban and India, the attackers give Pakistani politicians the ability to divert public blame for the attack towards Pakistan’s traditional enemy rather than the Taliban, allowing the attackers to attempt to coerce government inaction against militant Islamists while reducing the likelihood of provoking a major military response. This seems to have worked — reportedly Pakistanis are already suspicious of India’s involvement in the attack. ISI support for militants is primarily motivated by the desire to sustain a potential  anti-India unconventional military force, and attacks that encourage Pakistani public enmity towards India are doubly strategically valuable for the Pakistani Taliban.

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