By official account, the Pakistani Taliban had in recent weeks been engaged in peace talks with the government in Islamabad in what had been billed as an effort to quell Pakistan's long-running violence.
Those talks effectively exploded in recent days along with hopes for peace. First, the Taliban mounted a lethal attack on the international airport in Karachi late Sunday, and then struck again at a nearby security training camp on Tuesday, forcing a second airport shutdown as security forces fired at gunmen who fled the scene.
The pair of attacks killed 36 people while underscoring the growing strength of the Pakistani Taliban despite years of American drone strikes and pledges from the Pakistani government to quell the insurgency. Experts construed the assaults on the Karachi airport -- the busiest in the nation, and a gateway to the rest of the world -- as a sign of the Taliban's growing confidence as it ratchets up its confrontation with the government.
“There almost certainly will be more attacks," Lisa Ruth, a former CIA officer, told International Business Times. "The question is when and where. The airport attacks were highly successful from the point of view of a terrorist – gaining international attention, shutting down the airport and causing damage and loss of life. This likely will further embolden the Taliban to take more action."
The Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehrik-e Taliban (TTP), was formed in 2007 with the mission to impose a fundamentalist brand of Islamic law while attacking the Pakistani military. In the years since, the organization -- really a loose affiliation of militant groups based in tribal areas of the country -- has taken responsibility for thousands of deaths and has coordinated numerous assaults on security targets.
“They are not a single, unified force, but are a group of different militias,” said Ruth. She said the Pakistan force and the Afghanistan Taliban are effectively distinct, sharing only their name, which means "students" in Pashto.
“Although they are Islamic groups, they control their own tribal areas and sometimes have different goals,” Ruth said. “However, they all want to end U.S. and Western ties with the government of Pakistan.”
While the Pakistani Taliban carries out attacks on a frequent basis, the latest ones in Karachi seem to indicate an intensification of efforts, said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“These attacks tell us that despite all the damage done to the Pakistani Taliban in recent years—all the deaths from drone attacks and Pakistani military offensives, all the internal fractures and infighting—this organization still remains a force to be reckoned with,” Kugelman said. “It can still carry out dramatic, high-casualty attacks on supposedly secure locations.”
The Pakistani Taliban has been responsible for the deaths of at least 40,000 Pakistani civilians in the past decade.
“That’s a 9/11 every year,” Christine Fair, an assistant professor in the Peace and Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IBTimes.
The TTP said the latest Karachi attacks were in response to the Pakistani military's recent airstrikes in the country's North Waziristan region and a U.S. drone strike that killed its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. Mehsud’s death caused infighting within the TTP that led to a formal split between the two major groups last month.
“The central leadership has gone into the hands of unseen forces, sectarian issues and extortion in the name of Taliban,” Azam Tariq, a spokesman for the leader of the Mehsud faction, said at the time. “We have decided to go our own way.”
While the splintering of the two groups was seen by some as a sign the Taliban was losing steam, the latest Karachi attacks appear to demonstrate the opposite.
The two major factions within the Taliban are divided between those loyal to former leader Hakimullah Mehsud and those loyal to the subsequent leader, Mullah Fazlullah. The former backs peace talks with the Pakistani government while the other militants do not.
“The recent attacks show that the two groups are still working together when necessary, and suggest that the split may not be as extreme as previously thought,” Ruth said. This notion carries even greater weight after the group vowed to execute more assaults.
"This wave of attacks will be continuing in retaliation for the shelling and atrocities of the government," spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said by phone to CNN Tuesday from an undisclosed location.
Many analysts agree that more attacks are likely.
The peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the government began in February and disintegrated a couple of weeks ago. Kugelman said their failure was expected.
“The Pakistani government likely held them knowing they would fail,” he said. “This way, the government could demonstrate to the Pakistani public that it was exhausting all diplomatic options. And by exhausting all diplomatic options, it’s easier to muster public support for a large-scale military offensive in North Waziristan, which may well be forthcoming. And the Taliban itself has no interest in peace. It likely pursued negotiations only so that it could regroup and delay an intensification of Pakistani military offensives.”
The government’s assaults include airstrikes and ground offensives that have taken place near the Afghan border to combat the insurgency.
“The Pakistan military absolutely wants to eliminate the Pakistani Taliban, which is seen as a grave threat to the Pakistani state,” Kugelman said, adding that the country does not consider the Afghan Taliban a domestic threat.
Fair said Pakistan has a history of using Taliban members as assets in missions in which they have vested interests, such as assaults in neighboring India and Afghanistan.
“Pakistan’s basic problem is it still uses terrorists as tools of foreign policy. Until it decides it doesn’t want to do that, it’s not going to go after terrorism at large in Pakistan,” Fair said. “It’s basically going to mow the lawn – it’s going to take down those that oppose them, try to cultivate and retain support of those that it uses in Afghanistan and India, and try to turn the elements of the Pakistan Taliban that can be turned.”