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One year after Peshawar

 MPost |  2016-01-21 21:36:07.0  |  New Delhi

One year after the horrific Peshawar school attack, armed terrorists on Wednesday stormed a university in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing 25 people, including students and, at least, one professor. A group of four terrorists had reportedly opened fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, which is approximately 30 miles from Peshawar. Suffice to say, the memories of the Peshawar school attack, where Pakistan Taliban gunmen killed 132 students, came flooding back. The terrorists had attacked the university, where hundreds of students, along with 600 visitors, were attending a poetry recital to commemorate the death anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a popular Pashtun Independence activist after whom the university is named. To the uninitiated, the Pashtun leader is better remembered in India as the Frontier Gandhi, and as Bacha Khan in Pakistan. For students of history, Wednesday’s terror attack seems like a gross attempt at attacking the legacy of one of pre-Independent India’s tallest leaders. The man, with a legacy built on a non-violent imagination of Islam and Pakhtun pride, was one of the strongest advocates against the partition of India. Coming back to Wednesday’s attack, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander had initially claimed responsibility for the attack. But an official spokesman of the terror outfit denied involvement, calling the attack “un-Islamic”. It’s rich, coming from the terror group involved in the brutal massacre of 134 innocent school-going children. However, the reason behind these conflicting claims was not immediately clear to various news agencies.

For Pakistan’s internal security, the recent attack was a grim reminder of how terrorists have retained their ability to launch attacks, despite the Pakistan Army’s nationwide anti-terror crackdown and a sustained military campaign against groups lodged along the lawless border with Afghanistan. Although many armed outfits around the world have termed the killing of innocent civilians in times of war as “collateral damage”, there exists no such justification for the kind of brutality one witnessed at the Bacha Khan University. Of course, none of these attacks happen in a state of vacuum. The brutal massacre was in response to the Pakistan Army’s extensive offense against terror groups lodged in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where they are still strong. In other words, the attack was nothing but an act of revenge and an attempt at terrorising the Pakistani government and the Army into calling off these operations. The brutal and cold-blooded nature of this attack, however, is highly unlikely to have that desired effect. Soon after the Peshawar school massacre, Pakistan Army went on a massive military offence in the region.

The attack on a university is yet another reminder for the Pakistan Army to give up its strategic use of terrorists against India and other neighbouring nations. As former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had once remarked, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour”. Unless and until such terror organisations are allowed to operate and organise within Pakistan, its government will have to take responsibility for the attacks they conduct outside their borders.  While the Pakistan Army has waged a battle against the likes of Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistan Taliban), it has unfortunately continued to support terror organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Soon after the Peshawar massacre Pakistan Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, accompanied by Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Rizwan Akhtar, went to Kabul to reportedly register Pakistan’s protest over Afghanistan’s lack of action against the Tehrik-i-Taliban. While the Pakistan army protested in Kabul, it has done little to support its own Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s initiatives to end the confrontation with India. Pakistan army must read the writing on the wall and give up the use of home-grown terrorists to fight their strategic battles against India. Suffice to say, the collateral damage of providing support to such terrorists has grown far too big.

It is impossible to talk about the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province without bringing in next door neighbour Afghanistan into the equation.  Fourteen years after the US invasion, Afghanistan continues to stand on one knee. The US-backed regime propped up in Kabul has been unable to establish its authority with the Taliban gaining ground. As a result, the US has sought Pakistan’s help to initiate a dialogue process between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul. To the uninitiated, the Afghan Taliban operates out of Pakistan, under the patronage of the Pakistan Army. It would be fair to suggest that the script has gone terribly wrong for both Kabul and the US. Bitter fighting has ensued in key provinces of Afghanistan, and its army is not equipped to defeat the Taliban. According to a veteran Indian journalist on strategic affairs, “Instead of compelling the Taliban leadership to talk, it’s (Pakistan) allowed their largest offensive in years to surge forward. In effect, it’s stringing Afghanistan along, until the Taliban bring the government to its knees. Islamabad’s compulsions are simple. Pakistan can’t risk the Afghan Taliban joining hands with the Pakistani Taliban networks and the Islamic State led by Khan Saeed, who want to overthrow the government. That could end in a war larger than the Pakistan army is prepared to fight. It is simply in no position, therefore, to restrain the Taliban.” Therefore, it would not be beyond one’s imagination to believe that the civil war in Afghanistan is unlikely to end anytime soon.   

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