The world is in mourning. The gruesome killing of 132 school children and nine teachers at an army school in Peshawar on Tuesday by terrorists from the Tehreek-e-Taliban has left an indelible scar on Pakistan’s national psyche. The degree of barbarity involved in intentionally killing the children of the Taliban’s supposed enemies can hold no justification. Tuesday witnessed scenes of young students whose bloody bodies were stretchered out of the school, as their families stood by and wept.
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. The terrorists went into the school with the explicit intention of killing children. They did not stop until they ran out of ammunition and escaped the scene of crime by blowing themselves up. It is imperative to recount the horror that was witnessed on that fateful day. One key account refers to a young student named Shahrukh Khan, a 16-year-old, who told the press that men who had come to kill him and his classmates looked under school benches to make sure that no one was left alive in the ensuing massacre. The boy was shot in both legs. In an attempt to avoid detection, Khan stuffed his tie in his mouth to stop himself from screaming, as the terrorists went out to massacre the rest. There are no words to describe the horror this boy had undergone. In the aftermath of the carnage in Peshawar, many schools across India announced a two-minute silence to grieve and maintain solidarity with the children of Pakistan.
Of course, none of these attacks happen in a state of vacuum. The brutal massacre was in response to the Pakistan army’s extensive offensive against the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province of Waziristan, where they are still strong. In essence, the attack in Peshawar was nothing but an act of revenge and an attempt at terrorising the Pakistani government and army into calling off these operations. The brutal and cold-blooded nature of this attack and the national revulsion that stemmed from it, however, is highly unlikely to have that desired effect. Any attempts at a dialogue process, professed by politicians like ex-cricketer Imran Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has also gone out of the window for the time being.
The dialogue process, however, did not ever hold much hope considering that the Taliban wants to overthrow the secular state and instal an Islamic state based on Sharia law. Not much of a political bargain there. In light of these concerns and the violence perpetrated by such terror groups on various levels, including religious, ethnic, racial and sectarian, forced the Pakistan army into finally embarking upon a full-fledged war against such extremism, which it had avoided in the past.
It is imperative to note that the armed forces and successive governments, in collusion with the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), have tolerated these extreme elements in the past and used them to pursue strategic aims in Kashmir, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. Although it receives military aid worth $2 billion from the United States to fight such terrorists, most geostrategic experts are rather unanimous in their belief that Pakistan has constantly indulged in these double games to pursue their foreign objectives. Unfortunately, and predictably, such troubled elements came back home and caused what is arguably the worst terrorist backlash in the entire region. Despite reports that the Pakistan army will continue its operations in the North West Frontier Province, many are still unsure whether this double game will subside. On Pakistani national television, Hafiz Saeed, one of the world’s most wanted terrorist, blamed India for the massacre and vowed to take revenge.
In an attempt to turn the discourse against the horrors perpetrated by extreme elements in Pakistan, such figures have yet again brought up the oft used ‘India bogey’. Falling in the line with the standard narrative, not a single politician in Pakistan has condemned the remarks of the man behind the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, in which 166 people were killed. Managing and using these terror groups, according to the needs of the moment, has been a habit practiced by the Pakistani security establishment. There is some positive news surrounding the closer collusion between the new Afghan government, Pakistan and the United States in dealing with these terror elements, with the extremist unable to take refuge in one country or the other. Pessimists, or realists, however, believe that such habits die hard. However, they must see that the cost of such a policy is too large to bear on a nation’s conscience.