Will Pakistan’s grief force it to cut ties with Islamic militants?

December 17, 2014

A mother mourns her son Mohammed Ali Khan, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at her house in Peshawar

Pakistan’s army knew it would pay a price when it launched an offensive in the mountains of North Waziristan. But even in their worst imaginings, few officers could have foreseen the way revenge would be served: an attack on an Army-run school that cost the lives of 132 students. Many were the teenage sons of soldiers.

Pakistan is wearily familiar with violence, but what happened on Tuesday was different. It was the biggest such attack targeting children. Unlike many other mass casualty atrocities of recent years, the victims were not primarily members of persecuted religious or ethnic minorities. Instead, the massacre pierced the very soul of the army — which sees itself as the guardian of national destiny. Pakistan is united in grief.

In the short-term, there will be consequences. Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, will intensify his six-month campaign against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan, an enclave on the Afghan frontier, and its increasingly fractured splinter groups. Pakistan’s political class, locked in a feud that has paralyzed the government and brought cities to a standstill, will mount a refreshing display of unity. Space on the airwaves for Taliban apologists will shrink.

Yet if the attack is to represent a genuine turning point in Pakistan’s long battle with extremism, military and civilian leaders must take two decisive steps. Neither is by any means guaranteed.

First, and most important, Pakistan’s security establishment has to make a permanent break with its decades-long romance with jihadi proxies. The distinction that some in the nation’s security apparatus draw between “good Taliban” — shorthand for groups who serve their regional interests — and “bad Taliban” — militants at war with the state — must end.

Sharif impressed Pakistan’s allies when he launched in June an offensive dubbed Zarb-e-Azb to confront the TTP (“bad Taliban”) in their forbidding hideouts in North Waziristan, a task that his predecessor, General Ashfaq Kayani, prevaricated over for years. Significantly, North Waziristan has also been the primary haven for the Afghanistan-focused Haqqani network (“good Taliban”), whose members seem to have shifted back across the frontier. The United States has branded the Haqqanis as terrorists.

However cynical Pakistan’s generals may be, it bears repeating that they have sacrificed many more troops fighting the TTP than America and its allies have lost in Afghanistan.

The problem is that radicalization has spread well beyond the borderlands. Obsessed by a fear of India, the deep state — that part of government not affected by elections, such as the country’s spy agencies — has long sought to bolster its influence in the region by supporting a plethora of armed groups, ranging from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement and the Haqqanis to sectarian death squads and jihadis fighting in Kashmir. The gunmen are no longer confined to eyries on the saw-toothed Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier. They are now firmly embedded in the provincial capitals of Karachi, Quetta and Lahore. Increasingly, they have slipped the leash of their former masters.

The upshot is that religious extremists and allied Kalashnikov-toting thugs now wield a far greater degree of influence over Pakistani society than their small constituencies might otherwise project. As long as nobody is quite sure where the military and its feared intelligence agencies stand in relation to jihadis, liberal politicians, community leaders and moderate religious voices rightly assume they will live longer by keeping quiet. Equally, this lingering ambiguity means the government in Afghanistan, which has long suffered from Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban, will have little incentive to listen to Sharif’s pleas for help in tackling TTP militants who have fled onto its territory.

Second, Pakistan’s political class needs to move beyond its default setting of crisis-prone self-absorption and set a credible agenda for steering Pakistan off the road to deeper radicalization. The country passed a milestone in the evolution of its democracy in 2013 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led his party to victory in a smooth transition of power. But his government has spent months under a virtual state of siege due to protests led by Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician intent on bringing down the government. Pakistan has more pressing problems than Khan’s aspirations to become prime minister.

The horror of what happened at the school has — for now — spurred politicians to set their squabbles aside. Khan, who has long clung to the unrealistic hope of dialog with the TTP, quickly condemned the attack and attended a cross-party emergency meeting hosted by the prime minister on Wednesday. Encouragingly, Sharif convened the gathering in Peshawar, the chaotic frontier city where the attack took place, rather than in the capital of Islamabad, which has a reputation as a bastion of entitlement and complacency. Relations between civilian leaders and the military are often frosty in Pakistan, but if ever a tragedy had the potential to trigger a thaw, the school attack is it.

Waves of popular outrage crest quickly in Pakistan. Unless the fragmented actors wielding military and political power can finally make common cause against all shades of militancy, the risk remains high that this moment, too, will pass.

 

PHOTO: A mother mourns her son Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at her house in Peshawar, Pakistan, Dec. 16, 2014. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

18 comments

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132 CHILDREN, 132 CHILDREN HAVE DIED, WE’VE LOST OVER 86 SOLDIERS FIGHTING TERRORISTS, WE’VE KILLED 1,600 AND CAPTURED 400 AND EVEN THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT HAS ACKNOWLEDGED PAKISTAN IS TARGETTING ALL TERRORISTS AND EVEN GIVEN OUR AWARDED OUR ARMY CHEIF LEGION OF MERIT FOR TARGETTING ALL TERRORISTS.

So as a Pakistani, I would sincerely like to tell Reuters and this author to go FUCK THEMSELVES, YOU ARE PIECES OF SHIT, YOU FILTHY BASTARDS. FUCK YOU!!! FUCK YOU!!! FOR THIS PIECE OF PROPAGANDA AT A TIME LIKE THIS!!!!

DO SOME GOD DAMNED FUCKING RESEARCH BEFORE MAKING BASELESS ALLEGATIONS!!! 132 CHILDREN DEAD AND YOU CAN’T STOP SMEARING OUR GOVERNMENT. GO FUCK YOURSELF.

Posted by MShuaib | Report as abusive

Time and again such heinous activities by extremists have proved the fact that Extremists neither have a country nor religion. It is time for all countries to collectively fight extremism. I hope that Pakistan will understand it too

Posted by LogicalIndian | Report as abusive

Pakistan is hard hit due to its own violent production of fanatics. They are spreading this all over in India and other countries. Even this incident will also be forgotten soon with another one. Unless there is a people’s revolution against hard-core Islamists, this will not be able to get under control. Such prospects are quite bleak. Not sure, whom to blame, is this their violent practice of religion or the nature of their own people?

As they are all descendants of Indian Origin, they were all peaceful in nature till they are absorbed or fascinated by the violent practices of the new religion since 1500 A.D. Until then they were conquered mercilessly by Moghuls, Arab & Turkish conquerors. They converted the meekly minded Indian origins living peacefully there to this present nature. Quite Sad.

Posted by vpmmgs | Report as abusive

Military regimes need a little turmoil and destruction in order to justify their grip on power. Pakistan promotes a certain amount of terror and destruction within it’s borders so that it can show a reason for their current state of political control. It is not necessary that they be a true military dictatorship, but simply be a mostly military government. Additionally, the people who are in power, really like the aide from the US and if there is stability our fearless leaders won’t be as inclined to make them the recipient of one of the largest annual foreign aide packages we give out. Also, to a lessor extent, we are similar. We justify our CIA/NSA/military controlled state by using fear to scare the dumb people into believing that the federal government is protecting them. Thus, the increase police state types of activities and the increased violence. The fascist always say they are protecting you and you need to give them all authority to do that, and then you are under their control. Unfortunately too, most people either prefer that or are to oblivious to reality to know the difference.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Will Pakistan’s grief force it to cut ties with Islamic militants? Who are we kidding? Pakistan should have cut ties with and rounded up these murderous thugs a long time ago. The people of Pakistan, and the rest of the world cannot expect the USA to solve all their problems for them. These Murderous Thugs have been allowed to roam the country too long, and have even been sheltered at times by the people and the government of Pakistan. It is well past time for the people of Pakistan to stand up, and destroy these Thugs.

Posted by Robert76 | Report as abusive

The nation that sheltered Bin Laden must learn to stop legitimizing religous terrorism, or this will just be one of many such incidents to come.

The Taliban will not stop in Pakiston – or Afghanistan – so long as they receive support from the Pakistani government and its ISI intel service.

Posted by DonD1977 | Report as abusive

Where are the top Muslim clerics of the world when these things happen. The ones who can call a million men to action in one hour. If the Taliban is an aberration, and they are getting Islam wrong by killing children in Allah’s name…. why no Fatwas against the Taliban? The clerics have time to issue prices on heads of cartoonists and writers. They have even issued fatwas against certain ring tones on phones. But kill 130 kids in a school in Allah’s name and…. Crickets? Silence from the clerics?

This is an Islam problem. They need to self-police.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

How can that nation live and thrive while tolerating the presence of the people who did this?

Posted by Yowser | Report as abusive

It really is a horrible thing that humans can still do things like this for the sake of a religion. It is disgraceful.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

This was an act done in the name of Allah. No person of authority in Islam has said otherwise. And by authority I don’t mean some scared Muslim community leader in Dearborn, Michigan again. I’m talking about the clerics and muftis at the top… who run the real Muslim world. Not the defectors. So again we ask: where is the voice of denouncement among the world’s powerful clerics?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Unlikely as the Islamists have successfully penetrated the ISI which is what gives them so much confidence to openly attack an Army school and do the abhorrent – kill innocent children…

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive

The solution to terrorism isn’t bullets, it’s education. Terrorism by definition is something that can’t be defeated. We should recall that the British classified George Washington a terrorist too. Given that the drone attacks have killed hundreds of children over the past few years this was expected. I don’t condone the actions of either parties, as both are equally bad. Everytime we kill 1 terrorist we create 5 more. The enemy gets bolder and we kill more, and more rush to take their place. There are two paths one can take from this existential crisis: we fight back and unleash the full might of the military. Or we do nothing. Think about that for a moment: Doing nothing results in an immediate and utter collapse of the enemy’s raison detre. Within months the groups would dissapear. These groups exist because we give them the attention they crave. Naturally, this path is the hardest, but often the necessary things are the hardest. If you had a choice between endless war or peace and security which would you prefer?

Posted by VoltaireLives | Report as abusive

Dear Reuters,

Pakistan have no attachment with theses militants. In fact these militants were Pakistani friends only due to USA operation of 80’s in Afghanistan. But now even CIA knows that these militants who are attacking Pakistan have RAW support. Pakistan is victim of terrorism and have lost lives,infrastructure more than any one in the world.
At last, I would only say that we have lost our children due to this brutal war. So, please think twice before posting any writing.

Posted by ChAliGhafoor | Report as abusive

As Hilly so eloquently said

“you can not continue to keep snakes in your back yard and expect them to only bite your enemies”

Element’s of the Pakistani military and administration are part of this global Terrorist problem. Making it very hard to determine where the Terrorists stop and the state being’s.

The powers in Pakistan must decide weather they will make war against all Terrorist or keep some as proxies.

If they choose to retain their proxy’s they must accept outrages of this kind and the possibility that one day the proxies will eat them.

Posted by nzl-kz7 | Report as abusive

As Hilly so eloquently said

“you can not continue to keep snakes in your back yard and expect them to only bite your enemies”

Element’s of the Pakistani military and administration are part of this global Terrorist problem. Making it very hard to determine where the Terrorists stop and the state being’s.

The powers in Pakistan must decide weather they will make war against all Terrorist or keep some as proxies.

If they choose to retain their proxy’s they must accept outrages of this kind and the possibility that one day the proxies will eat them.

Posted by nzl-kz7 | Report as abusive

Reuters should be ashamed all right, but only for constantly censoring comments of reasonable people and then allowing the likes of the poster “MShuaib” to curse and rant and say anything.

The wounds of this attack are self-inflicted. As you sow, so shall you reap. The Pakistani power brokers have no problem when these same criminals are massacring innocent Indians or political enemies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is what happens when you arm and train terrorist armies.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

This was done in the name of Islam and Allah. No top Clerics or Muftis have denounced it. Therefore, this act represents Islam today.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Pakistan supports more terror than Iran. Pakistan also has nukes and has publicly stated its plans to use them against our ally, India. Why do we still send cash to Pakistan?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive