Scores of people, mostly schoolchildren, have died or are seriously injured as a result of the attack on a school run by the Pakistan Army in Peshawar. There are indications that the number of dead will continue to rise, with the army battling the terrorists who are in a school administration building. Details are as yet sketchy and much is unverified but it appears that a number of terrorists entered the school via a wall at the rear which is adjacent to a graveyard. They started firing indiscriminately as soon as they were inside the school. There is a report that a suicide bomber blew himself up in a school hall where an event was taking place. Hospitals in Peshawar are at full stretch and there are desperate appeals for blood donors. The army chief has cut short a visit to Quetta and is heading for Peshawar, as is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were quick to claim ownership of the attack. The TTP said that it targeted the school because the “army targets our families. We want them to feel our pain.” Political leaders have been quick to condemn the attack which is developing as the largest single mass-casualty incident since the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb that has so provoked the TTP that they decided to conduct a slaughter of the innocents.
The tragedy in Peshawar is a tragedy for the whole of Pakistan, not only for those who live in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The TTP inasmuch as they have a unified agenda across a disparate range of groups under their umbrella, are committed to the downfall of the state. They wish to replace it with a caliphate and at least two TTP factions have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), which is currently wreaking havoc across Iraq and Syria, with designs on virtually anywhere else it can promote its ideology.
This is the same TTP with which assorted politicians were proposing that there be peace talks in the not far distant past. Politicians who refused to name the Taliban for what they were, politicians who havered and equivocated, who offered mealy-mouthed justifications for appalling acts of terror. That same TTP have now come to harvest their children, and if they can do it in Peshawar, then they can do it anywhere in Pakistan, in any school they choose, be it army or civilian. Girls or boys, it makes no difference. The barbarians are not just at the gates, they are inside the building, and laying about themselves with an enthusiasm that knows no mercy.
Now of all times is not the time for political point-scoring, for finger-pointing and slippery evasions. The TTP are ready, willing and able to slaughter children in pursuit of their goals. How this will bring them any closer to their dream is unclear, and the mass killing of schoolchildren, many of whom are likely to be the children of serving military personnel, is hardly going to endear the TTP to those fighting them in the mountains of North Waziristan and elsewhere.
Pakistan has a notoriously short memory — and attention span — for incidents such as this. They quickly fade from the headlines to be replaced by whatever the sound bite of the day is. The national mindset remains unaltered, the paradigm impervious to reality and backwards-looking in so many ways — the revision of the school curriculum in K-P will have doubtless warmed the hearts of the TTP for instance — and expressions of resolve made today disappear with the dawn of tomorrow.
Past experience suggests that the massacre in Peshawar will go exactly the same way, quickly shuffled down the national agenda as addressing the root causes of the problem requires some hard questions being asked and answered — honestly answered. Possible? Little more than a definite maybe, we opine.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2014.