ISLAMABAD: The massacre of more than 130 school children by Taliban gunmen was a chilling reminder of Hillary Clinton’s warning to Islamabad in 2011 that “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours.”
Now, as Pakistan reels in horror at the bloodshed in a military-run high school in Peshawar on Tuesday, pressure will mount on politicians and generals who have long been tolerant of militants they counted as strategic assets in their rivalry with India and jostle for influence in Afghanistan.
“There have been national leaders who been apologetic about the Taliban,” said Sherry Rehman, a former envoy to Washington and prominent opposition politician.
“People will have to stop equivocating and come together in the face of national tragedy.”
Outrage over the killing of so many children is likely to seriously erode sympathy for militants in a country where many people have long been suspicious of the US-led “war on terror”, and spur the army to intensify an offensive it launched this year on havens in mountains along the Afghan border.
Army chief Raheel Sharif has already signalled that retaliation would follow.
On Wednesday, Mubasher Lucman, a prominent host on the ARY news channel, Tweeted: “Enough time already. Tell Air Chief to initiate carpet bombing”.
“The Taliban may be trying to slacken the resolve of the military by suggesting that there could be a tremendous human costs to the military offensive and create public pressure on the military to back off from this offensive,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
“But it may actually ricochet on them,” said Nasr, formerly a State Department adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, whose nominal unity has frayed this year with the emergence of competing factions, are distinct from the Afghan Taliban.
But the groups are linked, and share the goals of toppling their respective governments.