Peshawar school attack: Will Pakistan change now?
December 16 will surely go down in the history of Pakistan as one of its bloodiest and blackest days. The whole world cried when the Pakistani Taliban, trying to regroup itself, launched a savage and cowardly attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar, targeting hundreds of innocent children of military families, and mercilessly killing over 130 of them.
Initially shocked and shaken by the ghastly terror attack, Pakistan's Army eliminated all seven Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists ending the nine-hour siege in what is now being called as the bloodiest massacre in the country by the extremists since its existence.
The bloodbath in Peshawar also brought back the chilling memories of the 2004 mass killing of children by Chechen Islamist rebels in Beslan. While committing this “senseless act of unspeakable brutality”, as PM Narendra Modi described the attack in his condolence message, the Taliban gunmen shot children in the head and chest and used many as human shields.
Though there can be no justification for the “unconscionable attack”, which the Taliban later claimed was in reprisal for the Pakistan Army's continued operations in North Waziristan, the incident reminds me of the saying – you reap what you sow.
Even as condemnations pour from every parts of the globe and leaders from various nationalities pledge to fight the menace of terrorism together and support Islamabad in its hour of grief, a more pertinent question which is being asked is whether Pakistan will be a changed nation now?
Will Pakistan's Army and its 'sinister' ISI stop lending their tacit support to the 'non-state actors' now? Will Pakistan learn any lesson from the Peshawar incident? Will the people of Pakistan, and more importantly, its civilian rulers ever realise that fanaticism and unmindful jihad has done no good for any society and the senseless killings in the name of religion can't be accepted any more.
The brazen attack also raises questions over existing loopholes in the country's security apparatus. How, otherwise, could seven heavily armed militants, dressed in army uniforms, manage to enter the school through a back door shortly before midday? The incident also calls for a massive assessment of the security arrangements in and around Pakistan's nuclear installation. God forbid, if Taliban ever seizes control over the country's weapons of mass destruction!
And if Pakistan Army's director of public information, Gen Asim Bajwa is to be believed, the attackers never planned to take hostages and were simply out to kill as many people as possible. One can easily imagine what would have been the casualty figures had the Taliban gunmen succeeded in their evil designs to kill many more as there were close to a thousand people inside the school compound at the start of the assault.
It is high time that Pakistan's military realises that there is “no good or bad Taliban”, and that such organisations are now proving dangerous for the country itself. So, is it the turnaround moment for the Pakistan's Army? Will the Pakistan Army introspect after the brutal killings of more than 135 innocent children and stop supporting terror as a political tool?
Despite growing calls for a united effort to defeat such demonic forces from across the globe, there's little hope that Pakistan will cut its strategic ties with terror. What proves the point is the fact that the members of Falah-e-Insaniyat foundation run by JuD founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed - India's most wanted man, who is also seen as a philanthropist in Pakistan - were seen helping out at the site of the attack.
Interestingly, Pakistan has always been in the denial mode regarding the presence of Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in India for Mumbai terror attacks, and Hafiz Saeed, who recently held a huge rally when the Pakistan Army chief was in the US.
All this indicates the high acceptability of terror outfits like LeT in the Pakistani society. Politicians in Pakistan are so afraid of these terror operators that many including PTI chief Imran Khan stopped short of blaming Taliban by name in their condemnation of the Peshawar attack.
As a father of two beautiful kids, I can realise the pain and agony of hundreds of families in Peshawar, which lost their dear ones for no fault of theirs. We surely do not raise our children to see them dying in an incident like Peshawar. No parent in this world expects to collect the blood-soaked bodies of their kids in the evening after happily seeing them off to school in the morning.
In the aftermath of the attack, all eyes are now on the Pakistani Army, which has announced that it will not back off from military offensive against militants in North Waziristan. Whether it will revisit its policy of using terror for political gains is yet to be seen.
Indian defence experts view the situation in Pakistan from a different angle. They say that Pakistan Army may use Peshawar incident to seek awam's(people’s) sympathy and support, claiming that they are the only institution which can save Pakistan from the threats of Taliban.
Pakistan Defence Minister Khwaja Asif's remarks that "what happened is a manifestation of our commitment, that the way they have retaliated, that means that we are really hurting them. We are hurting them very, very much, especially in North Waziristan, which was called the epicentre of terrorism in this whole region or perhaps in the world,” further proves the point.
But sooner or later, the powerful military, which continues to support the "good Taliban," which shares its strategic goals in India and Afghanistan, will understand that the 'Taliban monster' is partly its own fault, its own creation, which is now threatening the nation.
2014 has been a particularly turbulent year in Pakistan. Its most populous city - Karachi - saw several militant attacks on health workers, who were part of government's polio virus elimination programme. Political fire-fighting against the Nawaz Sharif government, especially led by PTI chief Imran Khan, has further weakened the military-dominated democracy in the country.
Though the military offensive by the Pakistan Army in the North Waziristan has to some extent weakened the Taliban militia's grip on the tribal belt, the ongoing war has forced millions to flee to safer areas. Pushed into a corner by the Pakistan Army, many Taliban fighters have crossed into the other side of the border with Afghanistan.
When the Pakistan Army began its North Waziristan offensive in June, the Pakistan Taliban had warned of dire consequences and after Tuesday's school attack, it has proved that it is still a force to be reckoned with. The Taliban 's strategy is clear – it wants to tell the civilians in Pakistan that it can hit them anywhere and at will and that the military can't protect them.
However, in a significant step towards tackling terrorism, Pakistan government has revoked the ban on capital punishment in terrorism cases following which the terrorists facing death penalty could be executed.
But even as millions in Pakistan continue to mourn the deaths of innocent children, we all know that no degree of condemnation, no monetary compensation, no word of sympathy can reduce the pain of victims' family members and heal their wounds, which will fester as long as they will live, but Pakistan, as a nation, can do one thing - take a pledge that it will not be shaken by this cowardly attack and its resolve to fight the menace of terrorism will only become stronger.
Let's hope that Pakistan moves in a positive direction from here and can demonstrate to the whole world that it has the ability to tame the demonic forces in the days to come.