Peshawar: Even as the nation continued to reel in shock after the barbaric Taliban attack on the Army school in Peshawar, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with other political party leaders on Wednesday and said that they have decided to draft a national plan against terrorists.
"We announce that there will be no differentiation between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban and have resolved to continue the war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated. The fight against terrorism is our fight and to counter it, a holistic roadmap is needed," he said, the PTI reported.
Military spokesperson Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa said that some adults died in the hospital today, taking the overall toll to 148.
Even as the entire world at large is pained over the loss of more than a hundred innocent lives and parents in Peshawar bury their children with heavy hearts, Pakistan Taliban - the terror group that carried out the deadly school attack - showed no remorse and instead, sought to justify the heinous attacks.
In a new statement emailed by Mohammad Khurasani, the spokesman for the banned Pakistani Taliban, he says that the operation was masterminded by Umer Mansoor, a Taliban military chief in the Dara Adam Khel region. He adds that he led the six suicide bombers during the attack on the army-run school in Peshawar, the BBC reports.
The statement adds that Umer Mansoor remained in touch with the assailants throughout the attack.
The new Taliban statement also seeks to justify the bloodshed saying, they targeted the school as children of army personnel studied there.
Taliban claims that the attack was carried out in retaliation as Pakistani security agencies had detained militants' relatives and killed them in staged encounters. It says 600 people have been killed in this way this year, the BBC added.
In the aftermath of the blood-curdling Taliban assault on Peshawar school kids, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday lifted the moratorium on capital punishment and approved the implementation of death penalty to any and all of captives who have been involved in terrorism or militancy.
The key measure comes just a day after Pakistan was at the receiving end of the deadliest terror attack in its history that saw over 130 children being slain. The move was announced in an all party meet held in the Governor House today that was led by the PM Nawaz Sharif and attended by all parties like PML-N, PTI, PPP, ANP, MQM and also Jamaat-e-Islami.
Meanwhile the death toll from the school attack rose to 148 today as three more staff members succumbed to injuries, reports said. Earlier the death toll stood at 141, which included 132 students and 9 staff members.
Expressing grief over the tragic attack, PM said that it was the worst inhuman barbaric act and "the losses of children will not go in vain". He added that the talks with terrorists had not yielded any results and hence permanent peace in the country will be established only with the logical conclusion of the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Sharif added that there was no question to leave the mission unaccomplished and said that the fight against terrorism will continue.
"We have had talks with Afghanistan about jointly fighting the menace of terrorism," said the PM. Also, Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif on Wednesday left for Afghanistan`s capital Kabul to meet the top Afghan military and political leadership. Reports said that in Kabul the Pakistani Army Chief will seek extradition of Taliban leader Mullah Fazlluah, whose group claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.
"We will fight this war keeping in mind the faces of our children martyred yesterday," said Sharif.
— Home Department KPK (@htakpk) December 17, 2014
The losses incurred in #PeshwarAttack will not go invain. - PM Pakistan Nawaz Sharif
— Home Department KPK (@htakpk) December 17, 2014
Announcing the key decision, the PM also said there was a dire need of speedy trials of terrorists, who need to be brought to justice speedily. These remarks came at an APC (All Party Conference) that started in Peshawar today afternoon. The APC that was held with an agenda to discuss measures to weed out terrorism, began with a Fateha being read for the martyrs of the school attack.
— Radio Pakistan (@RadioPakistan) December 17, 2014
APC gets under way in Peshawar with Fateha for the martyrs pic.twitter.com/yFpsaLpMw6
— Radio Pakistan (@RadioPakistan) December 17, 2014
Before leaving for Peshawar APC, PM Nawaz Sharif said that the Army will continue the anti-terror Operation Zarb-e Azb as it has "broken the backbone of the terrorists".
Sharif vowed that Pakistan will chase the terrorists to their hideouts and eliminate them as it was high time to take to task all the elements "who martyred our children".
Sharif had yesterday called the assault on the school "a national tragedy" and declared three days of mourning.
"Smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry"
Expressing deep regret over the loss of innocent lives, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said that children are dying on the frontline in the war against terror". "The smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry," the CNN quoted him as saying. He added that Pakistan was undeterred and will not back off in its fight against terrorism.
"The Taliban are extremists, the terrorists. They are the biggest threat to the peace in this region, to peace in Pakistan, to the existence of Pakistan. We don't classify between different groups of Taliban that there are good Taliban and bad Taliban. They are all bad," Asif told the CNN.
Candles and coffins and vacant classrooms - Cold sombre day for Pakistan
Pakistan woke up to a day of mourning on Wednesday after Taliban militants killed 141 people, nearly all of them children, at a school in the northwestern city, near the border with Afghanistan, on Tuesday.
People around the country lit candles and staged overnight vigils as parents prepared to bury their children during mass funerals in and around Peshawar - a big, volatile city on the edge of Pakistan`s lawless tribal belt.
A day after the attack, Peshawar appeared subdued and many were still in shock, recalling the gruesome events and trying to soothe each other.
Notably, Pakistanis may be used to almost daily militant attacks against the security forces but an outright assault on children stunned the country, prompting commentators to call for a tough military response.
The grisly attack not only shocked the nation but also drew condemnation from across the world.
In Peshawar, the vast grounds of the military-run Army Public School were all but deserted, with a handful of snipers manning the roofs of its pink brick-and-stone buildings.
Army vehicles and soldiers wearing face masks and carrying automatic rifles were deployed by the entrance.
Pakistan's main Taliban group, known as the TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was in reprisal for the what the militants claimed was the targeting of their families by the military.
After securing the school, the military embarked on a anti-insurgent sweep across Peshawar and the surrounding province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A counterinsurgency operation six months ago in the Khyber and North Waziristan areas left more than 1,100 insurgents dead, according to Pakistan's Army.
From "God is Great" to "kids beneath the benches..kill them"
Even as Pakistan and the world at large, is struggling to come to terms with the bloodbath staged by the Taliban in a Peshawar school, gut-wrenching details emerged about the blood-thirsty monsters as victim kids recounted the horrific events of the fateful day.
In one such elegiac account straight from the mouth of an injured child, 16-year-old Shahrukh Khan said how he would never forget the horror of a pair of "black boots approaching" him as he played dead beneath the bench in the school as Taliban bombers went classroom to classroom, hunting for children beneath the benches, eager to pump bullets in their heads and chest.
Speaking to the AFP, the 16-year-old recounted the grisly event speaking from his bed in the trauma ward of the city`s Lady Reading Hospital and said how the gunmen shouted "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) before opening fire.
"One of them shouted - There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them... I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches," the child told AFP.
He narrated how he folded his tie and stuffed it into his mouth to avoid screaming even as both his legs were injured by gunshot.
"The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again... My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me -- I felt as though it was death that was approaching me."
Int'l Airlines halt flights to and for Peshawar
Just a day after the horrific Taliban attack, international airlines ceased their operations in Peshawar, citing security concerns.
"We can confirm that we are suspending our flights to Peshawar for operational reasons. This will take effect immediately (from 16 December) until further notice," UAE-based Emirates said in a statement.
But the services to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, and Sialkot will continue to operate as planned.
Good and bad Taliban
Yet, despite the well-publicised crackdown, the military has long been accused of being too lenient towards Islamist militants who critics say are used to carry out the army`s bidding in places like the disputed Kashmir region and Afghanistan.
The military denies the accusations.
"People will have to stop equivocating and come together in the face of national tragedy," said Sherry Rehman, a former ambassador to the United States and an opposition politician.
"There have been national leaders who been apologetic about the Taliban, who have not named the Taliban in their speeches."
The Pakistani Taliban, who are fighting to impose strict Islamic rule in Pakistan, are holed up in the inaccessible mountains straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
They are allied with the Afghan Taliban as well as al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, and Pakistan has long accused Afghanistan of not doing enough to crack down on their bases.
Afghanistan, for its part, blames Pakistan for allowing militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network to operate freely on its territory and stage attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan`s Army chief was expected to visit Afghanistan on Wednesday for what is likely to be a day of uneasy talks with his Afghan counterparts on how to tackle the insurgency.
Pakistan`s Dawn newspaper quoted a source as saying that the militants were acting on direct orders from their handlers in Afghanistan and that prominent Taliban commander Umar Naray was the ultimate mastermind of the attack.
Speaking late on Tuesday, Army spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa hinted at that without naming Afghanistan.
"When these militants reached the school ... we found out which group was involved, who they were talking to, from where the operation was being controlled," he said. "God willing, in coming two-four days you will get to know."
(With Agency inputs)