Just days after Malala Yousufzai — the child they targeted earlier for daring to attend school — received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pakistani Taliban pitilessly gunned down more than 100 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Tuesday. It is difficult to imagine the conversations and the cold-hearted planning that the terrorists were involved in when aiming to storm a school of 1,100 children — from pre-schoolers to high school teenagers.
Pakistan has seen scores of high-profile terrorist incidents over the last decade but this distressing attack, which will plunge the country into newer depths of grief, is likely to have more far-reaching consequences.
The attack orchestrated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in reaction to the Pakistan army’s counterinsurgency operations in North Waziristan is bound to sharpen the debate within the Pakistani establishment about ways to tackle the insurgency. It will put Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a tight spot as he has traditionally preferred a more political approach to the TTP, unlike the army, which has pressed for military operations, causing a further consolidation of power in Rawalpindi’s favour. It will also further isolate figures like Imran Khan, who have long been apologists for the Taliban.
The attack is truly a national tragedy as Mr Sharif put it. India as a whole ought to empathise with its neighbour and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly condemned the act of “unspeakable brutality” and offered his condolences. The Indian public has many disagreements with Pakistan but it sincerely and unequivocally shares the pain of its bereaved in moments like this. It will however hope, as it has all these years, that the Pakistani leadership draws the right lessons from such tragedies.
The Pakistani army must not view this attack as merely a setback in the long war against insurgency but recognise this as the inevitable outcome of tolerating and supporting extremism. Rawalpindi has launched a ground offensive against TTP militants but it still sees groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba as assets to use against India and sees militant violence in Kashmir as a tool to score political points against New Delhi.
Tackling insurgencies in a badly governed multi-ethnic society like Pakistan is admittedly an arduous, complicated task. Islamabad and Rawalpindi can, nonetheless, do more to distance themselves from the worldview that inspired the dastardly attack in Peshawar.