If ever there was a moment of reckoning for Pakistan, it is now. The burden of 132 little coffins--and they weigh the heaviest--lies primarily on the shoulders of its army chief, General Raheel Sharif.
Over 132 children lie dead after a dastardly terror attack by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) that it has not only taken credit for but also justified.
Even before the army could clear the school and kill the terrorists, Taliban spokesperson Muhammad Umar Khorasani justified killing young children, saying, "We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females. We want them to feel the pain.
A coffin with the body of a student who was killed in Tuesday's attack in Peshawar. (Reuters photo)
The Pakistani Taliban has also justified the attack on the school claiming it to be a revenge act: revenge for the operation launched by the army against them in Waziristan.
The Pakistan army will no doubt be drawing up plans to hit back at the Taliban and not only because today's attack was aimed at an army-run school. But as the generals put their heads together to fine tune their hit-the-Taliban-hard strategy, it would serve them well to ponder over their own skewed and selective approach to terror.
For too long now, Pakistani generals have advocated a hard line against the TTP but considered the equally lethal Lashkar-e-Toiba as an asset. For too long, Pakistan's Deep State has flirted dangerously with the Afghan Taliban that it helped train and arm. But can this Deep State be picky and choosy: go after the TTP within Pakistan but support the Haqqani brothers in the hope that they will give them strategic depth in Afghanistan? Indeed, can they facilitate some groups that help them hit Indian targets in Kashmir and Kabul and simultaneously fight other groups?
Now, of all times--when young children are being put to rest in little caskets--the Pakistani Establishment should remind itself of what Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state had said while on a trip to that country. "You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbours," she had famously said.
The words ring so true today and sadly so. The pain of the parents who lost their young children in Peshawar is indeed no different from the pain of those who lost their kith and kin to the terror attack in Mumbai on 26/11. Or the pain of children and women who are killed on a more regular basis in Afghanistan.
But have those occupying the corridors of power learnt a lesson? Popular cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party, Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Islam is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), refused to name the Taliban while condemning the terror attack in Peshawar.
A hospital security guard helps a student injured in the shootout at the Army Public School in Pakistan's Peshawar. Taliban gunmen on Tuesday stormed the school, killing over 130 children and school staff. (AP Photo)
A tweet put out by the KPK home department, a few hours after the savage attack on the Peshawar school, even quoted 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed. "No religion allows killing of children. Islam across all its branches FORBIDS killing of children/women--Hafiz Saeed (Jumaat-ud-Dawaa)," the KPK Home Department tweeted.
Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif too tweeted his revulsion with these words: "Those behind cowardly acts are enemies of humanity."
Nobody can disagree with Sharif. Peshawar was beyond barbaric. So were 9/11 and 26/11 that played out on world television in 2001 and 2008.
The death of so many innocent children in the army school in Peshawar can only be avenged if the TTP is bracketed along with other terror groups like the Taliban that operates out of Afghanistan and the Lashkar and the Jaishe-Mohammad that have India squarely in their eye.
It cannot be that the Tehreek-e-Taliban is bad and the Lashkar is good. It cannot be that the Talibani ranks are terrorists and the armed Lashkar foot soldiers are mujahids or freedom fighters.
This has to be factored into any introspection by Sharif and his team at the Army HQs in Rawalpindi.
(Views expressed by the author are personal)