What The Hell Just Happened In Pakistan?

by Dish Staff

Pakistan

Nine Taliban gunmen disguised as soldiers attacked an army-run school in Peshawar this morning, killing at least 145 people, mostly children, and holding hundreds more hostage before dying in an eight-hour gun battle with security forces:

The militants’ assault on the school started at about 10 a.m., when the gunmen entered the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Local news reports said the gunmen were disguised as paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers and gained entry by scaling a wall at the rear of the main building. The attackers then opened fire on students with guns and grenades and, in a chilling echo of the Beslan school siege in Russia in 2004, took dozens of people hostage in the school’s main auditorium, according to news reports. … By late afternoon, the army said it had cleared three sections of the school compound and that troops were pushing through the remaining sections. After the last of the militants was killed, officials said, soldiers were sweeping the compound for explosives.

In taking credit for the attack, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) said it was in retaliation for a recent military offensive against the group in the lawless region of North Waziristan. Sami Yousafzai rang up a TTP commander to ask why exactly his comrades believed that the mass murder of children was an appropriate act of revenge:

[Jihad] Yar Wazir justified the killings as fitting retribution. “The parents of the army school are army soldiers and they are behind the massive killing of our kids and indiscriminate bombing in North and South Waziristan,” which are the TTP strongholds. “To hurt them at their safe haven and homes—such an attack is perfect revenge.” But the children are innocents, I said. What about them, I asked?

“What about our kids and children,” he said. “These are the kids of the U.S.-backed Pakistani army and they should stop their parents from bombing our families and children.” Yar Wazir went on: “Those kids are innocent because they are wearing a suit and tie and western shirts? But our kids wearing Islamic shalwar kamiz do not come before the eyes of the media and the west.”

To Juan Cole, the attack is indicative of the TTP’s desperation:

North Waziristan had always been protected by military intelligence and so had become a haven for al-Qaeda offshoots. But in the past 6 months Pakistani army troops have killed nearly 2000 fighters and deeply disrupted what is left of the Pakistani Taliban. The group that took over the school complains of the perfidy of the government’s bombing. So this school attack was the Pakistani Taliban taking revenge for the government’s disruption of their terrorist activities. This is not a sign of strength but of weakness, and they lashed out at a soft target. They are facing a major defeat. That is its significance.

And Samira Shackle expects that “the sheer brutality of the event will answer some of the internal political debates about how best to tackle the terrorist threat”:

As recently as spring, the Pakistani government was pursuing talks with the Taliban, even as violent attacks across the country surged. Many in the mainstream political right wing still agitate for appeasement and negotiations rather than a military operation. And amongst the wider population, there is a fault-line of people who explicitly or tacitly support the actions of the TTP and associated groups, even as they suffer the effects of this campaign of terror. Some commentators have suggested that the sheer brutality of this assault will undermine the arguments of those who would like to see negotiations with the TTP, and will perhaps reduce that element of support amongst the wider populace. The group is seeking the destruction of the Pakistani state as its minimum, and speaks only the language of violence. That is no starting point for a meaningful settlement.

(Photo: A view of the coffins at Lady Reading Hospital where the casualties of a Taliban attack on a school were carried in the northwestern city of Peshawar, Pakistan, on December 16, 2014. By Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)