Even by terror’s gory standards, the bomb attack in Peshawar city that killed 105 people was of an order of savagery that surpassed anything Pakistan had seen before. It targeted the most vulnerable among civilians — women and children — and capped a month-long orgy of violence unleashed by extremist militants across the country. The timing of the attack with the arrival in Pakistan of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might have been a coincidence. Even so, it was a horrific demonstration of the challenges to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership in the “war on terror.” The terror attacks are clearly aimed at sapping the nation’s morale as its army, under pressure from the U.S., battles the Taliban in its South Waziristan stronghold. The thinking seems to be that a terrorised nation will lose the stomach for military operations against the militants — but the attacks are having the opposite effect. Pakistanis are asking what kind of beasts are these who deliberately set out to target young students, women, and children. The suicide bombings at the International Islamic University earlier this month was an indication that the militants would stop at nothing. The realisation that the national mood has hardened against the militants and that Pakistanis own the war against the Taliban more than before will strengthen the army in its ongoing operation in South Waziristan. But if the idea is to root out terrorism and extremism, the time for selective operations is long past. The security establishment needs to stop making distinctions between militant groups that have turned against the Pakistani state and those that can still be viewed as ‘assets’ against India. Some of the recent attacks have shown that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the so-called jihadi groups are acting in concert.
It is unfortunate that instead of articulating this huge internal threat and educating the nation about it, a senior Pakistani government functionary has chosen to hurl the senseless accusation that India is funding the Taliban. The same Taliban were described less than a year ago as ‘patriots’ willing to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pakistani armed forces against India. Making anti-India statements is one sure way for officials under pressure to earn political brownie points. But each such statement makes it more difficult to retrace the path to better relations. At this difficult time, Islamabad can clearly do without ratcheting up tensions with India. Equally, New Delhi must stop poking Pakistan in the eye with gratuitous comments after every other terrorist attack in that country.