Soft targets, hard questions

The world saw terrorism’s darkest face on Tuesday. The cold-blooded >killing of 132 students and nine staff members in a school in Peshawar has left the entire world shaken at the terrorists’ determination to find ever softer targets and notch up higher levels of brutality. There could not have been a more vulnerable place than a school, or more defenceless targets than children. Yet, even in a place used to terrorist acts, even after the >Taliban targeted a 15-year-old girl called Malala Yusufzai two years ago, if parents continued to send their children to school, it was because they thought terrorism had already plumbed such depths that nothing worse could happen. They were proved tragically wrong. Going by the accounts of those who were inside and fortunate to live to tell the tale, the six men who entered the school were merciless, going from classroom to classroom hunting for those still alive. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have claimed responsibility for the act, describing it as revenge for the Pakistan Army operation against them in North Waziristan and other parts of the north-western frontier region. The bombing campaigns by the Pakistan military in those regions had claimed civilian lives, and the Taliban have said they carried out the school bloodbath because they want the Army to feel the same pain. The Pakistani Taliban are evidently hoping to bring public pressure on the Army to call off operation Zarb-e-Azb entirely.

Pakistan’s response to this outrage will be crucial to its own future, and to the peace and stability of the region. After an all-party meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the military operation would go on until the last terrorist was eliminated. Army chief General Raheel Sharif has also stood firm. But it will take more than a drive against a select group of militants to root out terrorism. Decades of active encouragement by the Pakistani state and its security establishment to terrorism aimed at Afghanistan and India have engendered a high level of tolerance within sections of the Pakistani military, polity and society for such non-state actors. Only those with blinkers would believe that there are “good” and “bad” Taliban, that it is all right for the Lashkar-e-Taiba to run free and recruit for jihadi missions in India but it is unacceptable for Taliban to strike inside Pakistan. Lifting a moratorium on hangings, as Prime Minister Sharif has announced, is not going to stop terrorists. Unless the change comes in what Pakistan describes as its “national ideology”, in effect a fusion of religion with national security, militancy will continue to haunt the country. The widespread revulsion over the school massacre provides an opportunity to craft a new ideology that does not confuse terrorists with instruments of national security.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2022 6:25:24 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Editorial-Soft-targets-hard-questions/article59784252.ece