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A heartless crime in Peshawar

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Mahendra.Ved
Written by Mahendra.Ved

From New Straits Times

It is difficult to comprehend what thought, cause or compulsion can drive anyone to massacre school children. Students of the Army Public School in Peshawar began their Tuesday in their uniform of green blazers and grey flannel trousers. They ended it in burial shrouds and were brought home in coffins. More than 130 were gunned down and many more maimed by six suicide attackers of the banned Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

A report in Dawn newspaper said: “To save themselves, the students hit the ground, their young bodies aligning with the earth to evade the bullets that sought their bodies. But the killers had come to kill. According to eyewitnesses, there was no hurried or haphazard showering of bullets. The killers killed one by one, pointing their guns at one child and then another, watching their bodies flinch and fail.”

The killers moved from one classroom to another, shooting at point-blank range, into some bewildered child’s eyes. Given their aversion to a working woman, a teacher was given special treatment — she was burnt alive.

Pakistan Army spokesman Asim Bajwa confirmed that the terrorists wanted to kill as many as they could. They had no intention to take hostages.

Dawn’s editorial said: “The militants found the one target in which all the fears of Pakistan could coalesce: young children in school, vulnerable, helpless and whose deaths will strike a collective psychological blow that the country will take a long time to recover from, if ever”.

I cannot better the “gift” that Nighat Orakzai, a woman legislator of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, angrily announced, of “bangles and scarves” to the TTP that claimed credit for the killings. In South Asia’s culture, such a gift is the ultimate in insult and admonition.

Amid shrill cries of parents who lost their wards, there were also stories of courage and fortitude, of sobbing fathers vowing to continue to send children to school, no matter what risk was involved, of students making a beeline to donate blood.

In India — I am sure elsewhere, too, — Parliament mourned the deaths and schools held prayer meetings.

In Pakistan, also Afghanistan, targeting of students has stemmed from two factors.

First, schools and children are soft targets. An attack like this causes huge shock across the world. Second, modern education is anathema to Islamists, who see it as a Western conspiracy.

Malala Yousafzai, lucky to survive the TTP attack and receive the Nobel peace prize a few days ago, is “heart-broken” by the Peshawar killings. Her Indian co-winner of the Nobel, Kailash Satyarthi, has offered his own custody, if the militants, anywhere, will spare the children.

Malala was not the first and is certainly not the last TTP victim. A report issued by the Global Coalition for the Protection of Education this year noted that between 2009 and 2012, there were 800 attacks on schools in Pakistan. Even when TTP took over Swat Valley some years ago, its men blew up several school buildings.

Attacking families has been frequent in Pakistan’s sectarian violence. Death was inflicted with guns and explosions when Shias were visiting their mosque on Moharram this year and when Christians were preparing for the Sunday mass at a Peshawar church.

A global report compiled by William Robert Johnston, titled “Terrorist and criminal attacks targeting children”, last updated on April 20 last year, said: “Terrorism, as a general rule, targets non-combatants, including men, women, and children. However, terrorist attacks specifically targeting children over other non-combatants are uncommon.”

United States analyst Anthony H. Cordesman said attacks on school children in Pakistan were 108 per cent more than the global average in 2012. There were 102 attacks on boys’ and girls’ primary, secondary and higher secondary schools that year.

Pakistan’s top spy agencies told the Supreme Court on March 27 last year that 1,030 schools and colleges were destroyed by Taliban in KPK province from 2009 to last year.

The Express Tribune newspaper quoting government lawyers at the court’s proceedings put the toll from terrorism at 49,000 lives since 9/11. More than 24,000 people, both civilians and troops, were killed in terrorist attacks between the years 2001 and 2008.

The US’ drone attacks are supposed to have killed more civilians than militants, in a ratio of 50 to one. In Pakistan Army’s military offensive against the Taliban between 2008 and last year, another 25,000-plus people died, the government told the Supreme Court. More than 1,000 have died in the current Zarb-e-Azb military operation.

Pakistani analysts have coined a new term, “miltablishment” for the country’s elite: the politicians, the military and the civil bureaucracy. Sharif brothers — Prime Minister Nawaz and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz — and the right-wing parties are compromised by the military on one hand and the militants on the other.

This miltablishment has pursued a duplicitous policy of distinguishing between good and bad Taliban, both domestic and the Afghans. Targeting the militants in North Waziristan while ignoring the activities of the Lashkar-e-Toyaba (LeT) and Hafiz Saeed has only left both its flanks open.

The best example of this charade is Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), that rules in KPK province. He harps on talks with the Taliban and would only say of Peshawar killings: this is not justified. His spokesman, Shireen Mazari, however, called the TTP janwar (animals).

Is there redemption for Pakistan? According to a survey by the British Council published last year, a majority of respondents — 38 per cent — expressed the opinion that syariah was the “best system” for Pakistan. Another 32 per cent backed military rule. The smallest number, 29 per cent, favoured democracy.

The survey covered more than 5,200 youth. Ironically, more than 90 per cent of the youth surveyed, unhappy with the system, also believed that the country was heading in the “wrong direction”. So, there is hope.

photo credit: Israel Defense Forces via photopin cc

About the author

Mahendra.Ved

Mahendra.Ved

Mahendra Ved is a New Delhi-based journalist. He writes a column for The New Straits Times in Kuala Lampur. He is Senior Editor with Power Politics monthly magazine and contributes to several journals. He is a regular on All India Radio and had long stints before turning to freelance with The Times of India and The Hindustan Times. He began his career with United News of India (UNI) news agency. Ved has co-authored two books, Afghan Turmoil: Changing Equations (1998) and Afghan Buzkhashi: Great Games and Gamesmen (2000). He writes on political affairs and focuses on India’s neighbourhoods. He also lectures at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications and Times of India’s Times School of Journalism.

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