The whole country is in mourning after the tragic and brutal events in Peshawar as the terrorist targeted a school which caused the 141 deaths of the innocent children and staff members of the school. It is the largest terrorist attack in the history of the country which has left everyone in shock. The government in turn has announced three days of official mourning. Everyone must be struggling to put the feelings into words. As the comprehensive details have emerged, not it is easy to portray a picture of what had happened. Nine terrorists reportedly wearing military uniforms managed to access the premises through a back gate and started shooting indiscriminately. Three of them reportedly also exploded suicide vests, which resulted in further casualties. A counter military operation by the security forces, including SSG commandos, managed to kill all the terrorists after a protracted eight hour gun battle.
Taliban militants on the has left the entire country enveloped in a thick shroud of silence and grief, united in our disbelief that anyone, even the militants who have killed and hurt so many in this land, could stoop so low as to kill so many innocent children. Terrorists went from classroom to classroom shooting the children in the head at point blank range, one survivor told of how children belonging to army backgrounds were picked out and gunned down. Terror stricken parents gathered outside the school and hospitals, looking for their dead and injured children. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility. There is no way the country and its leadership can let this one go; there is no way a solid, chapter-turning decision cannot be made after what is, no doubt, a national tragedy.
One reflection of the manner in which this tragedy has changed the national mood is the All Parties Conference (APC) called by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Peshawar, where he had rushed soon after receiving news of the disaster. What was notable about this APC as opposed to the one last year that decided to hold eventually abortive talks with the terrorists was the consensus across the board that the time had come to firmly grasp the nettle of terrorism and crush it. The APC took the decision to pursue the war on terrorists without discrimination between so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban until the complete elimination of the terrorist phenomenon. The attack in Peshawar has united the political class behind the national agenda of combating the existential threat of terrorism. Even Imran Khan has changed his tune, as was evident in the press conference held after the APC by all the heads of parties, in which Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan sat side by side. While sticking to his guns on alleged election rigging and the need to have it investigated by a judicial commission, Imran Khan argued that this was a moment for the whole country to come together. Meanwhile COAS General Raheel Sharif, who had cut short his visit to Quetta to rush to Peshawar latter he has travelled to Kabul to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the US commander of ISAF General John F Campbell, reportedly to coordinate for the stern actions against the TTP of Mullah Fazlullah sitting on Afghan soil just across the border. Unlike in the past, this cooperation has better chances of coming through after the Peshawar tragedy. The whole world has expressed sorrow, sympathy and solidarity with Pakistan in the aftermath of the horrendous loss of so many children. News of Peshawar carnage was given the prominent place on front page in all the leading newspapers. Even our neighbours, India and Afghanistan foremost, have expressed their horror and sympathy. These are good sentiments and reactions to an event that has horrified people all over the globe. The political class and the military have come together as never before after being woken up by the brutality of the terrorists. In this fight, there is no longer any room for mercy. The snake must be scotched for good.
Last year, the PML-N government drew up the National Security Policy (NSP) to show that it was ‘serious’ in countering the growing terror threat in the country. Much noise was made about the strengthening of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to coordinate and assemble all efforts to fight the terror threat. This has been a year of some high profile targets: Karachi International Airport, Wagah border and now the children of Peshawar. It seems that work of NSP and NACTA can only be seen on papers only.
We as a nation must understand once and for all that we are at war. There are no two opinions about it; the nation is paying the cost in the blood of its people and now its children. What needed is a proper counterterrorism strategy that will pr-empt terror attacks before they happen; there is no point in providing security and protection after the fact. What needed is a long-term response and a final end to this terror.