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New blood-soaked benchmark

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The feet of a victim of a Taliban attack in a school are tied together  at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. —AP/File
The feet of a victim of a Taliban attack in a school are tied together at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. —AP/File

IT was an attack so horrifying, so shocking and numbing that the mind struggles to comprehend it. Helpless schoolchildren hunted down methodically and relentlessly by militants determined to kill as many as quickly as possible.

As a country looked on in shock yesterday, the death count seemed to increase by the minute. First a few bodies, dead schoolchildren in bloodied uniforms, then more bodies, and then more and more until the number became so large that even tracking it seemed obscene.

Peshawar has suffered before, massively. But nothing compares to the horror of what took place yesterday in Army Public School, Warsak Road. 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.

Also read: Militant siege of Peshawar school ends, 141 killed

In the immediate aftermath of the carnage, the focus must be the grieving families of the dead, the injured survivors and the hundreds of other innocent children who witnessed scenes that will haunt them forever.

Even in a society where violence is depressingly endemic and militant attacks all too common, the sheer scale of yesterday’s attack demands an extraordinary effort by every tier of the state — and society — to help the victims in every way possible.

For the survivors, the state can help ensure the best medical treatment, for both physical and psychological wounds, and rehabilitation. All too often, after the initial shock wears off and the TV cameras move on, the level of care and attention given to survivors drops precipitously. That must not be the case this time.

For the families of the dead, the state can find a way to honour their sacrifices beyond announcing so-called shaheed packages and promising to disburse cheques. It is also incumbent on wider society and the media to ensure that this time the state does more than the bare minimum.

Inevitably, the hard questions will have to be asked and answers will have to be found. Schools are by definition vulnerable, the trade-off between security and access making for a relatively soft target. Yet, vulnerability ought not to mean a disaster on this scale can occur so easily.

Where was the intelligence? The military has emphasised so-called intelligence-based operations against militants in recent months, but this was a spectacular failure of intelligence in a city, and an area within that city, that ought to have been at the very top of the list in terms of a security blanket.

Then there is the issue of the operation to find and capture or kill the militants after the attack had begun. The sheer length of the operation suggests the commanders may not have had immediate access to the school’s layout and there was no prior rescue plan in place.

Surely army public schools are under high enough risk to have merited some kind of advance planning in case of such an attack. Was that plan in place? Had there been any drills at the school to help the children know what to do in the eventuality of an attack? Who was responsible for such planning? Most importantly, will lapses be caught, accountability administered and future defences modified accordingly? The questions are always the same, but answers are hardly forthcoming.

The questions about yesterday’s attack can go on endlessly. They should. But what about the state’s willingness and ability in the fight against militancy? Vows to crush militancy in the aftermath of a massive attack are quite meaningless.

From such events can come the will to fight, but not really a strategy. Military operations in Fata and counterterrorism operations in the cities will amount to little more than fire-fighting unless there’s an attempt to attack the ideological roots of militancy and societal reach of militants.

Further, there is the reality that militancy cannot be defeated at the national level alone. Militancy is a regional problem and until it is addressed as such, there will only be a long-term ebb and flow of militancy, cycles destined to repeat themselves. Perhaps the starting point would be for the state to acknowledge that it does not quite have a plan or strategy as yet to fight militancy in totality. Denial will only lead to worse atrocities.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2014

DAWN_VIDEO - /1029551/DAWN-RM-1x1


Comments (45) Closed



shyam Dec 17, 2014 03:15am

better late than never, Pakistan must wake-up and act against all militants- no more good/bad distinction or anti-pak/anti-india, etc..

Janu Not-German Dec 17, 2014 04:11am

Psycho-social support for the families of those who lost their lives and those who survived is extremely important. An incident like this can leave scar for a life time. Looking at the scale of this tragedy all provinces, all medical professionals, all civil society organisations should come together and do what they can to help these people in their hour of grief. God-willing we will survive this.

Lolo Dec 17, 2014 04:29am

Very sad event in Pakistan's history after Dhaka fall on Dec 16, 1971...This is Peshawar Fall on Dec 16, 2014....Very sad...

Life Dec 17, 2014 05:45am

I am numb

Lakshman Dec 17, 2014 06:35am

Today, we Indians are going to have 2 minutes's silence and prayers in all 7 lakh schools across India for showing solidarity and sharing our neighbor's grief, sorrow, and pain of school children martyred in Peshawar....

Mohni Dec 17, 2014 06:41am

I urge the media to play its role in building up the pressure on the government and also developing a narrative against this perverted ideology by giving names and faces to the victims. Let these children and teachers be not treated merely as statistics. Narrate their stories. Tell Pakistanis who were these children? What were their dreams and how their lives were taken by Taliban's. Let their be no confusion that enemy is within and this is not Islam.

kalyan Dec 17, 2014 07:05am

Pakistanis have had enough, now, the entire wrath of the Pakistani People will turn towards Taliban and its nurturers. Common people may be docile but when they erupt their tormentors will feel their might. I feel yesterday a new Pakistan emerged as a nation determined to root out terrorism. Praying the almighty that you succeed and many Indians this week will pray for you in their Temples, churches and mosques.

Abdul Rehman, U.S.A. Dec 17, 2014 07:22am

The government of Pakistan should take action to rectify the future problem, not by statement only. The the area in danger of terrorism should be cordoned, because this is an internal war against terrorism and this is could only be rectifying by cordoning the dangerous area, even if this inconvenience them. The victims and the family of victim should be reimbursed for their losses generously, although there is no price on lost life, which would never be compensated.

IndianInUS Dec 17, 2014 07:24am

I just came from local temple here in USA. 100s of indians were lighting candles and saying prayers for The children lost in this heinous attack by terrorists. Our hearts go out to the parents.

omkar Dec 17, 2014 08:11am

a Simple answer,

the people that attacked school are inspired and trained by same people who trained Mumbai 7/11 attackers

Khalifa Dec 17, 2014 08:59am

Many and very swift actions must be taken. When the politicians from treasury and opposition benches meet today in Peshawar, they must devise a code of conduct till the time KPK in particular and Pakistan in general is not freed from the scourge of terrorism. No one will benefit from civil disorders and calls of closure in such situation which is extraordinary from any evaluation. The nurseries of hate, militancy and terror must be brought to surveillance and justice. Icons of murder and lawlessness must be given exemplary punishments. Rhetoric in routine religious rituals must be closely monitored. Nationwide scrutiny of prayer leaders and others affiliated with the delivery of Fridaysermons must be done. State must form the regulatory mechanisms to bring the conduct of places of worship under monitoring - they should not become sanctuaries of runaway criminals. Media must also observe care in inviting and airing the thoughts of so called opinion leaders. In the backdrop of blood soaked context of Peshawar yesterday, it was disgusting to listen to the Lal Masjid cleric who was questioning the usefulness of operation Zarb-e-Azb!

nishi Dec 17, 2014 09:21am

This is a tragedy of unimaginable intensity. Pakistan will see a wave of goodwill from all civilized society including its neighbor India. It must put that goodwill to use in order to eliminate terror and terrorist from its land. Breeding terror or letting terrorists fester for any religious or political reason must be stopped and should have zero acceptance.

Brijesh Dec 17, 2014 09:31am

There is a special place for the perpetrators. Prayers with the people of Pakistan today.

Zahid Dec 17, 2014 09:43am

These criminals are always let go by our courts on the pretext of lack of witnesses while in fact they do this out of cowardliness. Unless the country does not get rid of these coward and incompetent judges and put in their places some very brave, trained and competent ones the criminals will always go Scot free to indulge an another spree of blood shed. The government should take a bold step to sack all present judges and hang those who let the terrorists go free. ( I doubt that these comments shall even be displayed).

Dovid Dec 17, 2014 09:45am

I am utterly devastated by this horrendous news and my heart goes out to the poor families of the innocent victims who must be struggling to comprehend how the children they so lovingly farewelled that morning will never return home. Pakistan Zindabad !!!

Lakshman Dec 17, 2014 09:46am

In Memory of Pakistan School Victims, 2-Minute Silence in Schools Across India

art Dec 17, 2014 09:54am

Somewhere someone is responsible and he should be punished, rhetorical nonsense is not enough, what is it our security dept are doing? what is our defense dept doing? we pay our taxes we face daily hardship for what? to see our children killed by blood thirsty monsters?

If you cannot provide your citizens security you have no right to rule us. You have no right to drive by in shiny cars while poor people wait in line SHAME ON YOU.

saqib Dec 17, 2014 09:56am

The government has failed again to protect its people.Until there is a political resolve,these things will happen again and again.A significant part of the security forces are deployed to protect a few VVIPs.The politicians are afraid of condemning the terrorist and so are the judiciary.These terrorist do not get punished because of judges and if they are sentenced, then they are not hanged because of cowardice of the politicians.We have to be brave and proactive to get rid of this menace

Moona Dec 17, 2014 10:14am

How can such evil exist? May God have mercy on us.

Usman Masood Dec 17, 2014 10:19am

Even when you talk of drills, you talk of reaction. Security is 90% Preemptive, or it is not. Reactions are always late.

Naveed I Dec 17, 2014 10:25am

Surviving princelings will never be able to fully recuperate from psychotic trauma.

Banhed Dec 17, 2014 10:40am

Do the people of my country want vengeance?

The worst people were not the attackers, it was the planners, the suppliers, the instructors, the transporters, the indoctrinators behind them.

Why?

Those guys are still alive, maybe even planning another attack.

Wanna find them?

Well then:

  1. Take DNA from dead bodies f attackers, determine where are from. If they are from Pakistan, cross reference their dna with criminals in jail. maybe we might find someone with similar DNA. cross reference with people from different districts of FATA or KPK. We can find a relative or family member, narrow down our search.

  2. The attackers probably didn't urinate during the attack right?. Analyze the water in their kidneys. Water from different localities has different and unique compositions(chlorine content, iodides etc.) even in FATA or KPK.

  3. Check their weapons and their bullets. Determine if they are local of foreign. Have a local gun expert analyze them. It might lead to a gun market in KPK or FATA.

  4. Check their clothing, maybe it has labels.

5.They were corresponding wit their handlers right? Check their calls. Telecom companies record all phone and mobile calls. Retrace their calls.

  1. They were wearing Frontier Corps fatigues according to army reports. If true, check with local manufacturers of army fatigues if any non-military buyers bought Frontier Corps fatigues. In any other country suspicions would be raised in this circumstance.

  2. Check their explosives. What was it (C4 etc). If so, then have intelligence ops across Pakistan find out where these explosives come from. Are they made locally? Are they smuggled in? Find the source of these things.

  3. Some say it was a inside job. Then interrogate school employees. Maybe those employees who were insiders didnt have a shift at the time of attack, maybe they called in sick, maybe they are new employees. Even employees who recently left the jobs. They probably gathered the map of the inside and left their jobs there.

  4. Check the attacker bodies. Before the operation they were probably hugged by their handlers. This would leave fingerprints, hair and other body particles on bodies of attackers. Analyze their bodies, find identities of their handlers.

  5. There are probably CCTVs around the school. Check them try to look for vehicles that kept circling the school. Try to see if we can spot vehicle that dropped off the attackers. Maybe use other CCTVs to map out route o

think_then_speak Dec 17, 2014 10:50am

I agree 100% that intelligence and planning was lacking on part of security establishment that is eating up 80% of the national budget. There should be some punitive action for the spy agency.

DC Dec 17, 2014 11:05am

Why this barbaric act on innocent children. This show these terrorist are coward and inhuman,

Middle east Dec 17, 2014 11:15am

How many more such incidents should the people of Pak and world witness for the establishment to take action. More than anything else it is the political will that is needed to find a permanent solution once and for all. High-time for Pak to act and destroy all safe-havens sheltering these animals in disguise. Such factions is a curse to the entire humanity.

outspoken Dec 17, 2014 11:23am

Most forthright summing up, And the final sentence tells it all. The army is fighting the TTP. No holds are barred. For the TTP, the army school was an institution belonged to the army and therefore a "legitimate" target and an easier one where there was no security apparatus in place. The truth is you cannot connive at and covertly nurture one kind of militancy (Hafiz Sayeed type) and fight another kind. Militancy is militancy, and should be treated equally.

ALI MASUD Dec 17, 2014 11:24am

Best defense is in offence, so if we want to get rid of terrorists and their masters we must attack them with all the powers we have at our disposal. But only this action will not eliminate the terrorism as the biggest root cause of terrorism is the UNJUSTISE prevailing in our society. When majority of the people will feel that JUSTISE is being done in our society, things will start going towards a better life. Moreover note that JUSTISE delayed is JUSTISE denied.

Saif Sadar Dec 17, 2014 12:47pm

It was a cowardly attack which at best can be described as a heinous sin against humanity... These terrorists have no religion and they have done a great disservice to Islam and the Holy Prophet... It is high time that Pakistan must take these groups head-on...

Ahmed Dec 17, 2014 01:39pm

@Banhed

http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-151224-Fighting-terror-in-modern-times

You have valid points, I wrote an article 2 years ago. Your every point has been highlighted in that article. The problem is that the people who have power and authority to implement are beyond comprehension, how technology and science works.

rahul1 Dec 17, 2014 02:09pm

Sad event . This may also be the point inflection

Abhay Dec 17, 2014 02:21pm

It is a sad day for humanity. It does not matter whether you are an Indian or Pakistani. A group of humans killed young humans for no reason. It is perfectly fitting that Indian parliament and schools are paying homage. Hope Pakistan-people,Govt, Army and other organisations understand the feelings of solidarity expressed by Indian Parliament and schools. We have gone thro similar pains for over two decades. Many of the incidents-where our young and old maimed by fanatics coming from across. I am not blaming. I recall an incident at Akshardham massacre when a terrorist gestured a grandmother holding two small kids to let them go. Then he killed the small ones in full view. Hope Pakistani machinery feels the pain now and do something..not to save us Indians but all human beings from the madness. We can live,compete and prosper together. Modi Govt and Indian parliament has shown what it truly feels for Pakistan. Will Pakistan respond positively? Catch hold of Hafeej Syeds and all. Make a law to punish them. You can not keep the snakes and assume they will bite only neighbours

Feroz Dec 17, 2014 02:41pm

This tragedy is beyond belief. Bring the masterminds and planners to book immediately. The only good terrorist is a dead one. Why are still some section of terrorists being given special privileges and patronage, is not the value of a human life the same everywhere ?

sanjeev kumar Dec 17, 2014 02:54pm

I feel that it is murder of humanity. It is impossible for parents of young school going children to bear the pain.Oh! I feel the pain of parents of these students alas I am unable to reduce it .

Last Word Dec 17, 2014 03:16pm

After military launched the operation in NW, it was a foregone conclusion that Taliban would be targeting soft targets namely sports stadiums, cinema halls, schools, busy markets etc. But those who knows something about counter-insurgency operations, it was quite surprising to note that militants taking refuge in cities along with their sleeping cells were not targeted simultaneously by the police or para-military forces. The militants had been making their presence felt in KP for the past two months, finally targeted the school in Peshawar is a serious lapse of both intelligence agencies and security forces. Pakistan also needs to review the policy of fighting the terrorists organisations selectively, using some of them against the neighbours which may as well backfire in the near future. After this most tragic attack resulting in loss of so many innocent children, Pakistan establishment should urgently revisit its decades old policy on terrorism both at home and across the borders which has outlived its utility causing in death and destruction in the country and war like situation with India.

Humanity Dec 17, 2014 03:24pm

@Banhed Excellent job...

M. Emad Dec 17, 2014 03:50pm

Many such gruesome and brutal student killings happened in 1971.

Last Word Dec 17, 2014 06:05pm

Message to Taliban-

Khoon ke napaak ye dhabbe, Khuda se kaise chippao ge

Masoomon ki kabar par chadkar, kaun si jannat pao ge

S. Haider Dec 17, 2014 08:39pm

@Banhed . I agree with you. The terrorists should be punished. But the worst people are those, who plan, finance, brainwash, and give logistic help for these terror acts. The religious, political, and mental guides of these terrorists must also be eliminated.

Chandra Dec 17, 2014 10:03pm

Heartbreaking to see the picture. Shiver goes down the spine.

N. Dec 17, 2014 10:32pm

@shyam may be they should replace Sartaj Aziz, foreign minister, who coined the term, good and bad terrorists. A man with such mindset shouldn't be in the government. At yhis age he is unlikely to change and will sabotage action to eliminate all terror groups, if that ever is Pakistan's effort.

N. Dec 17, 2014 10:33pm

@Lolo This is Pakistan Wake Up call than Peshawar Fall.

N. Dec 17, 2014 10:35pm

@Mohni Very well said. The whole country needs to know each one of these children

A. Hyder,Ph.D. Dec 18, 2014 12:16am

@Last Word Talibans do not believe in Khuda. They do not believe in Allah. They do not believe in any religion. They only believe in killing and destroying. Destruction is their Khuda and killing is their Allah. When they die killing some one, they believe they are martyrs and will directly go to Heaven and be welcomed by 70+ Hoors. That is what they believe in. If we have to survive, then they have to be eliminated. These terrorists have no place on this earth.

Shahpur Dec 18, 2014 12:50am

Hang the fathers of Talibans along with their Creation.

Prasanna Kasthuri Dec 18, 2014 01:42am

Our deepest condolences to all the families who lost their loved ones, to the community which is in the ocean of grief, to a country which needs all our moral support to fight inhuman treatment of any human being. The future of Pakistan lies in education and science. I hope it will walk the path of development. All our Pakistani brothers must reconcile and find the right path. Ignorance is the enemy and power is the culprit. I wish all men in Pakistan to be more just and balanced. Make sure "Sarve Janah Sukhino Bhavanthu" (Let all communities live in peace) applies to all our lives. This will solve millions of problems human race faces at this moment. Let religious fervor not blind conscience.