The Pakistani Taliban said it targeted the sons of army officers with a hit list in the massacre of children at a Peshawar school as security officials said one of the deadliest terrorist strikes in the nation’s history was coordinated by militants based in Afghanistan.
“More than 50 sons of important army officers were killed after being identified,” the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “The auditorium where students of secondary and higher secondary sections were being taught first aid was targeted.”
The attackers’ activities were mainly coordinated by TTP leaders operating in Afghanistan, a Pakistani security official said yesterday. He cited intercepted communications that he termed “very credible.”
The civilian and military leaders of Pakistan have vowed to rid the nation of all terrorists since the carnage at the school that left 132 students dead on Dec. 16. The attack may prove to be a tipping point in a country that has had ambivalent attitudes about Islamic militants even as terrorism has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001 and constrained economic growth.
“While a greater use of force will almost certainly be the order of the day, the devil is in the detail,” Oliver Coleman, an analyst at global risk forecasting company Verisk Maplecroft, said in e-mailed comments from Bath, England. “The possible political fallout from a heavy-handed security operation in Karachi would far exceed any similar concerns in remote areas of North Waziristan.”
Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif presented evidence that senior TTP leaders are operating in Afghanistan when he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul Dec. 17, said the Pakistani security official, who asked not to be identified by name, citing government rules.
Pakistan has “solid proof” that TTP leader Fazlullah, who has only one name, is based in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nanagarhar provinces, the official said. Asim Bajwa, the Pakistan military’s main spokesman, didn’t answer calls and a text message to his mobile phone seeking comment.
The two provinces border Pakistan near Peshawar.
Ghani told Sharif on Dec. 17 that his nation’s territory won’t be allowed to serve as a base for terrorist attacks, the Pakistani military said in a press statement then. There is “common resolve” to eliminate terrorists “wherever they go,” Sharif said Dec. 17 on his return from Kabul, according to a Twitter posting by Bajwa.
Sharif yesterday signed death warrants for six convicted terrorists, the army said in posting on Twitter.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in June initiated an offensive to uproot Taliban militants based along the border with Afghanistan who want to impose their version of Islamic law in place of Pakistan’s democracy. Operations have focused on the North Waziristan region. The two Sharifs aren’t related.
The Taliban have said it is that offensive that prompted the mass killings at the Peshawar school. They demanded in a Dec. 17 e-mail that the army halt its offensive in North Waziristan. They also accused the government of killing Taliban fighters in prison and detaining their family members. The statement threatened more strikes on institutions affiliated with the army and security forces.
An army operation ended the assault on the school about nine hours after it began with all seven terrorists dead, according to military spokesman Bajwa. Some 148 people died, more than 121 people were injured and about 960 were rescued, he said.
‘Good and bad Taliban’
“No difference will be made between good and bad Taliban,” Sharif told reporters on Dec. 17 after meeting leaders of the country’s main political parties in Peshawar. “We all pledged to fight terrorism until the last terrorist is eliminated from our soil.”
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was directed to prepare a national anti-terror strategy and report back within a week, Sharif said. Representatives of all parties will be on Khan’s panel.
Pakistani politicians have long debated the best way to deal with Taliban militants, with some favoring a more aggressive military response and others arguing that talks would be more effective. Negotiations between Sharif’s government and Taliban representatives broke down earlier this year.
The benchmark KSE100 Index (KSE100) yesterday rose 0.5 percent, its first gain since the school massacre.
It is too early to say whether the rhetoric from the nation’s political and military leaders will be matched with actions.
“The equivocal tone often used by Pakistan’s politicians in talking about the Taliban has clearly been replaced by robust condemnation in the wake of the attack,” said Verisk Maplecroft’s Coleman. “However, the idea that this atrocity will galvanize political leaders to come up with a unified response to the Taliban should be treated with caution.”
There may not be an enduring popular groundswell to suppress the Taliban, said Anatol Lieven, the author of “Pakistan: A Hard Country”, in a phone interview from Doha, Qatar. “Pakistani public opinion has been astonishingly unmoved about going after the Taliban despite everything, and has befuddled itself with conspiracies that ‘This isn’t the Taliban. It’s the Indian intelligence service.’”
There was “real, mass support” for military operations against the Taliban in 2009 when they occupied the northern Swat valley and appeared to be advancing toward Islamabad, Lieven said. That support dissipated during 2011, when U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and American troops mistakenly killed Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border, he said.
Calls from politicians and the Pakistani media for concerted military action against militant groups throughout the nation, not just in the Afghan border areas, would be one indication in the coming weeks of a widespread desire for a crackdown, Lieven said.
The attack on the school was Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist incident since 2007, when a suicide bomber killed more than 140 people at a political rally for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was later assassinated. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at the India-Pakistan border last month that killed 53 people.
“Whatever happens, terrorism in Pakistan will continue, as it doubtless will in so many Muslim nations,” said Lieven. “But it could be reduced, if there were concerted calls now for action.”