I It was Pakistan’s 9/11. In the early morning of Dec. 16, parents sent their kids to school in Peshawar and in the evening retrieved their dead bodies from a hospital. Taliban militants had slaughtered 132 children. If that was not enough horrific activity, the intruders burned their teachers at this military-run school in front of the kids, before security forces put an end to the massacre.
Though the Taliban have destroyed more than 1,000 schools in Pakistan, the carnage in Peshawar was the deadliest terror attack in the country, since Bangladesh (East Pakistan) emerged as an independent state on Dec. 16, 1971.
It exposed the deep desperation of the Taliban in the face of ongoing strikes by the Pakistan military and American drones. The scattered militants are now in a blind alley, one reason they chose this “soft target” of innocent children.
Fighting its so-called war against terrorism in recent years, Pakistan has lost more than 51,000 people and incurred significant economic setbacks.
After this bone-chilling attack, I came across countless questions about this fight against the militants. Many people believe this is our war, but some say Pakistan is a mere proxy for an American war, made clear since Washington’s successful mission to hunt down Osama bin Laden just over our border.
Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, says terrorists live among us and they look like us. This statement supports the idea that this is our war, and I agree. We should not shy away from it now. In 12 long years, we have not been able to form a national security policy in Pakistan. Our top counter-terrorism body — the National Counter Terrorism Authority — though established in 2004, has yet to become a vibrant institution to pre-empt terror attacks in the country.
Pakistan is fighting on three fronts — one on the Afghan border, one on the Indian border and another against insurgents in perhaps the most troubled province, Balochistan. Yet the war against the militants is perhaps the most crucial.
The Taliban have breached security not only at a school guarded by the military, but at key facilities of three branches of the armed services. Do some Pakistanis have a weakness for the Taliban? Many people inside and outside of Pakistan are wondering.
Many also are wondering why, after Pakistan’s support of the Americans’ capture of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Washington is hesitating to help Pakistan hunt for Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Mullah Fazalullah, who is operating from Afghanistan.
But what else can America do for Pakistan? It released some $27 billion to support the Pakistani military and it continues to target militants in tribal areas with unmanned aircraft. As Pakistan’s civilian government has given its military the go-ahead to fight against aiders, abettors, facilitators and financiers of terrorism, Kabul and Washington could extend more support to Islamabad by stopping militants who are operating in tribal areas of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s relationship with the United States is gradually improving. The Pakistani military must defeat the terrorists now. Its top intelligence agencies will do best by focusing on its own territory rather than to get involved in the affairs of neighboring Afghanistan or elsewhere. The country has to rid itself of hard-core clerics who have expressed public support for the Taliban as well as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
In short, to keep its children safe, Pakistan has to follow the policy the U.S. adopted after 9/11, when it announced to the world you are either with us or with the terrorists.
Zahid Gishkori is Islamabad correspondent for The Express Tribune and a former Alfred Friendly press fellow at The Kansas City Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.