If ever there was a headline to evoke despair about the state of the world, it was this one that accompanied an on-line Washington Post story today: “Pakistani forces reclaim school after ‘horrific’ Taliban attack kills at least 141.”
The word “horrific” comes from a statement from President Barack Obama, but the quotation marks are hardly necessary. Horrific may be too mild a description for what happened in the last 24 hours in Peshawar, Pakistan, where six to nine militants breached a school operated by the Army and massacred students and staff with guns and grenades. The death toll of 141 from the nine-hour onslaught has already climbed higher.
Hence the headline, to inform readers it was necessary to deploy the Pakistan military to “reclaim” a building that was supposed to be occupied by unarmed children and teachers.
Children in kindergarten through 12th grade attended the school, according to reports. Many were the offspring of Army personnel, and many of the teachers were wives of soldiers. Victims were massacred in classrooms and some were in a main hall receiving a lesson in how to administer first aid. The militants seemed determined to kill as many people as possible, officials said. Many victims were shot in the head. Some died when the attackers blew themselves up with suicide vests.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it was in retaliation for Pakistan’s military offensive in the country’s northeastern tribal areas, where a loose coalition of Taliban groups are seeking to establish Islamic law.
It is a sick act of symbolism, I suppose, to strike at an army school to show that a group is capable of taking on the nation’s military. But this group will not be remembered for any act of bravery. What the people of Pakistan and the world will remember is the pictures of dark-eyed children in green-and-yellow school uniforms, some standing by in a state of shock and others injured or dead on stretchers.
“All around me my friends were lying injured and dead,” a 15-year-old boy, Shahrukh Khan, told a reporter from Reuters. He was shot in both legs.
“One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain,” the boy said. “One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound.”
That is cold-blooded murder of civilians, in violation of any legitimate religious creed or national or international law. The Pakistani army and government are notoriously duplicitous, but a group that proudly claims responsibility for an attack on a school cannot be accommodated or appeased.