The story is all too familiar. Most of us remember the terrorist attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT. in December 2012. We remember how horrific that attack was and how devastating, particularly to the families and friends of the victims. Well, the recent terrorist attack by a unit of Pakistan’s Taliban on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan was equally horrific. Once again, parents sent their young children off to school with every expectation that they would be returning home safe and sound like they had every other day. Alas, in many cases, it was not meant to be. The terrorists murdered 141 persons, 132 of which were children. The word “killed,” which has been used by many media outlets, is extremely misleading and way too benign a term for what they did. This was out and out indiscriminate murder, by any definition of the word.
This attack, carried out by a unit of the Pakistani Taliban, was arguably the worst in Pakistan since a terrorist bombing in Karachi in 2007 murdered 150 persons. The hurt is exacerbated because most of the victims were innocent children. Witnesses stated that seven terrorists stormed the school wearing suicide vests, and opened fire indiscriminately. Again, describing them as “militants,” as some media outlets have done, would be too benign a description. Obviously, their goal was not to take hostages to make a political statement but to murder. It was a suicide mission designed to cause maximum damage and pain. Subsequently, Pakistani army commandos counterattacked, and in the ensuing gun battle all seven terrorists were killed either by the commandos or by blowing themselves up. The attack was roundly condemned by other governments, including President Obama on behalf of the US. Fine as far as it goes, but these statements of condemnation were largely symbolic gestures that will have negligible impact. It will be up to the Pakistani government to deal with its terrorist problem.
Most Americans tend to view Islamic terrorists as a homogeneous group. In reality, there are many separate factions. Some of them are allied as they do have some common goals, such as murdering “infidels.” Some observers even believe that some terrorists are members of different groups from time to time.
On the other hand, some of the groups are in conflict with each other. Apparently, the Pakistan Taliban, aka TTP, is in conflict with the Afghani Taliban. The TTP is a more extreme faction, and their beliefs are closer to those of al-Qaeda. Some alliances are temporary depending on the situation. Hussain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US, has likened these shifting alliances to how various mafia families interact.
The Pakistani government has been inconsistent in its internal war on terror. For example, it has been in conflict with the TTP for last six months, which it feels is actually seeking to overthrow the government. Their latest offensive resulted in the deaths of approximately 2,000 TTPs. Nevertheless, Mr. Haqqani characterized the offensive as “inadequate” and “flawed.” Indeed, there is evidence that the TTP had been tipped off as most of its key leadership was able to escape.
The TTPs justified the attack on the school by claiming it was in retaliation for that offensive. Suffice to say, in their twisted minds Islamic terrorists equate attacks on defenseless children with attacks, bombings and other military actions waged against them, even though in those cases children and other non-combatants are not targeted. (As we know, terrorists often hide among non-combatants for security reasons.) To a rational person the two don’t equate.
In contrast to its ongoing conflict with TTP, the Pakistani government has largely ignored other terror groups, such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (“JUD”). The US has labeled JUD a global terrorist organization, and has complained that it has been aided and abetted by the Pakistani government, which appears to be accurate. Furthermore, the US government has placed a $10 million bounty on JUD’s leader, Hafiz Saeed who, it appears, is being harbored by the Pakistani government. If you are confused by how all these terror groups fit in and relate to each other and the Pakistani government, you are not alone.
The Pakistani government’s inconsistent attitude toward the various terrorist factions is not helpful. In particular, it has fed the hostility between TTP and JUD, which has exacerbated violence. There is little the US can or should do. Interfering would only unite all the terrorists groups against us and incur the ire of the Pakistani government, which has made it clear it does not want us involved in their internal affairs. Remember, this is the same government, though technically an ally, that harbored Osama bin-Laden.
The Pakistani government must exhibit the military capacity and political will to rein in these terrorists on its own. So far, it has not demonstrated either. The central government is weak, and it has been harboring various and sometimes competing terrorist groups. It has even been harboring Afghani terrorists in western Pakistan just over the border, probably because it is too weak to expel them. Therefore, an argument can be made that the Pakistani government’s own actions and inactions have created the situation that led to these terrorist attacks.
Sadly, this attack was merely the latest in a long chain of Islamic terror attacks. There is no need to list them all here. They have all been burned into our collective memories. Political correctness aside, of all the terrorist attacks since 9/11 and even before, one would be hard-pressed to find even one example of any one act NOT perpetrated by extreme Islamists.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these attacks will likely continue, or even accelerate in intensity and/or frequency. At the present time, the 5% or so of Muslims who are acting out their radical views are overshadowing the other 95% who live their lives peacefully and in a law abiding manner. This cannot be allowed to continue. Moderate Muslim leaders, especially religious leaders, have a responsibility to speak up. All we Americans can do is to remain vigilant and steadfast in doing all we can to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, we can thwart dozens of plots and attacks, and we probably have, but, as we saw on 9/11, it only takes one successful one to devastate us.