The Pakistani branch of the Taliban is facing widespread condemnation after carrying out an assault on a military school in Peshawar, Pakistan, which resulted in the deaths of 132 innocent children. The attack was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in retaliation for an ongoing Pakistani military counter-terrorism operation in effect in the region. The incident has been widely denounced, most notably by the Taliban in Afghanistan, who said any attack on children, women and the elderly was against the principles of Islam.
With Peshawar hospitals currently inundated with critical patients, there is a likeliness that the death toll may increase.
The attack was perpetrated by up to seven Taliban gunmen who stormed the school and opened fire on students. With many able to flee the initial attack, the radicals reportedly turned their attention to parts of the school where some of the older students were situated. An army operation subsequently got underway to secure the school, with all the attackers eventually killed.
“Something on this scale is quite rare. The last time that I think Peshawar saw something this big was when there was a church bombing last year, again in which more than 100 people were killed,” said Asad Hashim, an Al Jazeera web-correspondent based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The incident has raised questions over the level of security afforded to the school, especially with its affiliation to the country’s army. Furthermore, it is also situated in what is considered an extremely secure part of Peshawar, with several government buildings in the vicinity.
Despite this, Hashim suggested the Taliban would have seen the school as a ‘soft-target’; somewhere the military were unlikely to deploy any of its forces for security purposes.
“That’s really why the TTP have gone after it, it would seem. We were all expecting a lot of blow-back in the urban areas as we’ve seen after previous military operations. But there hasn’t been that much of blow-back, so what we’re finding now is that they are looking for these softer targets that will make a huge impact,” he said.
Whilst the school was military-run, none of the students received any form of military training. Rather, the school was merely aimed at providing a subsidized education for the children of military personnel.
The Pakistani leadership has responded strongly after the attack, with Prime Minister Nawaf Sharif travelling to Peshawar and declaring three days of national mourning during a resulting press conference. According to Hashim, he further reiterated the government’s support for the military operation against the TTP, urging the nation to unite behind their attempts to eliminate the radical group.
“He says that if you don’t, then essentially you are going to allow the people who carried out this attack to win. So he has really called for in the wake of this attack, unity amongst the people,” he noted.
With relations between Pakistan and the United States improving in recent months, and with several US drone strikes targeting Taliban strongholds, he suspected further retaliation on the part of the TTP.
“The only way to win this battle would be to degrade their ability to the point where they’re not able to launch those attacks anymore. You are never going to be able to kill, arrest, or detain every fighter, but you have to be able to degrade their organizational ability,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)