Categorized | South Asian Politics

COUNTERING TERRORISM AFTER THE PESHAWAR ATTACK

Posted on 25 December 2014 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

  Pakistan has experienced thousands of terrorist attacks, road side bombings and suicide attacks over the last 13 years. However, none was so devastating and brutal as was the attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar, on December 16, 2014. The initial death toll was 141 which included 132 students. The rest were the school staff, including its principal. Around 131 persons were injured. Later, some injured students died, raising the number of dead to 146.

 The responsibility for this incident was claimed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan, declaring it to be their revenge for the killing of their people in the on-going military operation.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban sent its explanation of the attack to some media and other select people. They tried to project the incident as a careful incident to target only the children of the military people. However, the narratives of the students who survived the attack are so shocking that one cannot think that a human being could ever be so brutal. They killed young children indiscriminately and mercilessly, who so ever came in their target. Some of the attackers engaged in suicide blast that also killed the students and the staff. All the seven attackers were killed, either because of suicide blast or because they were targeted by Army shooters. The Army took several hours to clear the school of the attackers.

 The whole of Pakistan was shocked by this attack. However, there were still a small number of people who tried to justify the Taliban action and blamed Pakistan’s government and the Army for use of force against the Taliban in the tribal areas. They argued for winning over the Taliban by talking to them.

 It was unfortunate they did not suggest anything to be done by the Taliban. All these people condemned violence and terrorism in general but they were not willing to condemn the organization that claimed the responsibility for the attack.

 These were people were in a minority. The people in general were shocked and observed mourning for several days. All of them wanted the government and especially the Army, to take the toughest possible action against the Tehrik-i-Taliban and others who engage in terrorist activities.

 Though both the civilian government and the Army authorities expressed their strong desire to take a firm action against such groups, the Army and other services were more clear-headed in what is to be done. The military action was already going on in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency and they decided to speed up and expand the scope of the military operation.

  Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, visited Kabul for half a day in the afternoon of December 16 for talks with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan Army Chief and the American Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for seeking their more active cooperation for countering terrorism and for strengthening security on the Pakistan Afghan border.

 The civilian leadership was also active in dealing with the post-attack situation. The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took immediate steps to provide medical assistance to the injured. It extended support to the Army that entered the school to fight the terrorists and increased security in the province. Other provincial governments also stepped up security in their provinces.

  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Peshawar and so did the Army Chief. However, the response of the federal government led by Nawaz Sharif was rather slow. The Prime Minister focused more on issuing statements and reassuring the nation that his government would not sit-back and let such incidents take place. However, no concrete plan of action was available. The next day, December 17, the PM held meetings with the leaders of political parties for evolving a strategy for coping with terrorism.

 The meeting of the leaders of different political parties continued for several hours but nothing concrete came out of it except the statements of the leaders in favor of taking tough action against the terrorists. They agreed to set up a special committee comprising the representatives of different political parties to suggest a plan of action to cope with terrorism in 7 days.

  The federal government should have gone to the meeting of the political leaders with a plan of action to seek their views for making changes in it. After the meeting such a plan of action should have been put into practice. However, the problem with the federal government is that it is always short of ideas and moves very slowly for taking concrete action on anything.

Further, the federal government lacks confidence to take firm action against the militants all by itself. It wants to involve other political leaders in order to pacify the extreme right wing people that all political leaders have demanded an action.

Unfortunately, a number of elements in the political far right and Islamists have sympathy for the Taliban and they also support Nawaz Sharif. This makes it difficult for the Muslim League Nawaz to play tough with the Taliban and other militants.

  The issue of reviving death sentence also came up before the government to deal with the terrorists who had been given death sentence in various terrorist attacks in the past.

Pakistan had suspended the implementation of death sentence in 2008. After some thinking at the official civilian and military levels it was decided to give a go ahead to implementation of the death sentence against the terrorists.

 The Army Chief signed the death sentence order of the terrorists convicted by court martial and death sentence for two terrorists was carried out on December 19, the day the decision was made.

The civilian government initiated the process in its usual slow pace and some death sentences were carried out later. However, given the high number of people on the death row, the federal government is likely to find it difficult to implement the death sentence for all.

  Another significant development was that Imran Khan, chief of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, who was on street protest against Nawaz Sharif, participated in the meeting of the political leaders. Later, he decided to suspend his “Dharna” in view of the Peshawar incident.

  The suspension of Imran Khan’s Dharna gives a temporary relief to Nawaz Sharif. If his government cannot evolve some political settlement in the next two weeks, Imran Khan is expected to revive his street protest. It will also put an end to the current harmony and unity in the political circles.

 Two conclusions can be drawn by examining the situation in Pakistan in the first week after the Peshawar incident.

 First, there is greater popular support than ever to take a firm and decisive action against the Taliban and other groups for controlling terrorism in Pakistan.

 Second, the federal government under Nawaz Sharif has shown activism in dealing with the situation but its performance continues to reflect confusion and slow action and a desire to take the cover of other political parties and the military for taking a tough line towards hardline Islamic groups and the Taliban and their allies. It appears to be reluctant to take a lead role in countering terrorism.

 The military in general and the Army in particular has come out at the top in expressing determination and taking immediate steps to deal with terrorism in the aftermath of the Peshawar incident. The military has won more appreciation of the public than the civilian government. It seems that the Army top command has come to a clear view that all kinds of Taliban and their allies have to be dealt with force. The civilian government is still trying to create a unity and harmony of mind on this issue.

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