Army Public School Attack: The Tragedy Revisited
On December 16, 2014, in one of the bloodiest-ever terror attacks in Pakistan, six Taliban militants mercilessly killed least 141 people, including 132 children and nine staff members of the Army Public School and College in Peshawar, They also burnt a lady teacher alive. After eight hours operation, Pak Army’s commandos cleared the school area, and six militants were killed.
On the same day, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the ghastly act at the Peshawar school.
The tragic loss of the lives of innocent children moved the entire world deeply. Every Pakistani said that shame on these terrorists who considered innocent children as their enemies, and martyred them through brutal tactics.
The then Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, including leaders of various political and religious parties strongly condemned the heinous attack at the Peshawar school. PTI Chief Imran Khan ended the PTI’s 126-day sit-in at Islamabad and also decided to cooperate with the government against terrorism.
However, after that inhuman gruesome tragedy, question arose as to what measures required to eliminate terrorism from the country.
In this context, the former Army Chief Gen. Raheel accompanied by DG ISI rushed to Kabul on December 17, 2014. Resources suggested that during his meeting with his Afghan counterpart, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the ISAF commander, he presented evidence of the Peshawar massacre’s linkage with TTP sanctuaries in Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
In fact, Afghanistan has become a hub of anti-Pakistan activities from where external intelligence agencies, especially Indian RAW are sending logistic support to Baloch separatist elements and TTP insurgents in Pakistan. In the past years, particularly TTP’s militants and its affiliated banned groups conducted many terror-activities in various regions of the country as part of the scheme to create chaotic situation in the country. RAW also used TTP terrorists in relation to the attack at the Peshawar School.
In that backdrop, there arose the need of immediate execution of outstanding cases of death penalty to terrorists. In this respect, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif revoked the ban on capital punishment in terrorism cases. The nation also expected that politicians should show no politics on the blood of innocent children. For the purpose, leaders of all the top political parties attended a meeting of the parliamentary parties convened by Prime Minister Sharif after the deadly attack. Setting aside their differences, they gave a clear message that the whole nation stands united against terrorism. However, all the leaders unanimously decided to form a parliamentary committee to chalk out a “Plan of Action.” In this connection, on January 2, 2015, besides the chiefs of almost all the political parties and military top officials agreed on a draft of legislative measures which paved the way for establishment of special military trial courts. It was unanimously agreed that the 20 points National Action Plan (NAP) enunciated in the All Parties Conference (APC) Resolution of December 24, 2014 was being acted upon—the bill as 22nd (Constitutional) Amendment was enforced soon after its approval from the parliament. Special military courts were established and the ruthless terrorists facing death penalty had been hanged.
In this regard, the role of the Armed Forces is appreciating in uprooting the terrorists from their so-called safe havens. But, inability and evident reluctance on the part of political leadership remained a major contributing factor affecting the implementation of NAP in its true spirit. In this respect, in January 2015, apex committees were formed to expedite the implementation of the NAP; however, no plausible developments were witnessed.
Unfortunately, during the regime of P.M. Nawaz Sharif, a full-scaled activation of National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) remained in limbo even after seven years of its creation. Lack of allocation of resources for NACTA in the annual budget of 2014-2015, non framing of service rules for the authority etc. made NACTA a real midsummer night dream. NACTA’s budget stands at Rs. 92 million a year of which Rs.63 million went into the salaries of the staff.
Focusing on Madrassa reforms, the previous government had to come out with an authentic and final figure about the number of Madrassas, existing in the country. Reforming their syllabus and controlling their finances seemed a wishful thinking due to non-implementation of the plan.
Nevertheless, since the establishment of military courts, 345 terrorists were given death penalty and 296 rigorous imprisonments of varied durations, ranging from life imprisonment to a minimum duration of five years. Five accused were also acquitted. Those, who have been given death penalty, included masterminds, executers and abettors/facilitators
Notably, people of Pakistan want the perpetrators to be punished and expect from their elected representatives to ensure that justice and judicial reforms should not be delayed. Speedy trials in military courts ensured that justice is neither delayed nor denied, as the country is going through extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary decisions are the need of the hour.
Previous governments brought some reforms in improving police; prosecution, protection of witnesses and certain judicial restructuring, however, certain major steps have not been taken like it could not strengthen the civil legal system and judicial process enough to deal with terrorism. Courts need to be fully protected to avert danger of repercussions from such perilous elements and organizations. Life of civil judicial persons/judges is undeniably in danger when dealing with extremists. Undoubtedly, military courts lessened the pressure and risk factor on the lives of civil judicial elements. Therefore, a constitutional amendment also requires in this regard.
Many military operation and war in history failed in the culminating stage or post-conflict phase due to the inability of the politico-economic tool to take over and establish the political writ of the state.
Since ill-gotten money provides oxygen to the terrorist networks and other mafias working against the interest of the state, it appears that the previous civilian leaders and lack political will to block the supply of illicit money to the terrorist networks, despite the fact that no government can defeat terrorism without plugging the illicit money to the terror networks. During the previous government, in all the provinces, there were strong politicians, government cronies who had become ‘untouchables’ for anti-graft drive. It became a challenge for the ex-prime minister to allow the state institutions to bring all corrupt to book whether they belong to the ruling party or to the opposition.
Some former federal ministries were taking steps in the right direction, but the pace was quite slow. Interior ministry’s prepared rules and regulations for International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs), local NGOs, policy draft over arms licenses etc. remained non-implemented. Civil society had been raising concerns over the slow pace of implementation and narrow scope of the Plan’s progress. Now, P.M Imran Khan’s government’s moves such as anti-corruption drive, registration of the NGOs etc. are good developments to eliminate terrorism from the country.
Lamentably, the extremist organizations, their sympathizers and supporters are still finding time and opportunities to mischievously target Law Enforcing Agencies and people of Pakistan. Ironically, after TTP, a newer and more formidable menace in shape of ISIS is raising its head in the region. In the recent terror attacks by these outfits in various regions of Pakistan, especially in the Balochistan province might be cited as example.
In this connection, realizing the task to fully implement the anti-terrorism laws to supplement the gains of the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, the present government is taking steps, as these operations have broken the backbone of the militants. In order to conceal their corruption, they have been criticizing the NAP and National Accountability Bureau (NAB). These hostile entities should know that corruption is the essence of terrorism. Therefore, people want that this menace must be eliminated from the country as part of overall war against terrorism.
It is mentionable that addressing the participants on the ceremony of the Defence Day, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said on September 6, 2019: “Unconventional warfare like terrorism has changed the battlefield…foes of Pakistan had imposed terrorism on us, but we very successfully and valiantly fought this menace. our houses, schools, worship places and leaders were attacked in order to weaken us…over 70,000 Pakistanis were either martyred or injured in the war on terror…nations never forget their martyrs and soldiers[who] sacrifice their lives”.
Nonetheless, in order to dismantle the terror-financing networks, elimination of corruption is an important part to counter extremism in the country, following the Peshawar school massacre of children. Similarly, reforming the religious seminaries is also its key part.
Threat of hybrid war will continue to loom large on Pakistan’s horizon, if the key pillars of state cannot work in synchronized. Our fault lines of provincialism, sectarianism, ethnicity and gap between the haves and have-nots are real and only a unifying regimen and political dispensation accommodating all stakeholders can make us walk through this minefield of challenges.
All pillars of national power, the executive (civil-military), legislature, judiciary and the media, have to work in synchronized to achieve the ends of the policy of war against terror. Now, when the Pakistani civil-military leadership has been able to achieve consensus on operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, we cannot fritter away the fruits of our labour and the sacrifices, rendered by thousands of soldiers and almost a 70,000 civilians.
Undoubtedly, the tragic memory of the Peshawar School Attack will remain fresh in the minds of people, as mass murder of children is a manifestation of the most barbaric face of the Taliban insurgency led by TTP.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations