Remembering the Peshawar School Attack
By Sajjad Shaukat
In one of the bloodiest-ever terror attacks in Pakistan, six Taliban militants mercilessly killed at least 141 people, including 132 children and nine staff members of the Army Public School and College in Peshawar, on December 16, 2014. 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 called off the December 18 (2014) countrywide shutdown, 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. He also asked the extradition of the TTP chief of Mullah Fazlluah, and handing over to Pakistan.
In fact, Afghanistan has become a hub of anti-Pakistan activities from where external secret agencies, especially Indian RAW are sending logistic support to Baloch separatist elements and TTP insurgents in Pakistan. In the recent years, especially 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. Hence, RAW also used TTP terrorists in relation to the attack at the Peshawar School.
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 including PTI Chief Imran Khan attended a meeting of the parliamentary parties convened by Prime Minister Sharif after the deadly attack at a school in Peshawar. Setting aside his differences, Imran Khan ended PTI’s 126-day sit-in at Islamabad to give 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 seven days which would be approved by the political and military leadership.
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 hanging.
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 remains a major contributing factor affecting the implementation of NAP in its true spirit.
It may be informed that in January 2015, apex committees were formed to expedite the implementation of the National Action Plan. 15 committees and sub-committees were set up; however, no plausible developments were witnessed. Ironically, the inability on the part of government was covered with mere verbal statements in relation to NAP implementation.
Unfortunately, a full-scaled activation of National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) remains 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. Interestingly, NACTA’s budget stands at Rs. 92 million a year of which Rs.63 million goes into the salaries of the staff. What kind of an effective role will be registered by the authority and who may be blamed for such state of affairs?
Debate may be generated over all twenty points of NAP to highlight the progress and performance of the government with respect to its implementation.
Focusing on Madrassa reforms, it may be projected that government has yet 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 seems a wishful thinking due to non-implementation of the plan.
On the performance of judiciary, it may be highlighted that over the past four years, estimated 14,115 persons in terrorism-related cases were acquitted and 10,387 were granted bail, only about one and half hundred hanged.
Since ill-gotten money provides oxygen to the terrorist networks and other mafias working against the interest of the state, it appears that the civilian leaders 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. In all the provinces, there are strong politicians, government cronies who have become ‘untouchables’ for anti-graft drive. It would be a challenge for the prime minister to allow the state institutions to bring all corrupt to book whether they belong to the ruling party or to the opposition.
It may be highlighted that some federal ministries are taking steps in the right direction, but the pace is quite slow. Interior ministry’s prepared rules and regulations for International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs), local NGOs, policy draft over arms licenses etc. remains non-implemented.
Civil society has been raising concerns over the slow pace of implementation and narrow scope of the Plan’s progress.
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. Recent terror attacks by these outfits in various regions of Pakistan, especially in the Balochistan province might be cited as example.
In this connection, the nation must press the political leadership to realize the task and fully implement the NAP. To supplement the gains of the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, there is a need to declare 2018 as the year of the complete implementation of NAP. Government should be encouraged to end its nap on NAP. The focus should be on NAP and its implementation.
It is regrettable that still some political entities are creating controversy about the National Action Plan which is essential part of Pakistan’s war against terrorism, as it has co-relationship with the military operations Zarb-i-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad which have broken the backbone of the militants. In order to conceal their corruption, they are criticizing the NAP.
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.
In this respect, on June 10, 2015, while showing the progress of the Zarb-e-Azb, the then Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif stated, “Terrorists have been cleared from their strongholds in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency and fight now is moving into last few pockets close to Afghan border.” He laid emphasis on “continuation of the operations till elimination of the last expected and probable terrorists groups and sanctuaries.”
Addressing the participants on the event of commemorating the Defence Day, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said on September 6, 2017, “Pakistan has done enough in’ the war on terror and now it is time for the world to do more…Pakistan has made numerous sacrifices fighting terrorism but today the country is being accused of not doing enough to eradicate the menace.”
Referring to Afghanistan, he remarked, “Pakistan has tried to support its neighbouring country beyond its means…But we cannot fight the Afghan war in Pakistan…The international powers should not hold us responsible for their shortcomings.”
Without naming the US-led intelligence agencies, Gen. Bajwa reminded the nation and the world that “Pakistan is aware of all the conspiracies against the country and CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor] and its soldiers are ready to sacrifice their lives for the people of Balochistan like people of Balochistan did for Pakistan…they are closely observing those who want to stir unrest in the province.”
According to the press-statement of the ISPR, Gen. Bajwa reiterated army’s determination to eliminate terrorism from the country.
Nevertheless, in order to dismantle the terror-financing networks, elimination of corruption is an important part of Pakistan’s National Action Plan, devised to counter extremism in the country following the Peshawar school massacre of children. Similarly, reforming the religious seminaries is also its key part.
Nonetheless, 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. While taking solid measures, counter-terrorism strategy or the Action Plan must be enacted and implemented completely, without losing more time. And, this different war needs unified front of all the segments of society, which is essential to defeat the ruthless enemy of Pakistan, including their external agents.
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