In an attack on a school in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban killed at least 146 people, most of them children. Their spokesman said it was to avenge the military operation against them in North Waziristan. The attack lasted several hours and ended only when the seven terrorists were killed. The army is sweeping the area looking for more terrorists.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 12:37 EST
Choosing a soft target—a school on Warsak Road in Peshawar run by the army—the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed a school today that resulted in the death of at least 146 people, the majority of them students.
This figure was mentioned by Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) Information Secretary Shireen Mazari. She said 113 people were injured. Her information may be more accurate than that of the federal government because her party is in power in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPP) whose capital is Peshawar.
The terrorists were disguised in Frontier Constabulary uniform and had sneaked into the school through a graveyard located behind it. They cut the razor wire and made their entry and once inside, they started firing their heavy weapons targeting students.
The students were taking exams and were, therefore, all in their classes or in the main hall. Scores of students were shot in the corridors as they tried to flee. The terrorists showed no mercy.
Within half hour of the attack, Pakistan Army troops had rushed to the scene and cordoned off the area. As news trickled out, the death toll started to climb.
Of the four blocks, three were cleared of the terrorists but they barricaded themselves in one block—the Administration Block—and took with them scores of students and teachers hostage.
Pakistani commandoes were mobilised for the rescue mission and it took several hours before the siege was over when all seven terrorists were reported killed. During the attack, several explosions were also heard in the school.
Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif as well as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (no relation) also rushed to Peshawar. Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan spoke to the Chief Minister Pervez Khattak. He told him to reach the scene of the attack and to offer whatever help was needed.
The Taliban spokesman, Muhammad Khorasani said the attack was in retaliation for army operations against the militants in North Waziristan.
Before the formal operation codenamed Zarb-e Azb was launched, the army had given the people of North Waziristan three days to evacuate their homes. Most became refugees and sought shelter with friends or relatives in other parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
The Pakistan military has been bombing the area targeting militants. They have said most of the militants killed so far are foreigners or hardcore Pakistani militants.
The militants had vowed to exact revenge for the bombing campaign. It seems unfortunately the authorities did not take adequate precautions to prevent such attacks although it may have been impossible to prevent the school attack.
The provincial government has said it has beefed up security at all schools and other institutions.
Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of the secular Awami National Party (ANP) said the provincial government has “completely failed”. This must be a new low in Pakistan’s already dirty politics.
Even with 146 people dead, of whom 140 are children—and the death toll may climb if other students succumb to their injuries—Bilour was playing politics using the tragedy.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Deputy leader of the PTI said it was time to unite to confront the terrorist threat rather than playing politics or indulging in finger pointing.
Given the scale of the tragedy—with nearly 150 people dead in a single operation—not only the province but the entire country is grief-stricken.
Can such attacks be prevented in the future? It seems highly unlikely unless stringent security measures are taken and the Frontier Constabulary and army developed throughout the country.
The blowback from the North Waziristan operation was expected. It seems the Pakistani authorities did not take this into account and ordinary people, in this case school children, have paid the price.