On the morning of 16th December 2014, the British public (especially the Pakistani diaspora resident in the UK) woke to an unfolding horror in Peshawar, Pakistan. In the most bloody and shocking attack by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in several years, a group of men entered the Army Public School in the Khyber Phaktun Khuwa (KPK) provincial Capital and opened indiscriminate fire. The army commandos arrived moments later and a stand off began with exchange of rapid fire and chaotic scenes of school children in their uniforms, running in fear for their lives, shown live on Pakistani television channels. The siege was ended several hours later with the death toll at an eye watering 141, the vast majority of those innocent school children. No exegesis or outpouring of words can do justice to the abhorrence of this tragedy and it deserves unequivocal, universal and united condemnation in the strongest terms. No contextual or rational discourse can legitimise or lessen the evil of this act and those responsible should be dragged to justice.
Unfortunately, it takes such perverse events to focus the attention of the world media and public upon what is a reality of daily life for the residents of Northern Pakistan. The plight of internally displaced Pakistanis (given the catchy acronym IDPs by the Pakistani media) is lost on the world media, experts in selective moral outrage. The Pakistani Armed Forces began a massive cleansing operation, ironically entitled Zarb-e-Azb after the sword of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), attacking the Northern Areas to allegedly remove the terrorist threat posed by the TTP. This operation has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people (the aforementioned IDPs), the destruction of their land and houses and the killing of hundreds of people (surprisingly none of them reported as innocent civilians). Any sane individual can see the clear bad will such an offensive would generate amongst the local populace. It is shocking that such a context has not led to more horrible acts such as the one under discussion here.
Sadly, this was and is not an unavoidable reality. The Pakistani administration, led by the army, is the chief culprit in the chain of events leading us to this massacre. They undertook an operation at the behest and repeated pressure of the USA, themselves stuck in a mire in Afghanistan. The Americans had marked 2014 as their intended year of withdrawal from Afghanistan, having failed to quash the Taliban resistance movements there. They have faced increasing attacks and pressure from such forces, those allegedly defeated way back in 2002 with George Bush’s ‘declaration of victory’. As the US and their allies have slowly found out, there is a harsh reality to why this area is termed the ‘Graveyard of Empires’. Raider after raider, conqueror after conqueror and army after army has crashed against the indomitable spirit of the Pakhtun people and failed to overcome them. The last 2 centuries alone will provide testimonies of the British Empire, USSR and now USA failing in this endeavor. In this context, the USA ordered the Pakistan army to release some of the pressure they faced, by attacking the safe havens, supply routes and training facilities of the Taliban East of the Pak-Afghan border. This operation was the execution of an American proposal with the Pakistan army acting as an on-lease division of the US military, with an appropriately timed attack to curate public opinion in favour of the move.
The repercussions, however, are felt by the Pakistani man, woman and child, being seen as legitimate retaliatory targets by those who are, in turn, being targeted by the Pakistani army. Is the Pakistani administration not aware of the history of this region and the Pakhtun peoples? Why would they place the masses in direct danger by doing the bidding of the NATO forces? Astonishingly, why is nobody prepared to discuss this reality? The context can be stretched back to the treachery of Musharraf in allowing the Americans unrestricted access to Pakistani land, bases, infrastructure and individuals, including the likes of Dr Afia Siddiqui. This was the sowing of the seed which has grown into a full tree and the bitter fruits of which we are now being forced to taste. The TTP did not exist prior to Pakistan joining this War of Terror. No suicide bombings, school shootings, mosque and imam bargah attacks or army infrastructure targeting was carried out by any of these groups until this fateful juncture. Why then are we not blaming this criminal for stoking Pakistan into this fire, instead narrowly focusing upon the mindless murderers who carry out the heinous act alone?
Last year, within a couple of weeks, the American drones targeted two Madrassas, killing 70 and 80 children in the two attacks. The alleged aim was to target Ayman Al-Zwahiri, the head of Al-Qaeda. Not surprisingly, he was not one of the casualties on either occasion. Where was the Western media with its unified outrage at these atrocities? Why was the murder of these innocents not met with a violent response from the Pakistan army or grandiose statements from the government? Were they lesser human beings, less innocent or not children? It is folly to believe that the Western media care about the deaths of Muslim children, until it is politically expedient. Palestinian children are murdered, beaten, incarcerated and denied any semblance of human dignity. But the West collectively supports the occupier and murderer, Israel’s, ‘right to defend itself’, including the media. The, allegedly peaceful, Buddhist monks have levied far greater atrocities and deaths upon the innocent Rohingya Muslims in Burma over several months. Muslim children are martyrs and refugees in the millions in Syria but the Western media is focused on ISIS. The Pakistani army continues to be a ‘robust ally’ of the Americans despite the wide spread evidence of the involvement of the CIA, Blackwater and others in false flag operations, death, destruction and devious funding throughout Pakistan for several years.
There are numerous angles to this discourse and the open wound inflicted by the vile criminals at APS may provide the opportune moment for introspection and analysis. Should Pakistanis continue to bear the brunt of a war started, and disastrously executed by the imperial USA, themselves relatively safe from the blowback thousands of miles away? Why should the Pakistanis feel terrorised and fearful on their streets just to ensure the NATO occupying forces can sleep in relative calm in Afghanistan? Should the Pakistani government start up a reinvigorated operation to target the malcontents who carried out these attacks, when the last operation was a direct cause of this atrocity?
The attackers stated, in clear-cut terms, that they targeted this school because it was run by and for the Pakistani military, as retaliation to their “criminal operations” in northern Pakistan. Yet, today the Pakistani army has launched fresh airstrikes in the same area, killing 57 ‘terrorists’. Amazingly, they are so precise with their targeted killing, even from the air, that none of them have been reported as innocent civilians by the Pakistani media. No Western media, government or social network commentators will bemoan this loss of life and bloodshed. It is non-sensical to refuse to heed the lessons of history. The Americans will leave. Pakistan will have to deal with the aftermath. Stop attacking people who do not forget or forgive for generations. To quote Albert Einstein on such deluded acts – “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Stop the bloodshed or we will, and I hope I am wrong, be condemning another atrocity and forgetting the Pakistani administration was the architect of such a response.