By Sajjad Shaukat
In one of the bloodiest-ever terror attacks in Pakistan, 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, this year. According to witnesses, the six militants went from classroom to classroom, shooting children, and burnt a lady teacher alive, forcing the students to watch it. 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 Peshawar school.
Taking this major terror assault as our 9/11, an attack on Pakistan’s future, its young sons and daughters, nation observed three-day mourning, while businesses remained closed in various cities of the country. The members of civil societies and academic institutes hold special prayers to remember the young victims of the atrocious terror attack.
Besides condemnation by the foreign rulers and prominent figures, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif and leader of the Opposition, Khursheed Shah including those of various political and religious parties strongly condemned the heinous attack at the Peshawar school. PTI Chief Imran Khan called off the December 18 countrywide shutdown, and also decided to cooperate with the government against terrorism.
However, after this inhuman gruesome tragedy, question arises as to what measures require to eliminate terrorism from the country. In this regard, some steps have already been taken, while some needs to be implemented in its true spirit.
In this context, Army Chief Gen. Raheel accompanied by DG ISI rushed to Kabul on December 17. Resources suggest that during his meeting with his Afghan counterpart and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well as 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 Mullah Fazlluah, and handing over to Pakistan. In response, Afghan rulers and ISAF commander assured him to take action against the TTP.
Nevertheless, new Afghan regime must take cognizance of the fact that Afghanistan is responsible for terrorists’ penetration into Pakistan. Since April, 2011, some 200 to 400 heavily-armed militants from Afghanistan’s side entered Pakistan’s region, from time to time, and targeted the security check posts, civil and military infrastructure of the tribal areas. So far, these terrorists have killed several personnel of Pakistan’s security forces.
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. Posing themselves as Pakistani Taliban, these enemies have joined TTP and other banned extremist outfits. In the recent years, especially TTP’s insurgents and its affiliated banned groups conducted many terror-activities in various regions of the country like suicide attacks, ruthless beheadings of tribesmen, assaults on security personnel and prominent figures including Shias, Ahmadis, Sufis, Christians and Sikhs as part of the scheme to create chaotic situation in the country.
It is notable that huge numbers of Afghan refuges have taken shelter in Pakistan, and some of them are also suspected to be involved in terror-activities. Therefore, Afghan refugees must immediately be sent back to Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack, there arose the need of immediate execution of outstanding cases of death penalty to terrorists. In this respect, it is good sign that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif revoked the ban on capital punishment in terrorism cases following which the terrorists facing death penalty could be executed.
The nation also expects 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 Nawaz Sharif to discuss the situation 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 pledged to eliminate menace of terrorism, and it has been 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.
Some analysts opine that like the previous anti-terrorism legislation or law, the Action Plan will not be implemented in its true letter and spirit. And the government needs the emergency which means ‘National Emergency’ to fight this menace on war footing, and not ‘Declared Extra Constitutional Emergency.’ They also say that if huge funds are available for motorway and other similar projects as to why not for law-enforcing and intelligence agencies which are fighting against the militants. So the security agencies including Police must be upgraded.
Besides, media should be sensitized to play its due role in the fight against terrorism. It must be on low profile to avoid national demoralization, as careful reporting by media without glorifying terrorist acts is need of the hour. For the purpose, extremist people like Maulana Abdul Aziz (Lal Masjid) and Hafiz Saeed may not be given undue space by the media.
Undoubtedly, in our country, the victims of terror attacks and suicide bombings have been innocent men, women and children. Their families mourn and raise a question asking for what crime their loved ones were punished in a way. Regrettably, those entities which try to justify terrorism and suicide bombings in the name of Islam are misguiding the people.
In this context, while taking note of terrorists’ suicide attacks in Middle East and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti (Mufti-e-Azam),Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh issued a Fatwa (Religious verdict), asserting that suicide attacks are illegal and illegitimate (HARAM).” He explained, “Such acts fall under the category of crime and suicide bombers or terrorists represent an adversary of Islam and enemy of Muslims…they commit crimes against humanity, while misguiding other Muslims.” Denouncing terrorism as un-Islamic, he pointed out that terrorists’ activities are part of a conspiracy to defame Islam and destroy Muslims.
Islam considers killing one innocent person equal to murdering the entire humanity, while Jihad is a sacred obligation, but its real spirit needs to be understood clearly, as murdering innocent women and children is not Jihad. These foreign-backed Taliban, particularly of the TTP and their banned affiliated groups are defaming Islam and are weakening Pakistan.
And, Pakistan’s religious clerics (Ulema) and Islamic scholars who have condemned the terror attack at Peshawar school must continue to issue joint or separate fatwa against these brutal militants. Different factions must hold collective conferences on faith related issues and society be organized to fight these criminal elements. From time to time, while condemning the militants’ inhuman activities as un-Islamic practices, Pakistan’s various Ulema have clarified in their joint fatwa, and separate statements that “killing of innocent people, target killings and suicide bombings including sectarianism are against the spirit of Islam…the terrorists’ self-adopted interpretation of Islam was nothing, but ignorance and digression from the actual teachings of the religion.” They explained, “Islam does not forbid women’s education.”
As regards terrorism, Pakistan’s Armed Forces have almost defeated the ferocious terrorists, particularly of the TTP by clearing the areas of North Waziristan Agency by military operation Zarb-e-Azb which is rapidly achieving its objectives. Although the operation has full support of the civil government, opposition parties, Ulema and media including all other segments of society and general masses who are united against terrorism, yet they need to display practical unity against these zealots who seek to create anarchy in the country to accomplish their self-motivated agenda at the direction of Pakistan’s enemies.
Meanwhile, ISPR DG Maj-Gen. Asim Bajwa said that taking note of the Peshawar school attack, Gen. Raheel Sharif has himself started supervising the military action against terrorists, and as part of the operation, at least 57 terrorists were killed during air strikes on December 17 in Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. Gen. Raheel also stated, “We are extremely saddened, but our resolve has taken new height”, and added “We will continue to go after the inhuman beasts, their facilitators till their final elimination.”
Nonetheless, the mass murder of children at Peshawar school is a manifestation of the most barbaric face of the Taliban insurgency led by TTP. While taking solid measures, the government must employ a comprehensive strategy to eliminate terrorism. In this regard, counter-terrorism strategy or the Action Plan must be enacted and implemented 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