It defies comprehension, the special kind of evil that fired the minds of the men who brought death to Peshawar on Monday, an evil that made them target children gathering for their morning classes and extinguish so many young lives. In days to come, all of Pakistan will mourn. Indians will share their sorrow, as parents, as siblings, and as people who have learned that the living carry with them wounds inflicted by terror.
This isn’t the first large-scale terrorist attack against children — Ingush and Chechen jihadists from the Riyadus-Salikhin killed 156 at Beslan 10 years ago this September. In Pakistan, thousands have died in bombings targeted at people who did no wrong, bar worshipping the “wrong” god, or being born the “wrong” gender, or just happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There is no horror too large, it seems, for terrorists who have taught themselves to believe that god has willed them to kill. For years, Pakistan’s military establishment first patronised the jihadists who are now tearing the country apart, and then sought accommodation with them. Finding that its effort at appeasement achieved little, the army finally went to war against some jihadists in their North Waziristan strongholds. The country is now facing the storm winds the offensive stirred up.
Like all terrorist strikes, the carnage in Peshawar wasn’t mindless. The bullets carried a message for Pakistan’s people: that the army’s growing war against the hardline Tehreek-e-Taliban will bring with it unacceptable costs. For weeks now, hardline Taliban factions, some linked to al-Qaeda, have raged against what they say are large-scale human rights violations by the Pakistan army, and vowed vengeance.
The army, the terrorist commanders who ordered the attack hope to demonstrate, is incapable of defending its own, let alone civil society. In the short term, both the military and the public may respond with rage, but pressure will inevitably mount to buy peace, and that will be the Pakistan government’s acid test. In the past, these pressures have led some political forces in Pakistan to blame India for the terrorism that now afflicts the country. Hopefully, wisdom will be demonstrated now. It is time to mourn, then, but also to act. The war against religious terror in this region has only one way to go — forward. For, on either side is the abyss.