Pakistan woke up to a day of mourning on Wednesday as parents buried their children at mass funerals in and around Peshawar, a day after Taliban militants killed 132 students at the military-run Army Public School in a grisly attack which shocked the nation and put pressure on the government to do more to tackle the insurgency.
Pakistanis waited to see what their government — long accused of not being tough enough on the Islamists — and the Army would do to stem spiralling violence in a nation which has become a safe haven for al Qaeda-linked groups.
Seeking to appear decisive, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that he had lifted a self-imposed moratorium on death penalty in terror-related cases. Sharif told an all-party conference here that he had spoken to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday night and they had agreed to launch fresh operations on their respective sides of the border.
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“We announce that there will be no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban and have resolved to continue the war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated… The fight against terrorism is our fight and to counter it, a holistic roadmap is needed,” said Sharif.
On Wednesday, Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif and ISI chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar went to Afghanistan to seek help in locating the Pakistani Taliban commanders who are reported to have orchestrated the attack in which 148 people were killed. A PTI report said Islamabad would seek the “extradition” of Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which has claimed responsibility.
Major Pakistani militant attacks in the past 2 years
Pakistan has long contended that Fazlullah is hiding in the mountainous eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Last year, Afghan officials admitted to helping Fazlullah, largely as payback for Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban.
In its statement, the Pakistan military said General Sharif had shared vital elements of intelligence with the Afghan President and American commander in Kabul. Ghani assured the Pakistanis of his cooperation against the Taliban, the statement said.
In a separate statement released in Kabul, Ghani said: “The time has arrived for Afghanistan and Pakistan to act together against terrorism and extremism with honesty and effectiveness.” Neither side disclosed details, including whether Ghani asked Islamabad to snap ties with Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban.
“We are hoping that we will see strong action from the Afghan side in the coming days,” said Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa.
Dawn reported that the Army chief would seek the Afghan military’s cooperation for “a joint operation to counter terrorism and eliminate militants hiding inside Afghanistan”. The development came after it emerged that Taliban commander Umar Naray masterminded the attack from Afghanistan.
Sources told PTI that Naray had been issuing directives to militants for carrying out the attack. “His communications have been intercepted which helped security agencies in tracing his location and whereabouts which was urgently shared not only with the Afghan Army but also with NATO forces,” said the sources.
The Express Tribune said Pakistan would want immediate action against TTP hideouts. “If Afghan authorities fail to act this time, we will explore all options, including hot pursuit,” it quoted a source as saying.
“Our aim is to clean this region of terrorism. Not only Pakistan and Afghanistan, but indeed this entire region should be cleaned of terrorism,” Sharif told the all-party conference. “Yesterday’s incident is extremely tragic. We must not forget these scenes… The way they left bullet holes in the bodies of innocent kids, the way they tore apart their faces with bullets,” he said.
Speaking to the media later, he said, “Today’s conference has decided to draft an action against terrorists and act upon it immediately. We have all unanimously decided that a committee comprising all parliamentary parties, under Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, will prepare a plan of action which will be submitted to the national leadership within seven days.” Members of the armed forces, intelligence and political parties will be a part of the committee.
On the ongoing military operation against militants in North Waziristan, Sharif said, “Operation Zarb-e-Azb is continuing successfully but what we have decided today encompasses how to tackle terrorism in the whole country.”
On the lifting of the ban on death penalty in terror cases, Sharif said, “We have proposed terror cases should be expedited… If terrorists are not punished, then who will be punished?”
Meanwhile, according to a CNN report, the Pakistani Taliban said they targeted the Army Public School, which admits mostly soldiers’ children, because the students aspired to follow the “path of their fathers and brothers to take part in the fight against the tribesmen”. The terror group warned Muslims to avoid places with military ties, saying it attacked the school to avenge the deaths of children allegedly killed by soldiers in tribal areas.
The Pakistani Taliban named the commander responsible for the attack as Omar Mansoor, the Taliban commander for Peshawar and Darra Adam Khel. In a statement on Wednesday, the militants released photos that showed six armed men, described as the attackers, wearing military fatigues and gripping assault rifles, standing alongside Mansoor.
The Pakistani Taliban, who are fighting to impose strict Islamic rule in Pakistan, are holed up in mountains straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They are allied with the Afghan Taliban as well as al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, and Pakistan has long accused Afghanistan of not doing enough to crack down on their bases. Afghanistan, for its part, blames Pakistan for allowing militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network to operate freely on its territory.