December 16, 1971 has always been remembered as the day of the breakup of Pakistan. Forty-three years later, on this very day in Peshawar, around 150 children were killed and an equal number were injured when terrorists stormed a school in Peshawar, a week before the children were about to go on a winter vacation with their parents and loved ones. Was it a coincidence that they picked the day or it’s pre-planned either by the militants themselves or who knows by their “masters,” but certainly the incident has once again a “wake-up” call for Pakistan.
In June 2014, a joint military offensive was conducted by the Pakistan Armed Forces against various groups in North Waziristan which has been the site of a wave of violence. The military offensive, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, was launched in the wake of the 8 June attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, for which the TTP claimed responsibility. It is part of the ongoing war in North-West Pakistan in which more than 2,100 have been killed so far, and, according to the Army, almost 90% of North Waziristan has been cleared.
An estimated total of 1,099 pupils and teaching staff were present on the school premises, of whom responding forces were successful in rescuing approximately 960, though 121 were injured. A total of 150 people, including 134 children, ten school staff members, and three soldiers were killed in the terrorist attack. Although, some unofficial reports claim that the real number of casualties is around 300-400. Reports say most of the children were shot in the head.
The attack sparked widespread reactions in Pakistan, receiving condemnations from public, government, political and religious entities, journalists, and other members of Pakistani society. Pakistani media reacted strongly to the events, with major newspapers, news channels and many commentators calling for renewed and strong action against militants, especially against TTP.
International reaction to the attack was also widespread, with many countries and international organizations condemning the attack and expressing their condolences to the families of the victims. Many important personalities around the world also condemned the attack.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, calling it a national tragedy and announced a three-day mourning period during which the National Flag would fly at half mast. President Mamnoon Hussain and chief ministers of four provinces reacted strongly to the attack and condemned it.
On 17 December 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved paperwork to remove the moratorium on the death penalty in terror-related cases. Sources from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat stated: “The Prime Minister has approved abolishment of moratorium on the execution of death penalty in terrorism-related cases
Pakistan has been the victim of terrorism for the past three decades but after 9/11, 2001 and attack on Afghanistan it has become the sanctuary of foreign militants including those belonging to al-Qaeda. Thousands of its fugitives have entered Pakistan and spread all over the country.
Pakistan needs a national policy on terrorism and extremism. The nation needs to decide whether the country should be run by the state or non-state actors. Why over the years have we dozens of outlawed organisations and non-state actors, which at times looked more powerful than the state itself.
It is good to see that all the political parties have condemned the attack. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and main opposition leader Imran Khan rushed to Peshawar to take stock of the situation, but will the death of these children open the eyes of our leadership that Pakistan’s unity is at stake? Can they sit and set agenda for Pakistan? It’s now or never……