Pakistan’s civilian and military and leaders vowed to eliminate terrorists a day after 132 students were slaughtered, signaling a move to combat a Taliban movement it has periodically fought and talked to.
“No difference will be made between good and bad Taliban,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told reporters today after meeting leaders of the country’s main political parties in Peshawar, where the attack occurred that killed 148 people, most of them students. “We all pledged to fight terrorism until the last terrorist is eliminated from our soil.”
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was directed to prepare a national anti-terror strategy and report back within a week, Sharif said. Representatives of all parties will be on Khan’s panel. Armed forces chief General Raheel Sharif said: “Terrorists will be eliminated from wherever they go,” according to posting on Twitter by the military’s spokesman.
The carnage at an army-run school yesterday may galvanize support for a more aggressive campaign to uproot Taliban militants based along the border with Afghanistan who want to impose their version of Islamic law in place of Pakistan’s democracy. Prime Minister Sharif authorized an offensive against them in June to stem violence that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001 and constrained economic growth.
“The nation has sacrificed a lot for the war on terror,” Sharif said before the meeting of party leaders. “Thousands of lives have been lost and economic damage runs into hundreds of billions of dollars. These sacrifices won’t be wasted.”
General Sharif today visited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul and Ghani said his nation’s territory won’t be allowed to serve as a base for terrorist attacks against Pakistan, the Pakistani military said in a press statement. General Sharif pledged “full support” for joint efforts against militants.
The two Sharifs aren’t related.
In Peshawar today, mourners thronged outside the Lady Reading Hospital, where most victims of the attack were taken. A list of the 148 dead at the hospital showed that most of the 132 students who were killed yesterday were 14 years old.
An army operation ended the assault about nine hours after it began yesterday with all seven terrorists dead, according to military spokesman Asim Bajwa. More than 121 people were injured and about 960 were rescued, he said.
Pakistan’s benchmark KSE100 Index (KSE100) fell 0.7 percent today after declining 2.6 percent yesterday, the most in four months. Trading ended an hour early today to express solidarity with victims of the attack.
It was too early to say whether the words from the nation’s political and military leaders will translate into actions.
“The nation expects more from an all-party conference than simply the formation of a committee,” Taimur Rehman, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said by phone. “The government should have already had a game plan ready and presented that to the parties and public,” he said.
To be sure, there may not be an enduring popular groundswell to suppress the Taliban, said Anatol Lieven, the author of “Pakistan: A Hard Country”, in a phone interview from Doha, Qatar. “Pakistani public opinion has been astonishingly unmoved about going after the Taliban despite everything, and has befuddled itself with conspiracies that ‘This isn’t the Taliban. It’s the Indian intelligence service.’”
There was “real, mass support” for military operations against the Taliban in 2009 when they occupied the northern Swat valley and appeared to be advancing toward Islamabad, Lieven said. That support dissipated during 2011, when U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and American troops mistakenly killed Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border, he said.
Calls from politicians and the Pakistani media for forceful military action against militant groups throughout the nation, not just in the Afghan border areas, would be one indication in the coming weeks of a widespread desire for a crackdown, Lieven said.
The Pakistani Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, today demanded that the army halt its offensive into North Waziristan. It also accused the government of killing Taliban fighters in prison and detaining their family members.
The TTP “was forced to take this extreme step to target this school where children of army officers and soldiers were studying,” it said in an e-mailed statement today. “Unless demands are met, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan will be forced to target every institution affiliated with the army or security forces nationwide.”
The country’s political parties have long debated the best way to deal with Taliban militants, with some favoring a more aggressive military response and others arguing that talks would be more effective. Negotiations between Sharif’s government and Taliban representatives broke down earlier this year.
At the same time, Nawaz Sharif has sought to stave off protests from opposition political leader Imran Khan, who has accused him of fraudulently winning last year’s general election.
“We are all together,” Khan said today, sitting next to Nawaz Sharif after the meeting of party leaders in Peshawar. “Our difference aside, terrorism is a national issue. We are standing with the federal government,” he said.
Khan later in the day said he is ending an anti-government sit-in in Islamabad that he’s maintained since mid-August.
Yesterday’s attack was Pakistan’s deadliest since 2007, when a suicide bomber killed more than 140 people at a political rally for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was later assassinated. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at the India-Pakistan border last month that killed 53 people.
“Whatever happens, terrorism in Pakistan will continue, as it doubtless will in so many Muslim nations,” said Lieven. “But it could be reduced, if there were concerted calls now for action.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at [email protected] Dick Schumacher, Mark Williams
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