Taliban school massacre stuns Pakistan

The Taliban has barbarically assaulted a school in the country’s northern city of Peshawar, killing at least 135 students and injuring many more. Can Pakistan stop this extremist menace?

When Mudassir Awan spotted six people scaling the walls of a school in northern Pakistan on Tuesday morning, he assumed they were children playing some game. But as he drew closer he realised they were not school kids, but grown men armed to the teeth with machine guns.

The Taliban fighters burst into the school and started firing indiscriminately at students and staff, killing more than 135 people and injuring hundreds. One of the attackers reportedly detonated a suicide vest in a crowded hall.

Footage of the carnage and of terrified children has left the world in shock. Pakistan’s prime minister has declared three days of national mourning. ‘These are my children and this is my loss’, he said.

The Taliban is a loose coalition of hardline Islamists that once overran most of Afghanistan, but the US pushed them back after they refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. They withdrew to the mountainous and unruly region that forms the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. From there, the Taliban has waged a war of terror against both countries at once.

The school attack joins the Taliban’s extensive list of atrocities supposedly committed in the name of religion. In the last few years, it has destroyed fighter jets in a US base and attacked government buildings in the Afghan capital, Kabul; its fighters, suicide bombs and roadside bombings have killed several thousand Nato troops, Afghan and Pakistani soldiers, police and civilians; Taliban gunmen shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzaiin Pakistan because she spoke up for the right of girls to be educated.

The US and NATO have criticised Pakistan’s armed forces for apparent reluctance to take on the Taliban, out of fear of savage reprisals. But this year has seen a change of tactics. The army killed their first high-profile al-Qaeda leader in a decade, and cooperation with the US is increasing.

A Pakistani commander says this school massacre is Taliban’s retaliation, intended to destroy the country’s will to fight. Some worry that it may well succeed.

An invisible enemy

Horrific as the school attack is, not everybody is entirely surprised. The Taliban has survived massive military campaigns, some say, and has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to resort to unbridled savagery. With an enemy so ruthlessly violent and impossible to pin down, it is not easy to see how victory can ever be won.

Yet others reply that this attack shows the Taliban are on the back foot: such drastic tactics are the last resort of the desperate. Terror attacks have dropped 30% since June, and this attack on innocent children will only turn the public against them. Pakistan must keep on fighting and make avenging this atrocity its motivation.

You Decide

  1. Does this attack show that the Taliban is winning the fight in Pakistan?
  2. ‘You can never defeat terrorism because terrorists only reveal themselves when it is too late.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. The Taliban believe that girls should not be educated. In pairs, come up with five arguments for why this view is wrong and why a lack of education is bad for people, culture and the economy.
  2. Imagine you are the speech writer for Pakistan’s prime minister. Write a speech consoling the nation after this terrible event, but reminding them not to lose their resolve in resisting terrorism.

Some People Say...

“I don’t want revenge... I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.’Malala Yousafzai”

What do you think?

Q & A

I thought we destroyed the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Taliban knew they were no match for the firepower of the US and UK, so rather than confront their forces directly, they hid away in the mountains and Pakistan’s tribal areas, waiting for opportunities to strike back. These mountains contain warrens of caves that are very difficult to attack. Many locals are sympathetic to them and give them support.
What do the Taliban hope to achieve?
The creation of an intolerant hardline Islamic state. The Taliban grew in power because they promised to provide peace and security while enforcing a strict form of Islamic Sharia law. They demand that all men grow beards and that women should not be educated and should wear the burka. They also disapprove of television, music and cinema.

Word Watch

9/11
On 11 September 2001, terrorists flew two hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon. The attack claimed 2,977 victims, and led the US to declare a ‘war on terror’.
Religion
In both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban is waging war against other Muslims who do not share their extremist ideology and are disgusted by their tactics.
Malala yousafzai
The campaigner for girls’ education was just 15 when the Taliban shot her on a school bus. This year she became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Bombings
Often devastating ‘improvised explosive devices’ (IEDs) left by roads that carry military patrols. They killed some 3,000 Afghanistan police and soldiers in 2012.
Leader
Pakistan’s army killed Adnan el Shukrijumah, who is thought to be behind numerous bombing attempts in the UK and US.
Increasing
Relations between the countries have been fraught, with neither side trusting the other. American drone strikes within Pakistan often anger the country’s citizens, and the US is suspicious that many Pakistani leaders are sympathetic to extremist views.

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