Where it hurts

Will this be the final wake-up call?

Where it hurts
In 1972, Arab terrorists mascaraed an Israeli Olympics team. Golda Meir was the prime minister. Outraged, she and her war cabinet ordered Mossad to hunt down the killers no matter where they were hiding or how much would it cost. Mossad hitmen tracked and assassinated the Arab assassins.

In 2001, Al Qaeda operatives of Arab origin killed more than 3,000 Americans. President Bush ordered action without waiting for anyone’s approval. “You are either with us or against us.” Right or wrong, the Americans secured their homeland and eventually killed their worst enemy – Osama bin Laden.

Taliban militants attacked Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on December 16. They killed more than 130 children – mostly teenagers – and 10 staff members, including the school principal. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accepted responsibility for the attack, and termed it a “revenge” for Operation Zarb-e-Azb and drone attacks.

If such a tragic incident had occurred in Israel or the United States, their forces would have attacked targets on mere suspicion. The entire nation would have gone into war mode. And the rest of the world would not dare challenge their actions. What will Pakistan do?

“We have identified who the militants were and who was giving them the directions,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa told a post operation media briefing. The general confirmed the attackers were foreigners and interacting with each other in Arabic.
What about the war of narratives?

Former chairlift operator and TTP Amir Mullah Fazlullah – Pakistan’s worst enemy – admitted responsibility of the attack. His track record of destroying schools in Swat is unmatchable. His men tried to kill Malala Yusufzai.

Before the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azab, the TTP leader fled to a safe haven in Afghanistan from where he was planning and executing attacks inside Pakistan.

“We will hold them accountable for every single drop of blood of our children that they spilled,” said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He also lifted a ban on death penalty in cases of terrorism. The People’s Party government had placed a moratorium on execution of convicts because of human rights concerns. The PML-Nawaz government continued that policy. Reportedly, Taliban had also threatened to attack members of the Sharif family in case any of their captured operatives were hanged.

Imran Khan condemned the attack in very strong terms. He called off his months long sit-in in Islamabad and assured the government of complete support against terrorism. His party rules Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is responsible for law and order in the province.

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif said the militants had struck at the “heart of the nation”. He vowed to go after the “inhuman beasts”, “till their final elimination”.

But this is no time for rhetoric. The government and the security forces will have to eliminate or neutralize the threat no matter what it takes. The political leadership must set their differences aside and speak with one voice to back the armed forces. Time is a luxury the decision makers don’t have any longer.

The tragedy has made Mr Sharif, Mr Khan and the entire political and military leadership stand together for the first time. History is made by leaders who stood by their nations, made tough decisions and carried the day. But in Pakistan, despite one wake-up call after another, there has been no action.

Monday’s attack was the second worst on an educational institution in modern human history. The worst occurred in Russia in 2004, when Chechen rebels killed 385 people including 186 students.

The attack falsifies the assertions of “great performance” of our intelligence agencies. After coming to power the, PML-Nawaz government pledged to establish a joint intelligence directorate called National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). The government also prepared a 30-page document called National Internal Security Policy (NISP). It revealed that 33 intelligence agencies were working at different levels in the country. But the military spokesman confirmed there was no advance intelligence that militants might attack a school.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar came at daggers drawn over the financial matters of NACTA. The interior minister demanded more money to run the affairs of the so-called intelligence directorate. The finance minister refused to release the desired sum.

Professor Robert Pape of Chicago University and other leading researchers have tried to demystify suicide missions. They agree that once the attackers wear a suicide vest, it is next to impossible to catch or stop them. Their argument enhances the critical need for excellent intelligence to nab the attackers before they set out.

The physical operation against the militants would likely intensify now, but what about the war of narratives? Taliban apologists must be shunned and rejected. The space they claim in the media and the national discourse needs to be filled with a narrative envisioned by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Will the Peshawar tragedy become our Munich or our 9/11? Will any of our leaders show the same determination exhibited by Golda Meir and George Bush?

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist

Twitter: @shahzadrez