The Peshawar attack: sickening, but no surprise

The following was originally published at Foundation for Defense of Democracies as a Policy Brief.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, one of many al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups operating in the South Asian country, launched one of its more horrific attacks earlier today. A nine-man Taliban suicide assault team stormed a high school for the children of military personnel in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Armed with suicide vests and assault rifles, the squad fanned out across the school and executed everyone in its path. An estimated 145 people were killed, most of them students between the ages of 12 and 16.

One student described how the fighters screamed “Allahu Akbar” as they opened fire. A survivor recalled hearing one gunman say to another, “There are so many children beneath the benches; go and get them.”

Today’s attack seems especially heinous given that the Taliban intentionally targeted students, but it isn’t particularly unique: in recent years the Taliban has executed numerous suicide operations against soft targets such as churches, shrines, markets, hotels, and even hospitals. Thousands of civilians have been killed in such attacks since the Pakistani Taliban was formed in late 2006.

Pakistani military and government officials were quick to condemn today’s attack. And while the military and government have pursued the Taliban for waging war against the state, the Pakistani establishment is in many ways responsible for the group’s survival.

While the Pakistani government views the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and other jihadist groups (such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) as “bad Taliban,” it treats other Taliban groups, such as the al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani Network, the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, and Lashkar-e-Taiba as state assets. In the words of the chief adviser to the prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, such groups are “not our problem.” These Taliban groups, the so-called “good Taliban,” only seek to wage jihad in Afghanistan or India – not overthrow the Pakistani regime – and thus offer Islamabad “strategic depth.”

This good-versus-evil view of the Taliban, however, is fatally flawed. The so-called good Taliban shelter and support the Pakistani Taliban as well as al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Moreover, while the Pakistani military has launched an operation in the tribal North Waziristan area to root out the Taliban, the group would be unable to operate there without the assistance of the so-called good Taliban of the Haqqani Network.

Over the next several hours and days, Pakistani officials will clamor for the destruction of the Taliban in Pakistan, as they have done after similar atrocities in the past. But destroying the Pakistani Taliban is impossible until the leadership in Islamabad decides to end its double game of backing some jihadist groups while fighting others. Until the government decides to pursue the leaders of terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba and dismantle their jihadist networks’ infrastructure, Pakistani civilians will continue pay for their leaders’ duplicity in blood.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Editor of the Long War Journal.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • The school was run by the military, so it wasn’t likely to be a hive of Deobandi dogma.
    What are the odds that every Wahhabist Deobandi in South Asia is at least silently praising the attack today?
    The armed terrorists aren’t the real problem. More than the terrorists, it’s the imams and the madrassa teachers who spawn them.

  • port_blair says:

    India’s former PM who went and shook hands
    with Nawaz Sharif even after its own soldiers were beheaded
    must be smiling .
    Anyway main point is this Obama and american lawmakers
    better get their
    act together. Those 100 loose warheads will end up on anybody’s doorstep. Obama and Modi will do their serious
    bilateral on Jan 26th which I guess includes a M777 perfect
    weapon for demolishing those border posts. Last October November. 88mm mortars do not do the trick. A 155mm
    projectile can engage Lahore which is 24km off. But this time
    over 40 of Pakistani observation posts were destroyed with about
    40000 mortars rounds and 500000 7.62mm munition.

  • Bill Baar says:

    I have a hard time believing a coed school would be a Deobandi hive.

  • Doug Livermore says:

    The Pakistani ISI had a direct hand in the creation of and success of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For more discussion of this and the “strategic depth” afforded by the Taliban to the ISI, please take a look at this article from earlier this year:

  • Kyle says:

    Seems to me….TTP has just committed suicide, it just hasn’t dawned on them yet. The Pak Military is going to want Payback on a level unseen. I feel bad for the truly innocent(S) that are going to get caught up in the Payback.

  • Abdul Haqq says:

    If the Taliban, rather than the global conspirators, really was behind this horrible attack on innocent children which Islam forbids, how come the Taliban issued a statement on their official website the day after the attack condemning it and stating that whoever carried it out acted against the rulings of Islam?

  • Jake says:

    Abdul, there are two Taliban factions: the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban (aka TTP). The TTP claimed credit for the attack on the school in Peshawar, citing revenge in response to Pak Mil operations in the FATA as the justification for their attack. The Afghan Taliban were the ones who condemned the attack. The reason they condemned it is because they want to retain their safe haven and cordial relations with Pakistan, and they probably knew it would be unpopular with the public. The Afghan Taliban have also killed many children in their attacks recently (even though they claim it’s against Islam). One attack I’m referring to in particular is the one against spectators of a volleyball match in Paktika in late November.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Which Taliban are you talking about? The Afghan ones condemned it, the Pakistani ones boasted about it. I’m not sure how much people would agree or disagree with me here, but it seems to be that with both factions, there is only so much control the central leadership has over their fighters. I would imagine there are still Pakistan, and especially Afghan Taliban that are local and independent of any central leadership.

  • 1980s says:

    Why has nobody from the Pakistani establishment ever condemned Mullah Omar by name, denounced his claim to be an ‘Emir’ of Muslims and called for his arrest? Sharif is still playing games and did not go far enough when he made the remark that there would no longer be any distinction between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’. What Taliban is he talking about? The Pakistani factions or the entire fraternity that includes the original Afghan movement?
    This is the moment of truth that everybody has been waiting for. Will Pakistan finally, openly, publicly condemn Mullah Omar by name? They have called on President Ghani of Afghanistan to co-operate with Pakistan against any TTP presence on their soil, but will the Pakistani establishment do the same and openly condemn Mullah Omar by name, and not this vague term of ‘Taliban’?
    This is the real and final test for Pakistan to prove their seriousness and sincerity. They MUST now come out publicly and denounce Mullah Omar by name. If they dont do this, they cannot and should not be taken seriously.
    Afghanistan has thrown the ball in Pakistan’s court now, they have publicly condemned the TTP and offered co-operation. How will Rawalpindi now respond to their request to do the same with Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis?
    All it takes for the good-will to start, is for a simple, public denunciation – BY NAME – from Sharif personally against Mullah Omar. This is the test now for Pakistan, and it is a very, very important and critical test for him and the entire Pakistani establishment to pass.

  • Naman Singh says:

    Pakistan’s civilian government has neither the resources nor guts to take on the “good terrorists”, if it tries to touch these assests it will result in to a massive ruckus on streets of Pakistan. Groups like LeT have support in some factions of army and mainstream political parties. And even prominent people in social circles and civil society abstain from openly criticizing these organizations. I can only recommend that the biggest donors and lenders to Pakistan like World Bank, USA pressurize Pakistan government to take action against these groups or lose aid. Also overseas Pakistanis should realize that the money they are sending home is eventually ending in pockets of these groups which use these funds in terror operations that maligns the image of Pakistan world over. Otherwise one can always sit back and watch these snakes who bite the hand which feeds them again and again!

  • JihadWatch says:

    It was a clear heinous crime and act of brutality.
    TTP calls itself an offshoot of Afghani Taliban and the official Taliban site condemns the attack so who are these perpatrators? Can it be a false flag operation by Pak Army to gather the will of soldiers and Nation?

  • wallbangr says:

    Telling that the same day the Pak nation was mourning this attack and politicians and even some in the PakMil were denouncing terrorism, the Pak State was releasing the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks. Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the leader of the the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was released on bail without even paying it. Way to show the world you are finally taking the threat seriously and are going to once and for all disabuse yourself of the flawed notion of Taliban or any other militant group as strategic depth…

  • Steve Mert says:

    Blaming “global conspirators” for all of your problems is what allowed this disgusting attack to happen in the first place. There is no shortage of evidence as to who carried out this massacre open your eyes Abdul Haqq.

  • kush dragon says:

    Abdul I was under the impression that the Afghan Taliban condemned the attack while the Pakistani Taliban did not. If I’m wrong feel free to correct me.

  • @Bill Baar — would you care to go back and read my first sentence more carefully?
    @JihadWatch — “Can it be a false flag operation by Pak Army to gather the will of soldiers and Nation?”
    Seriously: (1) what are you smoking, and (2) how old are you?
    @wallbangr — precisely put — massive up-dings
    New comment: see this op-ed on today’s DAWN web site.
    Almeida gets into apples and oranges when he recounts the annecdote about Kayani. The issues are NOT the same.
    However, his first point, about Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N’s ties to the LeT (and others) is dead-bang on target. Go back to 2007/2008 on LWJ. It was all laid out here.

  • Thomas says:

    In the back and forth of dystopian, power-seeking warfare, appealing to conscience and some sort of moral line not to be crossed rings hallow when coming from any of the participants. For both sides of the conflict, every act of slaughter is justified as a response to the actions of the other side – as actions justified by the dehumanized nature of the enemy. For instance, what is the real difference between this attack on a military academy of the Pakistani government and an attack on a school and training camp for children run by the TTP or some other group? There is no difference at all. Competing claims of legitimacy of action ultimately end with neither side being able to justify itself. In the big picture, this wholesale battle for power and enforcing one’s power claims results not in the defeat of one side – but of both – with the followers and supporters of both sides devoured in the process.

  • kimball says:

    In the comments there are all kind of weird stats/onclusions and predictions. “Small War Journal”is tagged here , bringing out an article that travel backwards in time but starts with a weird map of ” Big Pashtunistan”.
    Thomas makes some kind of leveling comparision between the Peshawar attack and a presumed Goverment attack an a TTP madrassa for childeren, well that kind of attack has not happened and that is the big difference between the disruptive forces (Pak Talib/ Afghan Talib + arab sponsors) and, especially Afghanistan that is fighting tooth and nail to get peace.SWJ map goes so far as portraying Phatan’s taking over Beluchistan and reaching Gwadar harbour. Phatans are proud “hilly billys” and will keep it that way. The saying to US forces –
    “you have all the watches but we have all the time” goes likewise to UAE and Saudi Wahabi/Deobandi cults. Yoy can rent a Phatan but not buy him.


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