Wednesday, December 17, 2014

THE BLACKEST DAY (16 DECEMBER, 2014)

THE SMALLEST COFFINS ARE THE HEAVIEST

There are times when the barbarity we witness is so gut wrenching and horrific that we are left without words. Tuesday’s attack by Taliban militants on the Army Public School in Peshawar has left the entire country enveloped in a thick shroud of silence and grief, united in our disbelief that anyone, even the militants who have killed and hurt so many in this land, could stoop so low as to kill so many innocent children. At the time of writing this, news reports are coming in that as many as 141 people have been killed, 132 of them students, with scores more injured. These students were helpless, targeted and eliminated by Taliban suicide attackers and gunmen determined to inflict as much damage as possible to the heart and soul of this nation. Reports tell of how militants stormed onto the school premises during assembly time in the morning, with one detonating his suicide jacket, and opening indiscriminate fire on the hundreds of children. They went from classroom to classroom shooting the children in the head at point blank range — one survivor told of how children belonging to army backgrounds were picked out and gunned down.
 
The siege lasted till the later hours of the evening with reports telling of seven militants being killed by the army. Terror stricken parents gathered outside the school and hospitals, looking for their dead and injured children. They had left their homes in school uniforms and were retrieved in body bags. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility. There is no way the country and its leadership can let this one go; there is no way a solid, chapter-turning decision cannot be made after what is, no doubt, a national tragedy.

For the last many months, we have been urging the government to reassess its counterterrorism strategy, to take the right steps and initiate the right policy so that we do not witness this kind of atrocity. Last year, the PML-N government drew up the National Security Policy (NSP) to show that it was ‘serious’ in countering the growing terror threat in the country. Much noise was made about the strengthening of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to coordinate and assemble all efforts to fight the terror threat. However, we have yet to see any concrete steps taken to bring the moribund NACTA to life or the NSP to fruition. In this very space we have been cautioning the government and military to not be complacent or think that the terror threat has abated since the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June this year. The military operation was expected to knock the militants onto the backfoot and degrade their communication and organisational structure but there was always the promise of a blowback. Despite these constant reminders, the authorities were lulled into complacency. December 16, 2014 was the culmination of that false sense of security and we are now gasping for breath. This has been a year of some high profile targets: Karachi International Airport, Wagah border and now the children of Peshawar. Where is the famed NSP? Where is NACTA now?


The government and military must understand once and for all that we are at war. There are no two ways about it; the nation is paying the cost in the blood of its people and now its children. What is needed is a proper counterterrorism strategy that will pr-empt terror attacks before they happen; there is no point in providing security and protection after the fact. Intelligence gathering, security forces and the police are all needed to bring together this kind of umbrella organisation. What is needed is a long-term response. What is needed is a final end to this terror. What is needed is a fitting response to the blackest day we have ever lived through. 

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