Angry tide turns against Pak Taliban

Push for punishment: Outrage replaces shock as toll rises to 148

Angry tide turns against Pak Taliban

The massacre of more than 130 Pakistani schoolchildren by Taliban gunmen was a chilling reminder of Hillary Clinton's warning to Islamabad in 2011 that “you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours”. 

Now, as Pakistan reels in horror at the bloodshed in a military-run high school in Peshawar city on Tuesday, pressure will mount on politicians and generals who have long been tolerant of militants they counted as strategic assets in their rivalry with India and jostle for influence in Afghanistan. 

Meanwhile, seven more adults wounded in the brutal attack succumbed to their injuries on Wednesday, taking the toll to 148.

“There have been national leaders who been apologetic about the Taliban,” said Sherry Rehman, a former envoy to Washington and prominent opposition politician. “People will have to stop equivocating and come together in the face of national tragedy.” 

Outrage over the killing of so many children is likely to seriously erode sympathy for militants in a country where many people have long been suspicious of the US-led “war on terror”, and spur the army to intensify an offensive it launched this year on havens in mountains along the Afghan border. 

On Wednesday, Mubasher Lucman, a prominent host on the ARY news channel, tweeted: “Enough time already. Tell Air Chief to initiate carpet bombing”. 

“The Taliban may be trying to slacken the resolve of the military by suggesting that there could be tremendous human costs to the military offensive, and create public pressure on the military to back off from this offensive,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. 

“But it may actually ricochet on them,” said Nasr, formerly a US State Department adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Pakistan's Taliban, whose nominal unity has frayed this year with the emergence of competing factions, are distinct from the Afghan Taliban. 

However, the groups are linked, and share the goals of toppling their respective governments and setting up a strict Islamist state across the region. 

Widening the offensive against the Pakistan Taliban could include “hot pursuit” by the military across the porous border into Afghanistan, where many Pakistani militants hide. That could put at risk a recent rapprochement between Islamabad and Kabul. 

Pakistan's “Dawn” newspaper quoted a source as saying that the school attackers were acting on orders from handlers in Afghanistan. 

“They have been asking the Afghan government to do something about this for a very long time. Pakistan may be left with no other option—the brutality of the attack demands a response,” said Saifullah Mehsud, the head of the FATA Research Centre in Islamabad, referring to the carnage in Peshawar. 

Despite the risks, public outrage means the army now has a freer hand to go after the Taliban, entrenching its dominance over a government that pursued fruitless peace talks with the militants and offered only half-hearted support for a military offensive. 

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