The attack by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, on an army-run school in the cantonment in the city of Peshawar in northwest Pakistan is one of the most compelling tragedies of recent years. It has only underlined the hard inhumanity of the ideology that the TTP subscribes to, one in which even small children in school can be considered legitimate targets, and the subject of a massacre. It is still not certain how many have died – more than 140 have been declared dead by one account, but it is certainly Pakistan’s most deadly attack ever. Given the victims are children and teachers, the psychological impact will be even greater.
The question is: will this be enough for the Pakistani establishment to reverse course? It has played a dangerous game thus far. The army has attacked the TTP, based in the tribal frontier, while the security establishment simultaneously cosies up to the Punjab-based Islamists who focus on attacking India, and the Afghan Taliban who focus on attacking the government in Kabul. This is predicated on the assumption that there is no way in which support for the latter two will help the former. But the simple fact is that ideas have power; in a region with porous borders, it is not possible for anyone to encourage radicalisation and Talibanisation in one part and expect another to be unaffected. If the shock of this attack will not jolt the Pakistan establishment out of its cynical game-playing and habitual blaming of India and the West, nothing will.
For India, this is a time for reflection. It must support the civilian leadership of Pakistan and nudge it towards more explicit condemnation of the ideology, not just the objectives, of the TTP. Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of Pakistan’s prime minister, once said the Taliban and the Sharifs’ party shared the same aims. And it should, without admitting equivalence, look within. The dangers of nurturing religious extremism are dire. No polity should imagine that such fires, once lit, can be controlled and contained.