Pakistan has seen tens of thousands of civilians killed in attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allies in recent years, but Tuesday’s gun-and-bomb attack on a school in the heart of Peshawar, resulting in the deaths of more than 140 people, mostly children, has left the nation numb.
Tuesda’s attack, which the TTP said in a statement was explicitly “in retaliation against” the military’s ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, can be seen, perhaps, as a sign of the group’s desperation. Unable to hit high-value government or military targets, the TTP has been reduced to targeting a school, one that is only nominally army-affiliated, as a sign of its ability to hit civilian targets.
The school itself is a soft target, with relatively low security, even though it is located in a high-security zone of central Peshawar. But by killing scores of children, the TTP is unlikely to win itself much public support, with the backlash from the attack seeing a marked unity amongst Pakistanis in rejecting this form of violence. The indignation of the Pakistani public at this targeting of children seems also to have overridden any fear the TTP was attempting to sow with such a large-scale strike.
In a country where public support for militancy has often allowed space for the TTP and likeminded groups to operate, this is certainly significant.
The Army Public School had about 1,100 students and teachers present, when the attack started at about 10:30am local time (05:00 GMT)
A heavy contingent of security forces arrived at the school shortly after the attack began and launched the rescue operation. The army said in a statement that many hostages had been evacuated but did not say how many.
The Pakistani military began Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the TTP and its allies on June 15, and says that it has so far retaken large areas of territory from the group, and killed more than 1,270 of them.
The army is also carrying out a military operation in Khyber Agency, which borders Peshawar, where it says it has killed at least 179 fighters.
This is a soft target. No one would expect a school to be attacked and children would be involved,
This will only strengthen the public’s resolve to carry on supporting the army.