Pakistan gathers strength amid the ruins of Peshawar

The actions of politicians may be shameful, writes Shaukat Qadir, but it is the reaction of Pakistani youths to the Taliban attack that brings the country pride.

Signs of the carnage in the Army Public School auditorium in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo: B.K. Bangash / AP
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On December 16, 1969, Pakistani forces in the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) surrendered to Indian forces and lost half the country. More than 90,000 troops put down their arms and were taken prisoner. It was a dark day in Pakistan’s history.

Although none of the Taliban who were responsible for the attack on the school on December 16, 2014 claimed a link between the two events, it is more than likely that this horrifying attack in Peshawar was also a reminder to the military.

But this is a far greater tragedy, one mourned by a nation united against terrorists.

One can only weep in sorrow both for those who died and those who survived this terrible ordeal.

In June, terrorist attacks in Karachi resulted in the government’s reluctant acceptance of military action in North Waziristan. This latest attack forced Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif to rush to Peshawar to console those who have lost loved ones and join hands with them against the common enemy.

Meanwhile, Gen Raheel Sharif undertook a hurried visit to Kabul to meet Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, and Gen Joseph Dunford, the American leading the remaining international forces. Gen Sharif carried evidence that this attack had been controlled by a handler in Afghanistan.

Why should this task be assigned to the army chief? Is there no one in this government who has the courage to talk straight to the Afghan president and the American general?

While this act can only be considered an enormous failure of the intelligence and security agencies, I am compelled to repeat something I had written earlier. In this war, numerous and even amazing successes of intelligence and security agencies cannot be made public, but their failures invariably are.

An unnamed British lieutenant-colonel is reputed to have stated during the post-Second World War Malayan Emergency that “if the purpose of terrorism is to terrorise, that of antiterrorism is to terrorise more”.

While the passage of time has not withered his assessment, the intent of this attack was certainly to terrorise. The amazing fact is that it not only failed to terrorise, it has resulted in a far stronger resolve among citizens to rid themselves of this horrible menace.

Local TV channels have interviewed hundreds of young students, parents and citizens in Peshawar and those who travelled from far and wide to pay their respects. Among them, a teenage girl travelled alone by bus from Karak, more than 140km away. When asked why, she responded: “My blood group is a rare group. I have come to donate as much of it as I can.”

A group of students have gone on strike and are sitting outside the targeted school. They have two demands of the government: “If you cannot protect us, tell us. We will undertake to protect you as well” and “For each student killed by terrorists, build us two schools in his/her name”.

A father spoke on camera saying: “I only beg terrorists not to target our children. I am alive. If you have the guts, come target me.”

Numerous students said that if they are targeting schools to terrorise and prevent students from studying, they are determined to excel in their studies to defeat the attackers nefarious designs.

Every student who was asked what he or she would like to do in life, wanted to be a soldier or part of the police force. It was amazing.

Our political leaders might be cowards and my generation might have failed, but our youth inspires us all. They continue to shame us all, not by mere words but by their acts of courage and determination.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer