Scores of militants killed as Pakistan responds to school massacre
PESHAWAR, Pakistan // More than 50 suspected militants were killed in Pakistani military strikes on Friday and two convicted militants were hanged as the country intensified its campaign against insurgents in the wake of a Taliban assault on a school that killed 149 people.
The bloody rampage in Peshawar city on Tuesday brought international condemnation and promises of swift, decisive action against militants from Pakistan’s political and military leaders.
Pakistan’s de facto foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said the attack was his country’s own “mini 9/11” and a game changer in its fight against terror.
The first hangings of militant prisoners on death row came days after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a moratorium on executions in terror cases.
An ambush by security forces in the north-west on Friday left at least 32 militants dead, the military said, to add to 27 killed in airstrikes and ground operations on Thursday.
In a separate operation on Friday, 18 more militants were killed in Khyber, the military said.
The army has been waging a major offensive against longstanding Taliban and other militant strongholds in the restive tribal areas on the Afghan border for the last six months.
But a series of fresh strikes after the Peshawar attack, which wrought devastation at an army-run school, suggest the military is stepping up its campaign.
As the Peshawar tragedy unfolded, army chief General Raheel Sharif said the attack had renewed the forces’ determination to push for the militants’ “final elimination”.
In the southern city of Karachi on Friday, a suspected local Taliban commander and three cadres were also killed during a raid by government paramilitary Rangers personnel.
But the head of the hardline Islamabad Red Mosque slammed the army operation in North Waziristan as “un-Islamic” and said the Taliban slaughter in Peshawar was understandable.
“O rulers, O people in power, if you will commit such acts, there will be a reaction,” Maulana Abdul Aziz told worshippers.
Around 250 people protested outside the Red Mosque in the evening, denouncing hardliners like Abdul Aziz as Taliban sympathisers.
The two militants hanged on Friday were among six insurgents convicted in military courts whose death warrants the army chief signed late on Thursday.
They were identified as Aqil alias Doctor Usman and Arshad Mehmood by the home minister of Punjab province, where the executions were carried in been hanged in Faisalabad jail.
Aqil was convicted for an attack on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009 and was arrested after being injured.
Arshad Mehmood was convicted for his involvement in a 2003 assassination attempt on former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.
The prime minister’s announcement that hangings would resume for terror convicts, ending a six-year moratorium, triggered warnings of a possible jailbreak attempt in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the troubled northwestern province that has Peshawar as its capital.
Security officials said there were fears that militant groups could try to spring high-ranking comrades from jails to avoid the noose.
Rights groups estimate Pakistan has at least 8,000 prisoners on death row, and courts continue to pass the sentence, but the country has had a de facto moratorium on civilian executions since 2008.
The only prisoner to be executed since then was a soldier convicted of murder by a military court, hanged in 2012.
The death toll from Tuesday’s school attack rose to 149 on Friday as a critically wounded student succumbed to his injuries overnight in hospital, security officials said.
The atrocity was already the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan’s troubled history, surpassing the 139 killed in bomb blasts targeting former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
Mr Aziz, the prime minister’s foreign affairs and national security advisor, said the assault was a “game changer”.
“This has shaken the entire Pakistani society to the core, and in many ways it’s a threshold in our strategy for countering terrorism,” he said.
“Just like 9/11 changed the US and the world forever, this 16/12 is kind of our mini 9/11.”
Pakistan has long been accused of playing a double game with militants groups, supporting those it thinks it can use for its own strategic ends.
But Mr Aziz said that way of thinking was at an end after Tuesday, when heavily-armed fighters went from room to room at the school, gunning down children.
Islamabad has complained in recent months of Afghanistan’s sluggishness in dealing with TTP havens in its territory, but Mr Aziz said progress had been made.
“We are encouraged by the new Afghan leadership’s resolve to take action against the sanctuaries where terrorists have taken refuge,” he said.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: December 20, 2014 04:00 AM