In Pakistan, fear has become mundane – will the Peshawar attack change anything?

Samira Shackle in New Statesman:

PeshawarBy now, you are probably familiar with the bare facts of the case. This morning, at around 10am local time (5am GMT), militants wearing army uniforms stormed a school in Peshawar, a violence-wracked city in Pakistan’s north-west. They killed children and teachers, taking others hostage. At present, the death toll stands at 126. The majority of the dead are aged between 12 and 16. Scores more are injured, and according to spokespeople for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which carried out the attack, hundreds are being held hostage – although the numbers are not verified. The Pakistani army says it has killed six terrorists and is searching for more. The operation is still ongoing. The Army Public School and Degree College teaches the children of military personnel as well as the children of civilians. The TTP says the attack is revenge for the Pakistani military’s current operation in the tribal areas of Pakistan; it claims it attacked a school “because the government is targeting our families and females”. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since the military operation began in June. Operation Zarb-e-Azb (literally, “sharp strike”) aims to attack the power structure of the TTP and associated groups, and to clear out the militants’ safe haven once and for all. Since the start of the offensive, Pakistan has been waiting for the reprisal attacks that the group promised. But even in the blood-soaked context of Pakistan – a country that has lost well over 40,000 innocents to terrorist attacks since 2001 – this morning’s incident in Peshawar is shocking. It is difficult to match the sheer horror and senselessness of the mass slaughter of children. Perhaps aware of the potential damage to its cause, the TTP has said that its gunmen have been instructed “not to kill minor children”; scant comfort for the families of the scores of older children who have already been murdered.

…The question now is whether this incident will actually change anything. There is a chance that the sheer brutality of the event will answer some of the internal political debates about how best to tackle the terrorist threat. As recently as spring, the Pakistani government was pursuing talks with the Taliban, even as violent attacks across the country surged. Many in the mainstream political right wing still agitate for appeasement and negotiations rather than a military operation. And amongst the wider population, there is a fault-line of people who explicitly or tacitly support the actions of the TTP and associated groups, even as they suffer the effects of this campaign of terror. Some commentators have suggested that the sheer brutality of this assault will undermine the arguments of those who would like to see negotiations with the TTP, and will perhaps reduce that element of support amongst the wider populace.

More here.