Parents in Pakistan prepare for mass burial of children

Pakistan woke up to a day of mourning on Wednesday after Taliban militants killed 132 students at a school in the city of Peshawar on Tuesday in a grisly attack, which shocked the nation and put pressure on the government to do more to tackle the insurgency.

People around the country lit candles and staged overnight vigils as parents prepared to bury their children during mass funerals in and around Peshawar – a big, volatile city on the edge of Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.

Pakistanis may be used to almost daily militant attacks against the security forces but an outright assault on children stunned the country, prompting commentators to call for a tough military response.

In Peshawar, the vast grounds of the military-run Army Public School were all but deserted, with a handful of snipers manning the roofs of its pink brick-and-stone buildings.

Army vehicles and soldiers wearing face masks and carrying automatic rifles were deployed by the entrance.


Details of attacks
A day after the attack, Peshawar appeared subdued and many were still in shock, recalling the gruesome events and trying to soothe each other. More details of the well-organised attack emerged as witnesses came forward with their stories.

“The attackers came around 10.30am on a pick-up van,” said Issam Uddin, a 25-year-old school bus driver.

“They drove it around the back of the school and set it on fire to block the way. Then they went to Gate 1 and killed a soldier, a gatekeeper and a gardener. Firing began and the first suicide attack took place.”

The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced a three-day mourning period, but people’s anxiety focused on what the authorities can do to protect the country.

Sharif came to power last year promising to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban – but those efforts failed this year, weakening his position and prompting the army to launch an air-and-ground operation against insurgents along the Afghan border.

The military staged more air strikes against Taliban positions there late on Tuesday, a security source said, but it was unclear whether it was done in response to the school attack.

Good and bad Taliban
Yet, despite the well-publicised crackdown, the military has long been accused of being too lenient towards Islamist militants who critics say are used to carry out the army’s bidding in places like the disputed Kashmir region and Afghanistan.

The military denies the accusations.

“People will have to stop equivocating and come together in the face of national tragedy,” said Sherry Rehman, a former ambassador to the United States and an opposition politician.

“There have been national leaders who [have] been apologetic about the Taliban, who have not named the Taliban in their speeches.”

The Pakistani Taliban, who are fighting to impose strict Islamic rule in Pakistan, are holed up in the inaccessible mountains straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

They are allied with the Afghan Taliban as well as al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, and Pakistan has long accused Afghanistan of not doing enough to crack down on their bases.

Afghanistan, for its part, blames Pakistan for allowing militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network to operate freely on its territory and stage attacks in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s army chief was expected to visit Afghanistan on Wednesday for what is likely to be a day of uneasy talks with his Afghan counterparts on how to tackle the insurgency.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quoted a source as saying that the militants were acting on direct orders from their handlers in Afghanistan and that prominent Taliban commander Umar Naray was the ultimate mastermind of the attack.

Speaking late on Tuesday, army spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa hinted at that without naming Afghanistan.

“When these militants reached the school … we found out which group was involved, who they were talking to, from where the operation was being controlled,” he said. “God willing, in coming two-four days you will get to know.”

SA government condemns attacks
The South African government on Tuesday condemned a terrorist attack in Pakistan, the department of international relations said.

“The South African Government has today … joined the international community in condemning in the strongest possible terms the inhumane and barbaric terrorist attack against a school in the city of Peshawar,” spokesperson Clayson Monyela said in a statement. 

“Deliberate attacks against schools and denying children the right to an education are contraventions of well-established international human rights and humanitarian law and constitute a crime against humanity.”

Dirco extended their condolences to the people of Pakistan and said South Africa would continue to support efforts to address terrorism.  – Reuters, additional reporting by Sapa.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Mehreen Zahra Malik
Mehreen Zahra Malik works from Islamabad, Pakistan. Reporter. Editor. @nytimes @Reuters @guardian @WashingtonPost. Alum @UWMadison @LifeAtLums. Almost PhD. Obsessed with cats & shoes. [email protected] Mehreen Zahra Malik has over 207144 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

India and China border conflict intensifies

A frontier dispute between the two Asian giants turned deadly for the first time in 45 years. Observers argue the skirmish was exacerbated by Delhi’s annexation of Kashmir and Ladakh

The blankest spot on Trump’s world map

In his new book of his time in the Trump White House, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton shares Trump’s very few thoughts on Africa

Censorship, surveillance could be the biggest rights challenges post Covid-19

The impacts of these infringements could last well beyond the life of the Covid-19 pandemic

Surviving Covid-19 — and Modi

A religious and nationalist agenda has replaced the promise of development and left India ill-equipped to manage the pandemic

Terrorism used as excuse to suppress Kashmir

Within India, the Bharatiya Janata Party government is stoking Islamophobia by using religion as an instrument of identity politics

Kashmir: Modi’s threat to India’s democracy

The revocation of the contested territory’s special status marks a dangerous Hindu-nationalist shift
Advertising

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday