Peshawar school attack: Backlash against Pakistan Taliban

Children being ushered away from the scene of a gun attack in Peshawar Image copyright EPA
Image caption The attack on children in their school had created unprecedented shock in Pakistan

Tuesday's school attack in Peshawar is seen by many as the worst in Pakistan's history of militant violence.

Over more than a decade the country has faced many attacks causing deaths that run into three figures, but never before have the attackers mowed down so many children.

The sense of shock in Pakistan is unprecedented.

Many are now wondering whether the country will finally lose patience with militants who have killed thousands over the years.

In June the Pakistani army launched a ground offensive to clear North Waziristan tribal region, the largest sanctuary carved out by militants in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Since losing their sanctuary the militants have been dispersed, many of them have been moving into the Khyber region, which is in the provincial capital Peshawar's backyard.

There, too, the militants are under pressure, with the military launching another operation in Khyber just last month.

The groups that had been fighting under the banner of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have split up into various factions.

Some of them who had carved out sanctuaries in north-eastern Afghanistan and had remained secure until now have recently come under attack amid growing signs of improvement in Pakistan's relations with the US and Afghanistan.

'Intelligence-led operations'

Earlier this month the Pakistani army chief undertook a week-long visit to the US, and the US Congress extended a facility to fund Pakistani military operations against militants by a year.

This came apparently after assurances that Pakistan would give up a policy - which it has long denied - of protecting some militant groups considered essential for its own strategic aims in the region.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some students from the school were rescued by soldiers from the Pakistani army and treated at a local hospital

In recent weeks, the army spokesman in Rawalpindi has been releasing statements claiming attacks on hideouts of the Haqqani network, seen as a long-time militant ally of the Pakistani state, although there has never been independent confirmation of this.

Within the country, what the authorities call "intelligence-led operations" have brought the capture and killing of a number of suspected militants from cells in Karachi, the southern parts of Punjab province, and in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.

In recent months, several dead bodies have been recovered by police in KP province which militants claim to be those of their fighters. They claim these fighters were captured by security forces and killed extra-judicially.

So while security around military and civilian government targets has been beefed up, the militants have been coming under increased pressure.

Peshawar has always been an easy target for militants because it is surrounded on three sides by the semi-autonomous tribal areas - where militants have maintained bases.

The Army Public School they attacked in Peshawar was not only a soft target, but also symbolically important as it is run by the army and has mostly children of service personnel as its students.

So is the assault a desperate attempt at a comeback by militants who are under threat?

It may well be, but it has shaken the nation, and may well spark noisier demands for the military to stop protecting its favourites among the militants, if it still has any.

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