Newspaper headlines: Pakistan school massacre, English laws and life on Mars?

Powerful images from Peshawar, where Pakistani Taliban gunmen killed 132 children at a school, appear on many front pages.

Inside, analysts attempt to explain why the militants responsible - part of Tehreek-e-Taliban - acted with such extreme brutality. Rob Crilly, in the Telegraph, says a government offensive has weakened the group: "This year, the group has paid a heavy toll in commanders and foot soldiers. Its attacks smack of desperation. It is trying to kill its way back to relevance."

The group's also been fragmenting since a new leader replaced Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed by a US drone last year, says the Sun. It hears from security specialist Rafaello Pantucci who says: "When groups begin to break up it makes them more dangerous and violent."

According to Robin Pagnamenta, writing in the Times: "Although the Tehreek-e-Taliban has carried out plenty of brutal attacks on civilian targets in the past, it has tended to follow a few ground rules. One of these had been that schools, hospitals and other 'soft targets' were rarely hit."

However, the Guardian's Jason Burke points out that in recent years more than 1,000 schools in the province have been destroyed by Islamists. "The institutions symbolise government authority and are seen as un-Islamic. This school is at the edge of a military 'cantonment'... and inevitably many students are the children of servicemen. It is a soft target, but one with powerful psychological impact."


The prospects of a political resolution to the violence in Pakistan is debated.

Image copyright EPA

Shiraz Maher, of London's International Centre for Study of Radicalisation, writes in the Daily Mirror that the Peshawar attack could prove a watershed moment in the country's history. "Journalists, politicians and religious leaders have been unequivocal in their condemnation. The army has recommitted itself to military campaigns aimed at uprooting Taliban influence in the tribal areas, which in the past lacked both political and public support. But the new low plumbed by the terrorists in yesterday's atrocity means that is no longer the case."

Omar Waraich, in the Independent, agrees: "Tuesday's events should prompt Pakistan's leaders to shed their petty rivalries and take the threat seriously and finally acknowledge that there can be no reconciling with people who slaughter children."

However, Michael Burleigh, in the Daily Mail, says the country's inequality allows extremists to thrive. He writes: "Yes, the venal political class in Pakistan has united in its revulsion at this latest atrocity, but by next week they'll be back to their old ways, deferring the wholesale reforms Pakistan actually needs, such as making rich people pay their taxes."

Nonetheless, the Financial Times's Victor Mallet is hopeful of a cry of "enough" from the country's people. "Millions of ordinary Pakistanis - moderate Sunni, Sufi, Shia, secularists - quietly lament the rise of rampant religiosity and intolerance in their multicultural society and detest the violence and cruelty of the Pakistani incarnation of the Taliban... Now it may finally be dawning on Pakistan's generals and politicians as well that Sunni extremists present an existential threat to their country."

English fudge?

A rowdy Commons debate on "English Votes for English Laws" provokes equally robust opinion in the press, as papers mull whether the voting rights of Scottish MPs in Westminster should be restricted once further devolution to Holyrood reduces the powers of their English counterparts.

Leader of the House William Hague's command paper, says Times sketchwriter Ann Treneman, "set out a series of options wresting a bit of control (but not too much) over legislation while desperately trying not to offend any MP who wasn't English. Indeed it was so English that I felt that it should really begin with the word 'sorry'."

However, while she recalls Conservative John Redwood declaring "England expects", the writer says Labour's Sir Gerald Kaufman argued the phrase "dog's breakfast" was inappropriate because "any sensible dog would turn its nose up at it."

Image copyright PA

The Daily Express is among papers complaining at Labour's refusal to entertain the idea: "Ed Miliband's hopes of governing effectively rest on the party's Scottish MPs maintaining their influence on legislation. As a result Labour has shamefully chosen to put self-interest before doing the right things and turned down cross-party talks on the reforms."

However, the Independent points out that if Scottish MPs were banned from voting on English laws then: "It could create a situation in which Labour, as the largest party, forms a UK government and controls certain aspects of policy, such as foreign affairs, but not England's health service, or education, or transport, which would be controlled more or less in perpetuity by the Conservatives. Since these services are where the bulk of government spending goes, there would be little point in a Labour chancellor setting a Budget."

The Telegraph fears no swift resolution: "Labour refused to co-operate with the cabinet committee looking into the matter and the Lib Dems see this as an opportunity to continue riding their hobby horse for proportional representation. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have also muddied the waters by putting up three options for debate within the party."

The Daily Mail agrees that a "fudge" is the only realistic outcome, arguing: "Though it grieves the Mail to say so, the logic of this constitutional nightmare points only one way - towards the break-up of the most successful partnership between nations in history." The Sun says: "The UK will certainly be divided if the English are left with less democratic clout than the Scots."

Meanwhile, the Guardian blames the muddle on David Cameron's "failure of statesmanship" in promising "English votes for English laws" in the hours after the referendum: "It was as though, now that the Scots had turned their backs on nationalism in favour of the union, the English were being given the green light to embrace a form of nationalism of their own instead. The net result has been the resurrection of Scottish nationalism."

The latest discovery by US space agency Nasa leads several papers to ask: "Is there life on Mars?" In answering the age-old question, the Telegraph reckons: "We are tantalisingly close to being able to say: 'yes'."

Image copyright NASA/JPL-Caltech/PA Wire

It reports how Nasa's Curiosity Rover has detected "burps" of methane on the planet, which may have been produced by bacteria-like organisms. "It raises the prospect that life is lurking deep beneath the surface of our nearest neighbour, 34 million miles away," agrees the Mail.

The Daily Mirror lists theories as to the gas's origin, from the microbes touted by Nasa to cow flatulence and Martians eating Brussels sprouts with their instant mashed potato.

In a similar vein, the Sun declares: "Fartians are coming."

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