The tragic massacre yesterday of over 100 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban.
This barbaric attack came from the same group that tried to murder the Nobel Peace Prize winning schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. Her crime? Daring to encourage young girls to go to school. And their crime? Being children of military personnel in school.
The attack yesterday was one of scores perpetrated by the Pakistan Taliban in recent years. It was motivated by pure revenge against the Pakistani armed forces and is part of the on-going struggle being fought out in Waziristan, the self-autonomous tribal area on the Afghan border.
So what is going on in this deeply troubled, regressive and let us not forget nuclear-armed nation?
A dangerous shifting relationship
For years the Pakistani armed forces and their intelligence services have turned a blind eye to Taliban fighters. This has meant they have used the border with Pakistan with impunity. Pakistan has also traded intelligence and regardless of numerous requests by the United States, failed to get a grip of the so-called ‘holes’ in the border. These actions have undoubtedly caused many deaths and injuries to NATO forces in Afghanistan and the shameful discovery of Osama Bin Laden living next to the largest military base in Pakistan.
So what has shifted in the relationship between the government and the Taliban? There has been tension for years over the use of U.S. drones over the tribal areas and the perception by the Pakistani Taliban that the Pakistani armed forces have been encouraging them on the one hand and assisting the United States on the other.
The most recent operations by the Pakistani armed forces in the tribal areas were triggered by the murder of thirty people during the summer attack on Karachi Airport. These civilian murders led to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ending the direct dialogue between the government and the Pakistani Taliban and an intense, bloody confrontation has been playing out ever since.
So can anything be done to crush the Pakistani Taliban? Can we avoid this country becoming a failed state, overrun by Islamic extremists through a brutal and intense campaign of terror and where incidents like yesterday just become commonplace?
Pakistan must reform and get a grip
Pakistan’s salvation lies partly within itself and partly with its more powerful neighbours, China and India and to a lesser extent Russia.
The country must begin to reform itself. It is a nation of international hand outs, appearing co-operative and friendly to nations like the United States and Britain who invest billions of pounds in aid into their country but probably really hating everything these nations stand for.
Pakistan must drag itself out of the seventh century and into the twenty-first. It cannot continue with mass corruption and inequality of its people that is causing Islamic sympathy and extremism. It can no longer play both sides. The Pakistani Taliban is either an enemy of the state or a tentative political partner. They cannot be both.
Alas, I do not hold out much hope that Pakistan will reform itself, put itself on the path to genuine reform and become a progressive, prosperous nation.
We have of course seen genuine grief and revulsion at the events of yesterday from all areas of Pakistani civic life. But violence is so routine that I fear it will not be long in my view before Pakistan goes back to business as usual. And as they do, the Pakistani Taliban will carry on with its campaign of terror with the sole aim of overthrowing the government and getting their hands on the real prize, 120 nuclear warheads.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush once coined the phrase ‘An axis of evil.’ Well, if the Pakistani Taliban, Islamic State and Al Qaeda ever join forces to topple Pakistan then it will give a wholly frightening new meaning to this phrase.