Is Pakistan Really Ready to Crack Down on Its Homegrown Taliban?

Coffins be readied in the Pakistan army school in Peshawar which was attacked by the Taliban. (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús / Flickr Commons)

Coffins be readied in the Pakistan army school in Peshawar which was attacked by the Taliban. (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús / Flickr Commons)

Even many of those who don’t normally follow world affairs couldn’t help but take notice of the Dec. 16, 2014 attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a public school for children of the military in Peshawar. The 132 children, as well as 13 adults, killed stood out from world news much as Boku Haram’s kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria did. As we in the United States saw with the Dec. 2012 Newtown school shooting, in which 20 children were killed, it’s only natural that the mass murder of children invokes outrage on an epic scale.

While the number of school shootings in the United States since Newtown may be as high as 100, with maybe half as many killed, no significant gun reform has been enacted. Thus, I asked in a recent post,Will the Taliban Attack on a Peshawar School Generate More Reform Than the Newtown School Shooting?Would the Pakistani government and military crack down on its Taliban, which has traditionally served as an attack dog ostensibly to keep India at bay but which occasionally bites the hand that feeds it? I had written that, in the New York Times, Declan Walsh called the Peshawar attack:

… a violent cataclysm that has traumatized the country. … united by grief, rage and political necessity, Pakistanis from across society are speaking with unusual force and clarity about the militant threat that blights their society.

In fact

For the first time, religious parties and ultraconservative politicians have been forced to publicly shun the movement by name. And while demonstrations against militancy have been relatively small so far, they touched several cities in Pakistan, including a gathering of students outside the school in Peshawar.

However

Though there is little doubt that the Peshawar massacre has galvanized Pakistani society, the question is whether it can become a real turning point for [Pakistan].

… for all the fighting talk, many are skeptical that the anger and tears of this week can make a sustained change.

Walsh, paraphrasing the words of Chris Cork, an editorial writer with The Express Tribune newspaper, wrote that “civil society is still weak and disorganized, riven by fear of the Taliban and the harsh gaze of the intelligence agencies.” Cork himself said: “There isn’t the infrastructure, the will, the people with organization, ability and visibility to lead it.” He added that the wave of anti-Taliban sentiment is “probably just a blip. … Quite honestly, give it a month and it will have faded.”

That remains to be seen. At McClatchy, Tom Hussain reports that on Dec. 24 the Pakistani government “gave the military two years’ carte blanche to wage, as it saw fit, the decisive phase of the country’s protracted civil war with Islamist terrorists.” Granted: “as it saw fit” is more than a little scary especially if you recall its two operations against militant Islamists in the Swat Valley, which left hundreds of civilians killed and millions displaced.

Hussain adds that the government’s plan applies to not only the Pakistani Taliban, but “to all jihadist and sectarian militants on Pakistani soil. That decision echoes the vow Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made Dec. 17, the day after the school massacre, not to differentiate between so-called “good and bad Taliban.” Hussain provides background.

Dozens of political leadership figures had gathered … at the prime minister’s official residence in Islamabad to decide on a “national plan of action” under the stern gaze of the army chief of staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, considered the nation’s most powerful man.

The plan, which grants the military “unchallengeable powers … to pursue, detain and pass verdict on Islamist militants and their abettors … is being closely watched by the United States and other countries to see whether it encompasses Pakistan-based militant groups that have repeatedly attacked neighboring Afghanistan and India.”

Nor is it clear if the military intends to crack down on Lakshar-e-Taiba, the mammoth Pakistani terror (and, admittedly, social services) organization that trained the militants who mounted the 2008 Mumbai attacks, even though

An Islamabad anti-terrorist court judge had caused huge embarrassment to the government Dec. 18 when he accepted the bail application of the suspected mastermind of the November 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai.

… Amid Indian demands that it prevent his release, Pakistani authorities rearrested Lakhvi before he left the prison, but the government has not clearly stated whether it intends to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba.

It may be comparing apples and orange: an attack by a group of militants as opposed to the proverbial U.S. “long gunman.” Still, it would be ironic if the Peshawar school attack were responsible for a true reform in the policies of Pakistan — looked down on by many in the United States as a state just waiting to be designated failed — when the Newton incident resulted in little or none in “our great democracy.”