What Is The Pakistani Taliban Trying To Show By Killing Peshawar's Schoolchildren?

The gunmen who entered a school Tuesday morning in Peshawar, near the frequently violent border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, didn't attempt to take hostages. They walked from classroom to classroom, spraying bullets into schoolchildren. One of the attackers on the suicide mission detonated his vest immediately on entering the school. In the end, six attackers were killed by security forces. By then, 142 people had died, mostly students in the Army-run school.

The Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), which soon claimed responsibility for the attack, did not have demands. The aim seems to have been to strike terror and grab global attention.

This is the same outfit that had shot activist Malala Yousafzai in the face in 2012 for her work to promote education of girls. Yousafzai won the Nobel peace prize this year. The attack comes just days after the prize ceremony in Oslo.

The act is coming to be seen as a desperate measure by the ruthlessly violent militant outfit that is at once mindful of its diminishing influence and wants to push back against recent strikes by the Pakistan army. By attacking the school that is part of the Army cantonment area in Peshawar, it calculated that victims would mostly be children of service personnel.

In June this year, Pakistan army had intensified raids in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and the Khyber Agency, the tribal strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban. “We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” said the Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. “We want them to feel the pain.”

Ahmed Rashid, author and foreign policy expert, gave three reasons for the attack: to demoralise the Pakistani Army which had carried a slew of attacks against the Taliban in retaliation to Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize last week, and because Peshawar had become "an ungovernable city" for them.

Analysts said that the Pakistan army had carried out intense and selective attacks against the Pakistan Taliban. "In the process of the operation, almost one million people have fled from the roads and no rehabilitation has been done. The bombing has resulted in women and children being killed," said Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan.

Parthasarathy also said that the military operation was "done without political approval and actually with a lot of political opposition. It was a very selective operation where they have actually allowed the Afghani network to melt away."

The TTP was formed in December 2007 and is an alliance of militant groups fighting against the Pakistani military in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (formerly North West Frontier Province) of Pakistan.

It has been riven with internal squabbles and factionalism. Its leaders have been killed in attacks by US troops. And continuing efforts to engage the group in peace talks by Pakistan have often been frustrated by outbreak of violence. And the recent surge in the popularity of the Islamic State has made matters more complicated for the TTP. Its former spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid himself had been sacked for declaring allegiance to IS.

Earlier this month, there were reports that the US had handed over Latif Mehsud, a former commander of the TTP, to Pakistan. He was deputy to Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP chief who was killed in a US drone strike in 2013.

The pressing question now is whether the horrific killing of children in Peshawar will turn the table on the Taliban. So far, the government of Pakistan has failed to reign in extremists groups since 9/11 but the outpouring of public outrage in this instance might help unite the divided public opinion in Pakistan.

Setting aside their longstanding squabbles on Tuesday, Indians and the Indian government were unrestrained in conveying their grief and sympathy for the Pakistan and the parents who lost their children.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with his counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the phone late Tuesday evening. Modi has urged all schools in India to observe a minute of silence on Wednesday in solidarity.

Indians on social media also joined the mourning using the hashtag #IndiawithPakistan.