Pakistan unity is key to defeating murderous Taliban

Even terrorists know when a line should not be crossed. The attack by the Pakistani Taliban on an army-run high school in Peshawar was so misguided that even its Afghan allies and al-Qaeda militants have condemned it. Of the 149 people killed, most were children; the fighters fired indiscriminately, carried out beheadings and set a teacher alight. But if the strategy of the extremists was to make a statement about their strength and resolve to impose their fanatical ideology, they have failed: Instead of further dividing the nation, they have brought the country and region together to demand an end to terrorism.

A six-month military campaign against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, known as TTP, drove the group to carry out the slaughter. More than 1,500 of its fighters have been killed in North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan. There has long been small, but devoted, support for groups with extremist beliefs, a situation not helped by foreign policy and political and religious complications within the government and security forces.

Militants have been viewed as either “good” or “bad” – the “good” being those who are fighting arch-enemy India or supporting the Afghan Taliban, and the “bad” being involved in the struggle between the two main Islamic factions, the Shiite and the Sunni. Positions have been complicated by Pakistani government backing of the US in its war against terrorism, which has been directed against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. At least 50,000 Pakistanis have died in suicide attacks and military operations in the past decade.

The targeting of the children has united Pakistanis, even those immersed in the country’s turbulent politics. China is among nations offering support. But any strategy has to be carefully planned, not the result of a gut reaction. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ending of a moratorium on the death penalty and ordering yesterday that 500 convicted terrorists will be executed does not lessen the threat. Police and the military have to better coordinate efforts and all lawmakers, no matter what their views, have to give their utmost backing.