The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has stunned the world once again with a brutal attack and this time involving innocent children. The attack at Peshawar was watched by the entire world with horror and as a neighbouring country, how worried does India have to be? [Peshawar school terror: Is TTP desperate to assert itself?]
Michael Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and Southeast Asia Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC says in this interview with OneIndia says that the TTP takes deranged pleasure in targeting kids and schools and has blown up scores of schools over the years. [Peshawar terror attack: Pak security analyst lashes out at India]
What has prompted this attack by the Tehrik-e-Taliban?
In this case, the motivation was crystal clear, as stated very explicitly by a Taliban spokesman: The Taliban was taking revenge for the Pakistani army's military offensive in North Waziristan, which is largely focused on the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban would have liked to have done something like this much earlier (the offensive has been happening since June), but I think the offensive displaced and uprooted the Taliban to the point that it was unable to plan and coordinate attacks, until now. [Over 130 children killed in Peshawar terror attack]
Is it a one off incident or do you see more such attacks?
It's hard to say. Some have argued that this attack is actually a sign of weakness, and that the targeting of civilians indicates that the Taliban has been reduced to a force that can only lash out--in unfathomably brutal fashion--against more vulnerable and less secured targets, such as kids at schools. This would suggest we may not see more attacks like these. [PM Modi urges Indian schools to observe 2-minute silence]
Unfortunately, I think that we will in fact see more of these attacks. This attack could not have happened unless the Taliban enjoyed the capacity to plan, coordinate, and execute such a complicated and deadly operation. These capacities may have been temporarily degraded during the first few months of the army offensive in North Waziristan, but it clearly has these capacities now--and I imagine the Taliban will use them to its full advantage.
Also, it is true that the Taliban has grown weaker as it has been degraded by drone strikes and military offensives, and torn apart by infighting and divisions. However, the Taliban remains an extremely dangerous force because no matter how weak it gets, it retains relationships with other militant groups.
The Pakistani Taliban has very powerful friends--from al-Qaeda to the IMU (the Uzbek militant group that helped the Taliban carry out the terror strikes on the Karachi airport earlier this year). The Pakistani Taliban may be weakened, but by no means is it down for the count--because there is always some terrorist that will help it out.
Has Pakistan failed in addressing the Tehrik-e-Taliban and what measures do you think they ought to take now?
The Taliban is not something that can be easily addressed. Certainly the military has been fighting it for years throughout the tribal regions. But you can't make the Taliban go away simply by killing its leaders and fighters.
You need to target the sources of its funding, and develop counternarratives to the extremist ideologies that allow it (and other Pakistani militant groups) to thrive. This won't be easy, but if the Taliban is to ever become a non-factor, then these are things that must be done.
Does India need to be concerned. Is the Tehrik-e-Taliban a threat to India?
I don't think so. Certainly the Pakistani Taliban has threatened India, most recently after the attack in Wagah when a Taliban spokesman said something to the effect of India being next. I don't think that India is in the Pakistani Taliban's crosshairs, however.
It is focused on targets inside Pakistan for the most part. It does pose a threat to India in the sense that it has frequently partnered with the Afghan Taliban to carry out attacks in Afghanistan, and the Afghan Taliban often targets Indian interests and nationals in that country.
That said, because of the Pakistani Taliban's ability to partner with a variety of other militant groups, we can't rule out the possibility of some sort of tag team arrangement in which it works with anti-India jihadists to wreak havoc in India. And it could perhaps find a willing partner in the new South Asia branch of Al-Qaeda.
The Pakistani Taliban has long worked with Al Qaeda, and the South Asia affiliate's leader, Asim Umar, has constantly talked about India in his rambling propaganda over the years. Some observers, in fact, believe he himself may be an Indian.
Do you a pattern in the attack? Why do you think school are targeted? First in North Wazirstan and now this.
This attack was targeting the army, not a school. But the Taliban does seem to take deranged pleasure in targeting kids and schools. It has blown up scores of schools over the years. This is because it believes that only boys should be in school, and schools should embrace hardline Islamist curriculums. Anything else, the Taliban believes, is an abomination and is therefore fair game to be blown up.
What role can the US play now since it was horrific that children were gunned down?
The Taliban is ultimately Pakistan's problem. The US can help, though the extent of its help depends on the state of the relationship between the US and Pakistan, which is always rocky. If relations are cordial, and there is mutual trust, then the US can help by sharing intelligence with Pakistan and the two can work together to identify targets for drones strikes or military operations.
On a deeper level, the US can help fund educational reforms that expunge offensive and extremist rhetoric from school textbooks. This is very unlikely, though, given the sensitivity of doing so--and Washington likely realizes this.
At the end of the day, the US can offer intel support and plenty of military aid, but Pakistan needs to take the harder but more essential steps itself--such as targeting the sources of terrorist financing and countering extremist ideological narratives.
How does all this build up with the West about to leave Afghanistan?
It certainly won't make anyone any more confident that the West will be leaving behind a stable region. The timing of the school attack is particularly troubling because it coincides with an upsurge in Afghan Taliban attacks in Kabul. This won't affect the US withdrawal--it is committed to leaving by year's end--but it will certainly ensure that the US and its foreign allies do all they can to continue providing development and military support to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.