Were the children gunned down simply because they were going to school? The Taliban, who thrive on illiteracy and ignorance, have long sought to destroy the mainstream schooling system in the tribal areas and parts of the Frontier. —AP/File Photo
TUESDAY’S tragedy in Orakzai offered further proof, as if any were needed, of the inherent barbarity that defines the Taliban. They do not subscribe to the norms of civilised people and view Pakistani culture in its myriad forms with contempt and loathing.
Four boys, all of them reportedly under the age of 16, were on their way to school on Tuesday when they were shot dead by the Taliban. Six other children were wounded in the attack. What was their crime, how could the Taliban possibly view them as a threat? Were the children gunned down simply because they were going to school? The Taliban, who thrive on illiteracy and ignorance, have long sought to destroy the mainstream schooling system in the tribal areas and parts of the Frontier. Or did the killings have something to do with the fact that the victims were Shia Muslims? Everyone knows that members of the Taliban, as well as some other hard-line organisations in Pakistan, have been brainwashed into believing the lie that Shias are not true Muslims.
Then there is another theory doing the rounds. Such gruesome acts involving the targeting of civilians, it is said, may be replicated if the Taliban continue to be pounded in their hideouts and on the battlefield. Forced on to the back foot in the theatre of war, the militants could try to blur the focus of the state by creating new law and order situations. Terrorising the people of Pakistan, who are now thoroughly behind the military operation, may be another objective. The biggest fear though is that the Taliban could try to stoke sectarian unrest to open a new front and take the pressure off themselves.
These fears are not unfounded given that we live in an intolerant society, thanks to what transpired in the 1980s under the Zia-US-Saudi combine. Seeking ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan and Kashmir, the state promoted groups that could act as proxies in its own and the CIA’s foreign agendas. What was ignored in this misguided campaign was that the people who were being indoctrinated to hate Indians or Russians or communist Afghans were at the same time being taught by local clerics to detest fellow Pakistanis. Shias have been targeted in recent years all over the country, in Kurram Agency, Hangu, Dera Ismail Khan, Quetta and elsewhere. Christians have been killed and their homes burned down. Naturally there can be no reasoning with the extremists. What the state must instead ask, if not plead, is that the communities on the receiving end show patience in the face of barbarity and let the law take its course.