Pakistan burns again after playing with fire: The Nation

People attend the funeral of Fakhr-e-Alam a worker at Bacha Khan University, who was killed in Taliban attack at the University in Charsadda, Pakistan.
People attend the funeral of Fakhr-e-Alam a worker at Bacha Khan University, who was killed in Taliban attack at the University in Charsadda, Pakistan.PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on Jan 24, The Nation says Islamabad's secret ploy of nurturing terror groups has left country vulnerable to hideous attacks from the sort of groups it once fostered.

This past week, Islamic militants stormed a university in northwest Pakistan, killing 20 people and wounding at least 23 others.

The deadly attack last for hours before the four gunmen were killed. It could have been worse if the authorities did not kill a militant who was strapped with bombs and prepared to blow himself and others up to forward his wicked agenda.

Among the dead were two teachers, one of whom a chemistry professor who held the militants at bay so his students could make a run for it. Bacha Khan University is situated in Charsadda town, some 35 km outside Peshawar, one of the main cities in Pakistan's Northwest region.

A breakaway faction of the Pakistan Taleban claimed responsibility for this attack last Wednesday at the university. The main group, under the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah, called the attack at the university "un-Islamic".

This barbaric venture was a grim reminder of the December 2014 massacre at a military-owned public school in nearby Peshawar that ended in the death of 150 people, most of them children.

In the aftermath of the Peshawar school massacre, factions of the Pakistan Taleban were united in taking responsibility for this hideous act.

They didn't expect a ruthless backlash from the government's military. The refusal to speak in one voice this past week could very well be a ploy, according to some observers of the conflict, to prevent the attackers facing the guns of the Pakistani military again.

Nevertheless, the violence this past Wednesday shows that public schools and/or institutions of higher learning in this restive region remain vulnerable to attacks.

Part of the reason for singling out such institutions has to do with the Taleban's dislike of Western-style education, especially for girls and women.

Malala Yousafzai, a young activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, hailed from this restive region. The Pakistan Taleban shot her in the head to try to silence her. She survived, of course, and continues to speak out for education rights for girls in the region.

In response to the massacre at the military-run public school in Peshawar, Pakistani lawmakers decided to give the army free rein to bring down the Taleban.

Observers believe the relentless attacks against the Pakistan Taleban in the tribal area have forced the terrorist network to go after soft targets such as the university to settle the score.

But this is not to suggest that the Pakistani military's advances should be equated to a victory against terrorism. Because as long as the Taleban can bounce back and rear their evil heads at other locations - be it schools, universities or any other targets - the campaign against terrorism is still far from over.

The world must join hands with the people of Pakistan to condemn this hideous act because attacks against students, teachers and school can never be justified.

But the real challenge, it seems, lies with the Pakistani military and its willingness to cut ties with the extremists.

Pakistan is home to all sorts of radical movements that form a loose network of alliance. These movements include the two main factions of Pakistan Taleban, Al-Qaeda, and militants seeking to liberate Kashmir from Indian control.

The country's military knows that it can't have it both ways - use the extremists for strategic purposes while at the same time ignoring the fact that these radicals have their own agenda beyond the control of the Pakistani military.

The military went through this before with the Taleban in Afghanistan who, after defeating just about all other factions, permitted al-Qaeda to base itself in the country.

It may not have been Pakistan's intention. But Islamabad can't ignore the fact that a Frankenstein was created because of this policy that defines national security in the narrowest sense of the word.

* The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.