Pakistan: 57 Taleban die in revenge air strikes

Human rights activists in Karachi light candles in memory of the school attack victims. Picture: Getty Images
Human rights activists in Karachi light candles in memory of the school attack victims. Picture: Getty Images
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Pakistan has carried out a series of devastating attacks on suspected Taleban strongholds in the Khyber region in response to the murder of 132 school-children and their teachers in Peshawar four days ago.

Dozens of air strikes were launched in the Tirah Valley within 24 hours of the terrorist attack, and these are expected to continue in the coming days. So far, at least 57 militants are believed to have been killed.

The area was targeted as it is thought to be where the seven suicide bombers involved in the assault on the school, run by the military, would have been trained.

The air strikes are viewed as both sending a message of intent over the massacre, in which a total of 148 people were killed, and softening up targets for future assaults.

As three days of national mourning in Pakistan end, politicians and military leaders have been drawing up what they describe as a “national plan”, which is expected to mobilise thousands of troops.

Security is being stepped up across Pakistan, especially at key sites such as schools, military buildings, train stations and bus depots.

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The assault on Peshawar has led to high-level talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan on a plan to deal with the terrorists. India may yet play a key role if differences are resolved.

Pakistan was criticised by India yesterday after a court granted bail to the chief suspect in the devastating 2008 attack on Mumbai, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, due to a lack of evidence.

The attack on the city killed 166 people. New Delhi blames Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and has demanded that those behind it are punished. Subsequently, Pakistan put seven men on trial, including Lakhvi, on charges of assisting in the siege, but the trial has not made any progress.

India has criticised Pakistan for not doing more to bring to justice militants blamed for the atrocity.

India’s external affairs ministry spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, urged Pakistan to reverse the decision, saying: “Given the scale of the tragedy that Pakistan itself has faced in recent days, it is incumbent on it to realise that no compromise can ever be made with terrorists.”

The wave of outrage following the Peshawar school attack is threatening the relative freedom the Taleban has enjoyed in Pakistan.

The Afghan Taleban, a group Pakistani jihadists look up to, was the first of the Sunni Islamist armed groups to denounce the school attack as un-Islamic, despite often killing civilians themselves.

Some Pakistani Taleban, including powerful splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, quickly sided with their Afghan patrons.

“Like them, we condemn the attack on the school and killing of innocent children,” spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said.

An Islamabad-based analyst said the Afghan Taleban’s condemnation could be intended to protect its Pakistan bases.

“Any group that still wants to maintain a working relationship with the Pakistani establishment has to denounce this attack,” he said.

A Taleban spokesman claimed the army school had been attacked in revenge for the military’s operation in the North Waziristan tribal area close to Peshawar, where hundreds of militants have been killed.

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