THE BLOG

Religious Fanatics Are Dragging My City of Peshawar Back to the Dark Ages

12/16/2014 03:46 EST | Updated 02/15/2015 05:59 EST
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Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Slowly, but surely, I see my ancestral city die a slow death at the hands of religious fanatics. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, killed 141 people, mostly children, at the Army Public School in Peshawar today.

From Boko Haram in Nigeria, who kidnapped 276 young girls from a school in April 2014, to the TTP, who has repeatedly attacked schoolchildren in Pakistan, the Islamic fundamentalists are systematically attacking schools and students. Their goal is to deprive the future generation of Muslims of education and return them back to the dark ages.

From being a centre of Buddhist learning and culture during the reign of emperors Asoka and Kanishka, the historic city of Peshawar today has fallen on bad times where the places of learning and students are being targeted. This descent into chaos is not by default, but by design.

The militant Islam has taken a turn for the worse. By repeatedly targeting schoolchildren, the Taliban has made it obvious that nothing is sacred in their eyes; neither the schools nor the schoolchildren. No place is safe from their wrath: neither Iraq nor Peshawar.

Eyewitness accounts reveal that the students had assembled in the auditorium to attend a session on first aid. Seven militants broke into the school from the rear and swarmed into the auditorium. They fired and killed indiscriminately.

Other students reveal how the militants killed a women schoolteacher. For the misogynist militants, this was not enough. They also burnt her body.

The army's spokesperson in Pakistan advised the media that 132 children died in the attack. The army commandos responded to the attack and were able to kill all militants in a battle that lasted for hours. Those were the longest hours for parents who had no news of their children as the parents assembled outside the school where the military operation was underway.

The injured were removed to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. My ancestral home is located across the street from the hospital. In the mornings, I would stand across the street from the emergency department to catch a bus to Peshawar University. In the late eighties, we used to rush to the Lady Reading Hospital to volunteer after similar terrorist attacks.

The terror that visited Peshawar today has made many similar calls to the City before. When the U.S. waged its war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Peshawar became the base from where the CIA launched Arab and Pashtun militants against the Soviet Army. Since the late '70s, Peshawar has been the choice digs for many extremists, including Omar Al-Khadr's father. Many al-Qaeda bigwigs operated in Peshawar with impunity, backed by the Pakistani and western intelligence agencies.

The initial wave of bombings in Peshawar were carried out by the forces aligned with the Soviets, targeting the Islamists who were then backed by the Americans, Saudis, and Pakistanis. When the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan, anarchy prevailed in the region. Ahmad Rashid narrates the horrid tale in Descent into Chaos. The Afghan groups broke into infighting on either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The militants have effectively ruled Peshawar, a city of two million, since the mid-'80s. The Pashtun Taliban attack targets at will. Neither the police nor the Pakistan Army has been able to protect citizens against the murderous designs of the militants.

Some have fared worse than the rest. The Shias in Peshawar and Parachinar, the only Shia-dominated town in Pakistan's restive tribal areas, have suffered a great deal over the years. In 1992, the Taliban militias attacked the Shias in Peshawar. The army had to cordon off the City after the Sunni Pashtun tribes joined the Taliban en masse in their attack on Peshawar. Years later, the attacks continued, but the targets varied. In September 2013, the Taliban attacked a Church in Peshawar killing 127 and injuring another 250.

The young children who died in Peshawar today have something in common with the Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai. The Taliban are behind both attacks. Malala and her friends escaped with their lives. The 132 killed today didn't.

Since 2001, the Taliban in Pakistan have destroyed hundreds of schools in the Pashtun-dominated areas. In the semi-autonomous tribal areas, almost all girl schools were destroyed or attacked. The militants have repeatedly abducted schoolchildren, teachers, and others to secure in exchange the release of the militants. Dr. Ajmal Khan, the vice chancellor of a university in Peshawar, was released in a similar exchange after he spent four years in captivity.

Almost 40 years ago, the West came together in Peshawar against the Soviets and rode off victorious while Peshawar and its citizens were left at the mercy of the Islamic militants. It is time for the West to right the wrongs and help save Peshawar from the apocalyptic mercenaries.

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A hospital security guard helps a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
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    Pakistani rescue workers take out students from an ambulance who injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, upon arrival at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Hospital staff transport a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Hospital security guards carry a students injured in the shootout at a school under attacked by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pakistani army troops arrive to conduct an operation at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed the military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
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    Pakistani army troops cordon off a road leading to a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
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    An armored personnel carrier moves toward a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pakistani army troops arrive to conduct an operation at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pakistani army troops are positioned close to a school under attacked by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A Pakistani army soldier takes position on a bunker close to a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
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    The feet of a victim of a Taliban attack in a school are tied together at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months.(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
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    A Pakistani woman weeps as she waits at a hospital, where victims of a Taliban attack are being treated in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months.(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad) (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)