Thinking Aloud: Pakistan’s Newtown

Dec. 20, 2014 by Darius

Earlier this week, Pakistani Taliban terrorists stormed into a school in Peshawar and killed nearly 150 teachers and students.  In a way, this might be Pakistan’s equivalent of the Newtown shooting, the deadliest school shooting in US history, which occurred nearly two years ago.  Both involved gunmen entering schools and mowing down dozens of defenseless people.  And both should have provoked a fundamental reevaluation of government policies that contributed to the attack.

As strange as it may sound, the Pakistani government’s relationship with the Taliban is very much like Americans’ relationship with guns: the Taliban was originally if not created at least nurtured by the Pakistani government, and especially its intelligence agency, for reasons of purported self-defense, but the usefulness of the tool has long since been eclipsed by the harm it has caused.

Pakistan originally supported the Taliban for two reasons: first, to install and maintain a pliable government in neighboring Afghanistan and second, to be used as a weapon against India.  In other words, the Pakistani government thought the Taliban would keep it safer.  But like guns purchased for self-defense but then used to kill someone in a domestic dispute, the Taliban has gotten out of Pakistan’s control.  As this week’s school shooting showed, again, the Taliban now poses more of a threat to Pakistani civilians than the government’s geopolitical concerns warrant.

Two years ago, the Newtown shooting in the US sparked a huge debate over gun control (or lack thereof) and whether guns actually keep Americans safer.  Although a few states passed more stringent gun control measures, such measures were defeated on a national level and some states actually weakened their existing gun control laws.  The gun lobby was too influential to make any broad-brush changes, even in the face of a national tragedy.

So will this latest massacre in Pakistan finally convince the Pakistani government, or more accurately its security services, to cut off support for the Taliban?  Probably not.

But the Peshawar attack is an opportunity to change the debate in Pakistan over supporting terrorist groups—even groups the Pakistani government thinks it can control.  However, if the conversation focuses not on eliminating the Taliban, but on eliminating the “bad parts” of the Taliban, the opportunity for change will be lost, just as it was after Newtown, and Pakistani citizens will continue to die.  And their government will still be responsible.

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