The attacks come just days after Pakistani education champion Malala Yusafzai received her Nobel Peace Prize, and some commentators have suggested the Taliban are making an anti-Malala statement. However, analysts would be wise to leave Malala out of this. That’s not the fight at hand: These attacks in Kabul and Peshawar targeted the children of the powerful, not poor girls defying community strictures.
In Tuesday’s attack in Peshawar, the target was the Pakistani military, which almost exclusively sets the nation’s security and foreign policies. The military is a state unto itself, and its members’ children are served by a separate school system that tends to be better run and equipped than civilian schools, particularly in scruffy outposts like Peshawar. It was one of these [Army] schools that militants attacked, killing at least 132 students and nine staff. Many of the school's teachers and students are the wives and children of officers with military housing adjacent to the school.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan last Thursday, a teen-aged suicide bomber blew himself up at a French high school musical performance in Kabul, killing one German and unsettling the community of Afghans and foreigners who are trying to shore up Afghanistan’s shaky government. Ten Afghans were also wounded in the attack at a French cultural center.
In the days to come, talk will turn to the use of proxies in the conflict still tearing through the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the US has waged war since 2001 in a bid to degrade the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s core leadership. In the case of the latter, the campaign has scored notable victories. But the Taliban is another story.
The attack in Kabul was claimed by the Afghan Taliban, a group that has received support from the Pakistani intelligence services and still enjoys some popular Pakistani support as the “good Taliban,” as opposed to the "bad Taliban" who presumably attacked the school in Peshawar. A Pakistan Taliban spokesman claimed that Tuesday's attack was revenge for Army strikes against its members and their families in the tribal belt.
If today's attack spurs a debate in Pakistan about militant proxies, defenders of the security establishment can be relied on to trot out accusations that Kabul is providing havens for the Pakistani Taliban. It may also be put about that the Afghan government is a proxy of Washington or New Delhi.
But today, it’s worth dwelling on the fact that all these Taliban groups are cowardly using children as a proxy for fighting their enemies on the battlefield. That is a proxy war that most of humanity can agree needs to end.