Pakistan's Army chief heads to Kabul as nation mourns slaughter of students

The Pakistan Taliban said the attack was revenge against the Army for its crackdown in a tribal area. More than 130 children died in Tuesday's attack by gunmen on a school in Peshawar.

Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters
A boy holding a candle attends a candle light vigil in Kathmandu, Dec. 17, 2014, for the students killed at the military-run Army Public School in Peshawar.

The systematic murder of more than 130 children by Pakistani Taliban has shocked a nation often thought to be inured to news of violence.

A day after suicide gunmen snuck into the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar and began an eight-hour shooting spree, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared three days of mourning. He also lifted a ban on Pakistan's death penalty.

The Wall Street Journal reports that senior Pakistani Army generals have headed to Afghanistan for talks with the Kabul government and US military officials. Some leaders of the Pakistani variant of the Taliban are based across the border. The Voice of America carried details of the Pakistani military delegation:

Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Rizwan Akhtar headed to Kabul on Wednesday in what appears to be an unprecedented visit. They planned to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. General John Campbell, who heads NATO forces in Afghanistan. 

In total, more than 148 people were killed at the school in Peshawar, which holds classes from first to 10th grade.  

Spokesmen for the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan or TTP, claimed the attack was retribution for an aggressive six-month Army crackdown on its stronghold in North Waziristan. Some analysts have speculated that the timing of the attack was related to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to education champion Malala Yousefzai last week. She was shot by the Taliban in 2012. 

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called the act cowardly and said “no cause can justify such brutality.”

One former Pakistani Army general, Talat Masood, quoted by Bloomberg News, said that a psychological line for the Pakistani public may have been crossed in the killings and called on authorities to take advantage of this:

"The government and the army can convert this opportunity into a game changer,” Masood said, adding that they need to work together to crush the militants, something that hasn’t been a given in a country with a history of coups. “You can’t sit and wait for them to attack again."

CNN reports an email by TTP warning Pakistanis to avoid places connected to the military, saying the deaths of children should make the Army reflect on children it had killed in Taliban-held areas. The email accused students of "following the path of their fathers and brothers to take part in the fight against the tribesmen" nationwide. The morning attack on Tuesday began with a "ruse," CNN said, when a car exploded behind the school, diverting attention.

Some 1,100 students attend the Army school in dusty Peshawar, a town relatively near the Kyber Pass that was famous as a staging area for anti-Soviet “freedom fighters” in the 1980s during Moscow’s occupation of Afghanistan. But not all students at the school were the children of military personnel.  

Flags across Pakistan were lowered to half mast today. The New York Times reports that Prime Minister Sharif lifted a moratorium on the death penalty, which most recently had been discussed after a high court upheld an execution ruling for a Christian village woman convicted of blasphemy.

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