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Opinion

Opinion: Pakistan's elite are the real target

The level of terrorism currently afflicting Pakistan will not be eliminated without clear and courageous resistance from within Pakistani society, writes DW's Florian Weigand.

The Taliban attack on a Pakistani university evokes grim memories. It is just over a year since the Taliban massacred scores of children at a school in the city of Peshawar - only around 50 kilometers from the site of the latest assault. At the time, over 150 pupils and teachers were killed. The death toll today, however, appears to be considerably smaller.

However, this doesn't offer much comfort. And any attempt to compare or balance out the current death toll with the previous one would not only be cynical, and ignore the realities in Pakistan.

The most important element in these attacks remains the message: Once again, the elites in Pakistani society - the sons and daughters of military personnel, politicians, businessmen and academics - have been targeted.

The extremists are aware that only when the elites are affected, can they expect a response. The almost routine attacks on bazaars, checkpoints or police patrols, targeting ordinary policemen, soldiers or rickshaw pullers, are met with regret. But their impact on decision-makers remains low.

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DW's Florian Weigand

There is still much room for speculation as to what the attackers really wanted to achieve, but it has most likely to do with the new attempts by the Nawaz Sharif-led government of establishing itself as a self-proclaimed peacemaker in the region.

Limited success

Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US and China are currently exploring options to persuade the Taliban to commit to a long-lasting peace. The multi-party talks have coincided with PM Nawaz Sharif's recent trip to Saudi Arabia and Iran where he offered to host talks to ease the growing tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.

However, such a move may have annoyed some in the region. The latest attacks may thus be interpreted as a warning against such reconciliation efforts. In this context, it fits the mould that Indo-Pakistani rapprochement has been partly derailed by a terror attack on an Indian military base.

The extremists' attack on a Peshawar school in December 2014, however, had the opposite effect. Pakistani society was outraged, and the military launched a major operation aimed at driving out the militants from the tribal areas.

But the government also lifted the moratorium on the death penalty. As a result, many convicts with no connection to terrorism were also executed. In hindsight, the level of success of such measures was limited, as the latest attack on the university campus shows.

The fight against terror went straight past the extremists' strongholds. The ill-reputed madrassas or religious schools still operate almost unimpeded in Pakistan, recruiting the next generation of holy war fighters.

A broad-based resistance needed

Moreover, foreign capital flows designed to support terror activities have never truly been curbed. And nobody dares to put the country's notorious intelligence agency, ISI, back on track. The ISI is suspected of using Islamic extremists in the region as tools to serve its own interests and torpedo Pakistan's civilian government.

What's needed is a broad-based, vociferous resistance from all walks of life, including the country's elite, who have now been targeted a second time. While they privately practice a liberal interpretation of Islam - a centuries-long tradition on the subcontinent - they seldom do this out in the open.

They are simply too afraid of walking into the trap set by blasphemy laws or having to face more subtle reprisals. But stamping out terrorism in the country won't be possible without an open public discussion on the root causes of homegrown extremism.

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