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Pakistani Editorial Calls For Unified Strategy Against Extremists

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

There are calls for united resolve in Pakistan after yesterday's attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a school Peshawar. More than 140 people were killed - nearly all of them children and many more injured. People have been gathering for somber vigils all over the country, mourning the victims and also calling for justice and revenge. Zaffar Abbas is the editor of the English-language newspaper Dawn based in Karachi. He says the Pakistani government should have been prepared for this kind of attack.

ZAFFAR ABBAS: The city of Peshawar in the northwest frontier region is the biggest city close to the tribal areas where the war, if you like, is going on -where the military has launched a major operation against the Pakistani Taliban, and it is an ongoing thing. Everyone, including the military, was expecting a kind of blowback or a reaction to the military operation. And probably one of the soft targets was this public school which is run by the Army. And it means that either the military and the intelligence was not prepared for this kind of thing or there was a complete failure in getting the intelligence and providing security through a school which was run by the Army.

BLOCK: Would you expect further blowback as the military escalates its attempt to root out the Taliban? Would you expect more of the same?

ABBAS: Yes, there will be retaliation. There may be many more in the country (unintelligible). The government and the military has to prepare the nation that this is not an isolated war against the Taliban in this country. This is a war between the people of Pakistan against the militants want to destroy the social fabric of the society.

BLOCK: As part of that war that you're talking about, Mr. Abbas, the editorial in your paper today calls for the Pakistani government to address the root causes of extremism as well as trying to root out the Taliban themselves. How would you say they need to go about doing that?

ABBAS: Yes. The issue with the Pakistan and the Pakistani society is that it is not just the armed fighters among the Taliban who are creating a problem. There is a narrative coming from the Taliban. There are sympathizers and supporters that this country is meant for their brand of Islam and Islamic sharia. And this is what the government needs to counter - that this is not the true Islam. It's a very different thing - a peaceful religion. This is the time where the government needs to say this is a war against Pakistan. Pakistan is taking the main brunt of Islamists in the whole region. And that is what the government so far has avoided.

BLOCK: I'm struck, Mr. Abbas, by this line in your paper today that the deaths of the young children in school will strike a collective psychological blow that the country will take a long time to recover from, if ever.

ABBAS: Just try and imagine more than 100 children being killed in one school in one city, and just try and visualize the effect it may have not just for the members of the families of these children, but every person in this country whose kids go to school whether it is in Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad. People are angry. People are sad. People are also frightened at the same time, and that is why we have seen hundreds of people coming out in different cities, having candlelight vigils, having protests in this country. Today, on their own, the entire markets in Karachi were shut down. And that is the anger, and that is the sadness that really engulfs Pakistan at the moment.

So this is the time when government can look at the support of the people. The military can look at the support of the people and go out with a full-fledged operation against these militants and eliminate them once forever. Whether that is going to happen, we really don't know. But at the time, people of Pakistan are really looking towards the government and towards the army for some kind of action.

BLOCK: Zaffar Abbas is the editor of the English-language newspaper, Dawn. He spoke with us from Karachi. Mr. Abbas, thanks very much.

ABBAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.