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Pakistan Observes 3 Days Of Mourning After School Attack

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Yesterday's Taliban attack on a Pakistani school put a punctuation mark on a sentence. Peace with Pakistan's Taliban has grown ever more distant. Just last year, a new prime minister was pushing for peace. But this year, Pakistan's army moved into militant strongholds. The Taliban described yesterday's school attack as retaliation. Their gunmen killed more than 140 people, most of them children. Journalist Ahmed Rashid has written for years about the Taliban and joins us from the city of Lahore, Pakistan. Welcome back to the program.

AHMED RASHID: Thank you.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Do you believe the stated reason for this attack?

RASHID: Well, yes, you know, the Taliban has stated that this was in revenge and retaliation for the army's attacks on their strongholds in the tribal areas. And certainly, their message has been that if you kill our women and children, we'll kill your women and children.

But I think another reason for the targeting of the school has been the Taliban anger at Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani who just won the Nobel Peace Prize for her stance on education and women's empowerment. Everything she stands for is condemned by the Taliban as being outrageous and anti-Islamic. So I think this choosing of a school has a lot to do with that.

INSKEEP: And yet you wonder why the group would claim responsibility for an attack that even other militant groups have had to distance themselves from because it is so appalling.

RASHID: Yes, I think that's a very important point. There's real hatred for the Taliban building up in the public. I mean, this is a case where I think they just wanted to be totally outrageous and do something that had not been done before. But politically, I would say they've lost a lot of ground by doing something like this.

INSKEEP: How has this affected the government of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who, for a long time, was trying to talk with the Taliban or make peace with the Taliban? That didn't work. Then the army was sent in and now this.

RASHID: Well, we have a chaotic political situation where the army is at odds with the civilians, the civilians are divided. I hope that there will be greater political unity after this and that there will be a common agenda and a common narrative with all the politicians pushing for a much tougher strategic line against the Taliban.

INSKEEP: Just based on the people you've been able to talk with in the last 24 hours or so, how has this attack affected the mood of the country?

RASHID: There have been candlelight vigils. There have been prayers. People have been to the mosques all in sympathy with the victims and in protest against the Taliban. Now I think I've never seen so much public unity against the Taliban than - it's something that the politicians now should take advantage of.

INSKEEP: I do wonder about that because there have been so many atrocities in Pakistan. And often part of the dialogue after the tragedy is this is the final straw. This is the last step. It must end here. And of course, violence goes on. Is there any sense that this could be different?

RASHID: I still have my doubts whether we are going to see the kind of leadership that is required, the kind of leadership you're talking about, where people come together and where there's a strategic line being given by the political leadership of the whole country. But, you know, we've had so many false starts already as you point out. I mean, I hope that this is not yet another false start.

INSKEEP: Journalist Ahmed Rashid in Lahore. Thanks very much.

RASHID: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.