Overview of the problem

It looked just like another cold December day in Peshawar. The children were as usual studying in their classrooms in the Army Public School (APS) when six terrorists stormed their school compound. What followed in the next hour was to make one of the most gruesome tragedies in Pakistan’s recent history. The terrorists threw grenades into the classrooms and shot at every child they saw. In no time, the desks, the floors, and the walls in the classrooms were red with blood.

At the end of the attack, 148 bloodied bodies were scattered in the school premises – 132 of them CHILDREN. As the news of the attack broke and the chilling details began to unfold, the Pakistanis struggled for the reality to sink in – shellshocked by what just had happened. The six terrorists belonged to three foreign nationalities – all united for the gory mission by a violent extremist ideology.

An APS classroom following the terrorist attack in December 2014. – PC: Reuters

The APS attack on December 16, 2014 was not the first terrorist attack in Pakistan, nor was it the last. Pakistan continues to battle challenges to its security and political stability.  It faces external and homegrown threats of terrorism and violent extremism. In addition, prolonged political marginalization of smaller provinces has produced low-level insurgency that often trouble the government in Islamabad. An appalling number of Pakistanis have lost their lives to terrorism over the years. According to the government estimates, over 60,000 Pakistanis have died in the war against terrorism.

The number of terrorist attacks has considerably dropped over the past few years due to the dismantling of terror infrastructure across the country by military operations. However, the threat of terrorism and the scourge of violent extremism continue to be present. Religious extremism and intolerance towards minorities continue to prevent national cohesion, inclusion, and stability in the country. Religious minorities belonging to both Muslim and non-Muslim communities have suffered persecution and violence at the hands of extremists for years. The government has largely been ineffective in protecting these vulnerable segments of the population. 

Pakistani Christians protest against the terrorist attack on a church in Peshawar in Sep 2013. – PC: Arif Ali/AFP

But terrorism and violent extremism are not the only sources of crises in Pakistan. The complicated power structure of the state is also a source of political instability and unrest in the country. The contention among the civilian, military, and religious establishments for power and influence often jeopardize the state’s constitutional framework, triggering political instability and uncertainty.

Pakistan – a country of over 200 million people – stands at the crossroads where continuing with it’s traditional policies and approaches towards conflict resolution and peace-building is unlikely to put it on a better future course. The policymakers need to finally reconcile with the idea that policies that have not worked should be discontinued. They must explore alternative opinions in the decision-making process for the sake of a durable political stability, security, and inclusive progress.