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World

Latest Attack In Pakistan Could Change How The Country Deals With Militants

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Pakistan has stepped up its military offensive against militants in the Northwest part of the country after the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a horrific attack on a school that killed more than 130 children. Jon Boone from The Guardian joins us from Islamabad, where he says feeling are still raw.

JON BOONE: I don't think the shock has abated. If anything, it's intensified as the media here has raked over the details, and we've had these heartbreaking accounts from some of the survivors, horrifying details about young people seeing their friends being shot in front of them, seeing their teachers being killed. And we have the de facto foreign minister, yesterday, saying that this is our 9/11. And there's been some interesting developments here.

Normally, people are very reluctant to confront the sort of hard right religious parties, the reactionary pro-Taliban mullahs. But we've had some extraordinary scenes in Islamabad of people standing outside something called the Red Mosque and holding a vigil to protest against the man that runs this mosque, a man called Abdul Azim (ph), who essentially went on television after the attack and refused to sort of condemn it outright.

RATH: After the attacks, Pakistan's prime minister Nawaz Sharif said that the government would no longer basically draw a distinction between good Taliban and bad Taliban. Could you explain what that means?

BOONE: The so-called good Taliban are those groups that further the slightly warped foreign and defense policy interests of Pakistan, so militants that fight against Afghan and international forces in Afghanistan, and militants that fight inside what Pakistan regards as Indian-occupied Kashmir. They are the quote, unquote "good" Taliban. The bad Taliban emerged after 2001 when groups, many of them linked to al-Qaida, were furious with Pakistan, that it had thrown in its lot with the United States and the international community and had supported the intervention in Afghanistan. And those groups that turned against Pakistan and started launching attacks on civilians, on soldiers, the bombing of the Marriott Hotel here in Islamabad in 2008 - they are the so-called bad Taliban.

And it's been a very difficult balancing act for the Pakistani security establishment to simultaneously support and patronize the good Taliban whilst taking the war against the, you know, the Pakistani Taliban and these other, you know, so-called bad militant groups.

RATH: Jon, you know, as somebody who covers Pakistan, you know that we've kind of heard this before. I mean, going back to many other incidents, you know, you could think about the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. That was supposed to be another moment where Pakistan would have to stop supporting some militants or find, you know - the raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden was just a stone's throw from Pakistan's top military academy. All these things were supposed to force Pakistan to have that moment of truth. Do we have a reason to think that this latest incident - it's very horrific, but that that's really going to change that?

BOONE: This is the sort of debate, I think, particularly amongst analysts and journalists here in Islamabad who are saying, you know, will this change anything? And I think we just have to wait. I mean, it will become clear quite soon whether or not they're really going to tackle these militant groups that have traditionally been seen as allies of the Pakistani state. But it must be said, I mean, I've been very struck by talking to people who are usually very cynical about these issues, that there's remarkable optimism that things might be about to change. So I think we do need to keep an open mind, but you're absolutely right. We've been here before and we've heard this sort of stuff in the past.

RATH: Jon Boone from The Guardian speaking from Islamabad. Jon, thank you.

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