20 Killed in Pakistani University Attack

Around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, gunmen opened fire at Bacha Khan University in Pakistan, killing 20. Using the cover of thick winter fog, they stormed the school, targeting male students and teachers. Four of the suspected attackers also died. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which shares many similarities with a 2014 massacre of 130 students in the Peshawar region.

The real question we ask in these tragic situations: Why?

According to the BBC, this attack comes as a sudden spike of militant violence after relative peace. Following the massacre last year, Pakistan cracked down—and the Taliban cited this crackdown as the reason behind this attack. This action-reaction cycle will only continue in the future. Khalifa Omar Mansour, leader of the military wing of the Taliban, said, “This is a reaction to extrajudicial killing of our people by the Pakistani security agencies,” according to NBC News. 

So, who are the Taliban? Emerging in the 1990s as a reaction against Soviet rule, their austere form of restoring order, peace and prosperity with an emphasis on religion was initially welcomed. As time went on, however, their increasingly autocratic policies, such as shutting down schools, banning all music and television, and requiring certain forms of dress made them more and more unpopular until 2001, when their regime collapsed. 

Their radical views on education—for men and for women—continue to make schools a target. You may have heard of the Taliban in connection to the 2012 shooting of Malala Youszafai, now winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was shot just for going to school. 

As war in the region continues to wage, the Taliban have steadily increased their influence and power. With this expansion, however, comes fracturing.  Other individuals from the Taliban, including their spokesman, have condemned this attack as “un-Islamic.” As Shawn Snow wrote in the Washington Post late last year, this fracturing will only lead to increased instability and violence in the region. Lack of clarity and continued infighting among leaders make it easier for stronger radicalism to take hold. 

Fueled by the cycle of military crackdowns, this won’t be the last attack we see from the Taliban this year. That doesn’t mean leaders aren’t fighting back.

In a statement following the attack, Pakistan’s Prime Minister said: "We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland. The countless sacrifices made by our countrymen will not go in vain, Inshallah.”