Salahuddin Khan Mehsud is one tough cop. He has to be, working in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, a tribal region that the U.S. government calls a lawless hotbed of jihadist terrorism. Yet he assured me when we met recently in the town of Kohat that the province had “not had one major incident of terrorism” this year. That was no small achievement, but Mehsud spoke too soon. On the night of Dec. 1, just a week after our meeting, Pakistani Taliban militants staged a massive terrorist attack in the provincial capital, Peshawar. Assailants disguised as women in face-covering burkas broke into the Agricultural Training Institute. By the time police and army commandos gunned the terrorists down, nine students were dead and 18 had suffered bullet wounds. Only the fact that most undergraduates were away celebrating Eid-e-Milad, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, prevented a higher death toll.
The attack was the area’s worst terrorist incident since 2014, when militants killed 132 children and nine adults at a primary school in Peshawar. Outrage over the children’s deaths proved to be, in the words of Pakistani BBC analyst Aamer Ahmed Khan, “a watershed for a country long accused by the world of treating terrorists as assets.” The newly elected provincial government, under a reformist party called Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or “Movement for Justice,” struck back. It did not use drones or massive assaults to deal with the crime. Instead, it used old-fashioned police work.Continue reading →