HUFFINGTON POST
12/16/2014 06:06 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

This Is The Group Behind The Brutal School Attack In Pakistan

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The horrific siege on a school in Peshawar on Tuesday is the latest bloody attack by Pakistan's Taliban. The group claimed responsibility for the mass murder, which left at least 145 people -- many of them children -- dead.

The Pakistani Taliban, a distinct offshoot of the separate Afghan Taliban, are locked in a violent campaign against the Pakistani state that has gripped the country's border regions and led to brutal terror attacks on civilian targets. Fractious and fragmented, the group is a complex organization that occupies significant space within the nation's politics.

Though the Pakistani Taliban have been the target of both American drone strikes and an ongoing Pakistani military offensive to degrade their capabilities, they persist, as the tragedy in Peshawar shows.

Here is a brief background on who the Pakistani Taliban are, their origins and the efforts to stop them.

History

Pakistan's northern regions contain numerous militant groups that hold varying degrees of control over tribal areas of the country. One of the most dominant of these groups is the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a loose coalition of militant factions that formed around 2007.

The early makeup of the group included many Taliban commanders fleeing the war in Afghanistan to the relative safety of Pakistan's border regions. As Zachary Laub explains in his background on the group for the Council on Foreign Relations, the Pakistani Taliban grew in size and influence in the years after its formation.

Though the Pakistani Taliban warlords pledge allegiance to the Afghan Taliban leader, the two groups are distinct. A notable difference is that while Pakistan's Taliban are actively fighting with the state and armed forces, the Afghan Taliban have a more complicated relationship with Pakistan's military.

Allegations of Afghan Taliban members being sheltered or aided by the Pakistani security establishment are common, and there is a long history of controversy and allegations of Afghan Taliban influence within Pakistan's armed forces. However, Pakistan's government denies these claims.

After the Pakistani Taliban took credit for the Tuesday Peshawar school attack, the Afghan Taliban came out with a statement decrying the actions as un-Islamic, further calling into question what level of support and agreement there is between the two groups.

The Pakistani Taliban have been behind several high-profile terror attacks in recent years, including the bombings of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar. This year, they led an attack in Karachi on Pakistan's largest airport, killing over a dozen people. The group was also implicated in a failed 2010 plot to bomb Times Square.

Despite their ability to coordinate large-scale attacks, the Pakistani Taliban are not a cohesive group. Around 30 subsections make up the organization, according to The New York Times. They are each semi-autonomous, but all profess allegiance to one overarching leader. This person has changed several times, as the position tends to be vacated every few years after a drone strike kills the acting commander.

Pakistan's Response

Pakistan's army launched a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in June of this year, a long-term effort encouraged by the U.S. to target safe havens for militants.

That offensive came after the failure of peace talks between Pakistan's government and Taliban leaders, a time during which the U.S. had halted its controversial program of drone strikes in the region. Those drone strikes are now back on, with a strike targeting militants as recently as last month.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said the brutal killings on Tuesday were carried out in retaliation for the country's military offensive against the militants.

What Do They Want?

As CNN reports in its profile of the group, the ostensible aim of the Pakistani Taliban is to overthrow the government and install their own rule. This involves an ideology that opposes Pakistan's alliance with Western governance and supports a harsh version of Islamic law.

The group has sought to attack Western, non-Islamic forms of education and has frequently targeted schools. They were behind the shooting of then-15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was attacked while she was on her way to attend school.

In addition, the group has put a ban on vaccinations amid suspicion of aid groups working with Western governments. This has led to a resurgence of Polio in regions of Pakistan.

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