Pakistan’s Old Curse

NY times: LONDON — Only a week ago, the Red Mosque seemed a nearly untouchable bastion of Islamist extremism in Pakistan, a notorious seminary in central Islamabad known for producing radicalized, and sometimes heavily armed, graduates.

On Friday evening, though, the tables were turned when hundreds of angry protesters stood at the mosque gates and howled insults at the chief cleric — a sight never seen since theTaliban insurgency began in 2007.

What has changed is the mass killing of schoolchildren, at least 132 of them, slain by Pakistani Taliban gunmen in a violent cataclysm that has traumatized the country. In the months before the shocking assault on a Peshawar school on Tuesday, Pakistan’s leadership had been consumed by political war games, while the debate on militancy was dominated by bigoted and conspiracy-laden voices, like those of the clerics of the Red Mosque.

Now, united by grief, rage and political necessity, Pakistanis from across society are speaking with unusual force and clarity about the militant threat that blights their society. For the first time, religious parties and ultraconservative politicians have been forced to publicly shun the movement by name. And while demonstrations against militancy have been relatively small so far, they touched several cities in Pakistan, including a gathering of students outside the school in Peshawar.

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