Peshawar (AsiaNews) - "Catholic schools and institutions should observe a minute of silence during morning assemblies and offer prayers for the victims of the barbarous attack in the military-run public school in Peshawar," said Mgr Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, as he honoured the more than 140 young victims in Tuesday's Taliban massacre.
In a note sent to AsiaNews by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the prelate reiterated his "strong condemnation" against the "brutal attack," calling on the faithful to celebrate soberly Christmas out of "respect and solidarity" for the victims and their families.
As he called for prayers and unity, the bishop also mentioned the attack against a church in Peshawar in September 2013 that left more than a hundred Christians dead, the attacks against anti-polio volunteers as well as the "senseless violence" and terrorism visited upon other "innocent victims".
"At the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Christians must pray fervently for peace," Mgr Coutts said. "It is every Christian's duty to be a promoter of peace, reconciliation, harmony and unity."
The Archbishop of Karachi also appealed to the government, political parties, religious leaders and all citizens, to come up with a shared response "to this tragic massacre". He also insisted on the need for "urgent measures" to ensure security in schools and other institutions, which are "easy targets" for terrorists.
In the aftermath of the massacre, the Afghan government and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stationed in the country have assured their full support to the head of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, General Raheel Sharif, in the fight against terrorism.
Yesterday, the military chief flew to Kabul to coordinate operations against Islamist movements that operate along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Taliban use brutal violence and headline-grabbing acts (like the school attack) to claim its leadership among Islamists. According to some experts, the Taliban themselves are divided, a major factor behind their bloody attacks. As various Taliban groups vie for military ascendancy, spectacular deeds become the way to show what they are capable.
If divisions among the Taliban increase the spiral of violence, divisions within the Pakistan state are no less a problem for security. A power struggle is currently underway between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army generals for control of the country. This became clear yesterday when the prime minister and the head of the armed forces travelled separately to Peshawar where each claimed that he would oversee operations in person.
In the meantime, Christian and Muslim leaders continue to express their outrage and condemnation of the barbaric gesture against innocent victims.
Hanif Sipra, a Muslim and coordinator of the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, spoke to AsiaNews, saying that the Peshawar massacre is Pakistan's 9/11, an attack on the country's "future" and on its young sons and daughters.
"We must unite against such inhumanity," he added, noting that if the terrorists "have a disagreement [with the authorities], they should fight with men, with our soldiers, not with innocent children".
For Muslim activist Tahir Anjum, from Lahore, "this kind of brutality can never be forgiven nor forgotten." In his view, what is needed is a shared response to save the nation's future.
For Fr Khalid Rashid Asi, parish priest in Madina Town (Faisalabad), the attack in Peshawar was a "cowardly" deed, by people who are afraid of the army and for this reason strike at children.
"It was not an attack on a school," he added, "but a blow against the future of an enlightened Pakistan." Nevertheless, it "united" the country and now "every citizen supports the army" in its fight.
Suneel Malik, a Christian activist, said the attack "is contrary to the principles of Islam;" for him, fundamentalists "want to return the nation to the Stone Age."
"Students and teachers who lost their lives in the Peshawar school attack are martyrs in the fight against terrorism and will go to heaven," he said. "The terrorists, however, will receive their due punishment for the evil they committed on earth."