The school is described as military-run, but most of the children attending are from the local civilian population.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban organization, has claimed responsibility for the attack, but their story keeps changing. At first they said it was retaliation for the killing of Taliban fighters by the Pakistani army, then that it was because the army had been targeting the families of Taliban. They also now claim their fighters were ordered not to attack children at the school -- an absurd assertion, given the huge number of children they've killed and the fact that a school was chosen as the target in the first place.
I've long thought that in the battle for mass opinion in the Middle East (or anywhere else) between religion and secularism, the most powerful argument against religious extremism is -- religious extremism itself. What academic debate about the true nature of Sharî'ah law could have a hundredth of the impact of actually seeing it in force under ISIS? What armchair recital of the dangers of theocracy could be as convincing as a grinding, dreary third of a century under actual theocratic rule in Iran? What declaration on the depravity of the Taliban could match seeing them deliberately target innocent children for murder -- something they have a long history of doing, with this latest attack being only the bloodiest and most horrifying example? It's important to remember that, despite spectacular incidents like 9/11, the great majority of the people killed by Islamic extremists have been Middle Easterners -- killed for having the wrong religion, or belonging to the wrong sect of Islam, or violating some Muslim taboo or other, or simply being in the way when an attack was launched.
From the overthrow of Mosaddegh to the Iraq invasion to the resort to systematic torture now recently revealed, Western governments have bungled the fight for Middle Eastern public opinion with criminal incompetence. What progress Western values have made there is due to the appeal of Western popular culture, the same popular culture that our home-grown Christian Right is always blasting as depraved and immoral. Modernity and pluralism can appeal to people anywhere in the world.
And the Islamists have no alternative to offer but horror, blood, fear, and death, the vision they have displayed in the ghastly spectacle now unfolding in Peshawar -- tearing down everything progressive and humane and tolerant, until they bring a new Dark Age down over the ruins of the birthplace of civilization.