Five years on, massacre of schoolchildren continues to haunt Pakistan’s Peshawar

Nazar Ul Islam
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It’s been four years since seven gunmen launched a deadly attack on the Army Public School [APS] in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa city of Peshawar on December 16, 2014.

The terrorists entered the school and opened fire, killing over 140 people, mostly schoolchildren. This was followed by bombs being detonated inside the school premises. The ghastly tragedy shook the world and some labeled it as ‘Pakistan’s 9/11’.


Martyr in school uniform

Muhammad Tufail Khattak’s two children, Sher Shah [Grade-10] and Abid Shah [Grade-7], were studying at the APS. Recalling the deadliest day, he says he came to know about the attack via television.

He says he could not believe that schoolchildren would be massacred. Like other parents, he too became anxious about the safety of my sons.

“I received a call from the military hospital regarding my elder son’s death,” Khattak told us in a choking voice. “I can’t explain how I felt when I saw the blood-soaked body of my son. He was lying on a stretcher in school uniform. I was expecting him to call me ‘papa’, but he didn’t.” Khattak cries. “It was the darkest day of my life.”

Army Public School students studying inside library. (Supplied)
Army Public School students studying inside library. (Supplied)

Before the horrible attack, Pakistani society was reluctant to fight terrorists. However, thousands of people took to the streets after the terror attack and demanded stern action against the Taliban, who were hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The government immediately restored the death penalty, and has executed hundreds of militants since then. New strategies related to counter terrorism have been formulated and extensive military operation have been initiated to curb the menace of terrorism across the country.

The military claims to have killed hundreds of terrorists involved in nefarious activities against the state. Last year, the man believed to have masterminded the attack, Omar Khorasani, was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan.

The notorious chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP], Mullah Fazlullah, was also killed earlier this year in June. His death evoked no sympathy among the people and no funeral prayers were offered in absentia at his hometown in the Swat valley.

In a statement on the APS tragedy’s anniversary, Pakistan’s military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor saluted the sacrifice of those who laid down their lives to restore peace in the country.

People shared messages in sympthy with the martyrs of APS marking first year of the attack. (Supplied)
People shared messages in sympthy with the martyrs of APS marking first year of the attack. (Supplied)

“Students of APS are very close to our heart.” said the director general of the Inter-Services-Public-Relations. He said, the martyrdom of APS students had further strengthened the resolve and this incident had united this country. “We fought a decisive war against terrorism and with grace of Allah, we were very successful in it.The sacrifices of our martyrs and Ghazi’s will not be wasted, Inshallah.”

As soon as December arrives, the memories of Sher Shah starts haunting the Khattak family and they visit the ancestral cemetery, where Khattak’s son is buried. “It’s a very special occasion for us to pay a visit to the grave of our son and shed tears,” he says. “We still don’t believe that our son isn’t with us.”

Horror of the shooting

Khattak’s son was a brilliant student. His aim was to become either a journalist or a teacher in future. He added they were like friends but the APS incident shattered his hopes within moments.

“It’s sad to lose someone with whom you had been attached for so many years,” recalls Ahmad Shah, the younger brother of Sher Shah. He says, he too was inside the auditorium where terrorists opened fire on the students.

Mr Muhammad Tufail Khattak along with his son, Ahmad Shah. In the middle a portrait of his martyred son, Sher Shah. (Supplied)
Mr Muhammad Tufail Khattak along with his son, Ahmad Shah. In the middle a portrait of his martyred son, Sher Shah. (Supplied)

He said, “My brother started running towards me but was hit in the back, and he stumbled near me. As for me, I posed as being dead and breathless.” He says, at least 24 students of his class were killed out of a total of 30. He was more than a friend than a brother, says Ahmad. “We used to visit different places together, but today I feel alone. I am missing him very much”.

Though it’s been several years now, but the trophies, medals, certificates and shields are still hanging in Sher Shah’s room. Shah’s mother cleans and kisses them every day. Staring at the photos, Ayesha Gulalai, the younger sister of Shah, says that he is still in our hearts.

“He wanted to see me a doctor. Now, I am working hard not for myself but to fulfill the dream of my martyred brother,” she said adding, and that would be a best tribute to his soul.

Before the APS incident, deadly explosions were part of daily life. Terrorism had gripped the country and people were unable to go to even mosques for worship. People were confined to their homes as the wave of terrorism was in full swing.

Various medals and trophies won by Sher Shah lie in his room. (Supplied)
Various medals and trophies won by Sher Shah lie in his room. (Supplied)

“God sometime wants sacrifice from its people. I would say the elimination of terrorism was in the form of APS students, who sacrificed their lives for a better tomorrow,” says Khattak adding it removed the darkness and the change is evident. Today peace has been restored in the country and people have forgotten the worst moments.

Ahmad Shah is now a student of Grade12 but the trauma is still haunting him. “He can’t be a normal person. He has lost his brother, friends, company and he feels lonely as he has gone through one of the world’s worst traumas,” says Khattak. “Psychiatrists have told me that he needs company and support. I wonder from where can I bring company and support?”

Despite of all those factors, interestingly on the other hand it’s the same Ahmad Shah who provides moral support to his parents. Whenever he sees tears in our eyes, says Khattak, he would rush and say, ‘don’t worry [papa] I am here with you.’

“I must say he is the bravest person,” added Khattak.

On the other hand, Khattak is unhappy for being remembered only on the occasion of APS anniversaries. These people [families] need special attention as they have brought peace to the nation.

“Shouldering the coffin of young sons is always difficult. This incident has totally ruined our lives. I was totally a different person but now I am a patient of diabetes,” Khattak now 53-year-old continues. People should acknowledge the sacrifices of terrorism-afflicted families.

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