Children and activists of Rawadari Tehreek pay tribute to victims of the 2014 terror attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar at a memorial camp in front of Lahore Press Club on Dec. 16. (Photo supplied)
Ajoon Khan cannot forget the day Taliban gunmen attacked the school where his 15-year old son studied.
“It was a normal day. Asfand wanted to study at home for grade 10 exams scheduled the same week. But his mother didn’t want him to miss important lessons. I wanted him to become an advocate and run my chamber,” Khan, a lawyer, told UCA News.
On the same afternoon, news channels reported the massacre of 150 people at the Army Public School (APS) in the northwestern city of Peshawar, close to the Afghan border. Asfand was sprayed with bullets as he tried to run out of the auditorium. He was among 134 children killed in one of the worst attacks in Pakistan’s history on Dec. 16, 2014.
Khan received the disturbing phone call at Peshawar High Court.
“All the roads were closed. Everything was deserted. I walked for two kilometers to reach the school. At first I tried to search for him among the survivors in a nearby park. I was out of breath. My relatives were divided into three groups to visit the hospitals. Still hoping, I searched for him among the injured and those in operation theaters,” he said.
“All the bodies under the shrouds looked alike. The school uniforms were removed to stitch their bleeding wounds. Then my nephew told me to return home. I asked about the condition of my son,” said Khan as he broke down in tears.
We didn’t send them to become martyrs. Both the victims and murderers were Muslims. Powerful forces are at play behind the misuse of religion for personal benefit
“Half of his head was missing due to a Kalashnikov burst. His tie was stitched to his body filled completely with cotton. He was buried in the uniform with his watch, wallet and the keys of his motorcycle.
“It was a planned, targeted killing. We never imagine our children being attacked in a highly secured army-run school. We didn’t send them to become martyrs. Both the victims and murderers were Muslims. Powerful forces are at play behind the misuse of religion for personal benefit.”
As part of Shuhada e (Martyrs of) APS Forum, Khan has participated in hundreds of protests demanding court cases against the top military leadership and condemning the government for holding talks with the Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban — a separate movement from Afghanistan’s new leaders but sharing a common history — plunged Pakistan into a period of horrific violence after its formation in 2007.
According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, as many as 42 attacks were carried out by insurgent groups, whereas 10 attacks — including two suicide attacks — were carried out by militant organizations such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hizbul Ahrar and Islamic State affiliates last year.
The militants on Dec. 10 ended a ceasefire with Pakistan’s government mediated with the help of the Afghan Taliban, accusing authorities of violating the terms of the one-month truce.
Last year the Supreme Court ordered the government to make public the judicial commission report that pointed to security lapses and local facilitation to militants.
Last month the apex court grilled Prime Minister Imran Khan over the government’s inaction against those responsible for the APS attack.
“They kept resisting from adding us in the inquiry. We knocked at all venues of justice. The affected parents have become a family. We celebrate martyrs’ birthdays that usually conclude with a rally. Our children push us to continue the struggle. We feel as if they are still trapped inside that auditorium,” said Khan.
The APS attack anniversary is observed annually around the country. In Lahore, the interreligious Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance) held a memorial camp in front of Lahore Press Club to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks.
The news of negotiations, provision of amnesty and release of the banned TTP killers is extremely disturbing and heartbreaking
The protesters, wearing black forehead bands, rejected an amnesty for the Taliban and demanded that 2022 be declared a Year of Tolerance.
“Humanity first” and “Declare Dec. 16 as national day against extremism,” the placards stated.
“The news of negotiations, provision of amnesty and release of the banned TTP killers is extremely disturbing and heartbreaking, which is against the principles of rule of law and justice,” said Samson Salamat, chairman of Rawadari Tehreek.
“The syllabus of the educational institutions should be thoroughly checked and material which spreads hate on religious, sectarian or any other basis should be eliminated from the curriculum. Laws like the blasphemy laws, which are being used to instigate people for violence in society, should be revisited to stop the misuse”.
Father Francis Gulzar, vicar general of Lahore Archdiocese, posted a Facebook tribute titled “Black Day for Humanity” along with the caption: “May the innocent souls rest in the eternal peace of God.”
The Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, a Catholic group, released a statement in remembrance of “the innocent victims” of APS. “16th December, one of the darkest days in the history of Pakistan … The day they hit at the heart of the nation leaving a wound too deep to heal. We will never forget … We can never forget,” it stated.
The Catholic group stood with the bereaved families of the APS and condemned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s intention to forgive the TTP and support their mainstreaming into Pakistani politics and national life.
“Over 80,000 Pakistanis including children have mercilessly been killed by the TTP; forgiveness is certainly not an option,” the foundation said
“We demand the implementation of the long-forgotten National Action Plan of 2014. We hold deep in our hearts all the precious lives we lost on that dreadful day and the families who had to bury their children and loved ones. Seven years on, we continue to stand with the bereaved families as they await justice.”