APS massacre survivors still haunted one year on

By AFP
Published: December 15, 2015
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP PHOTO: AFP

PESHAWAR: Mubashir Subhan was in the school auditorium, surrounded by friends, when the Taliban gunmen came crashing in. The first bullet grazed the back of his head, the second passed through his shoulder, and the third struck his left hand.

More than 150 lives were lost in the Peshawar school massacre of December 16, 2014, the deadliest extremist attack in Pakistan’s history.

One year on, those who survived now study in the same rooms where they huddled in terror as their classmates fell around them.

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The majority of them were children, many of whom were in the auditorium with Subhan when nine attackers armed with guns and explosives went on a cold-blooded killing spree.

Many are still gripped by a sense of paralysis when they enter the Army Public School in the northwestern city.

“I feel unable to function. I keep remembering everything,” Subhan, a bearded, soft-spoken 16-year-old says.

When he is alone, memories of the friends who died alongside him that day come crowding in, and he says he cannot fathom how quickly his life was shattered.

“I think about how I used to be with my friends,” he says.

His parents also remember how he used to be, saying their confident, outgoing son was transformed by the hours-long siege.

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“The slightest of things he takes as though a bullet hit him,” says his father Subhan Uddin.

“When he comes home he just locks himself in his room. He doesn’t meet us or his brothers or sisters or friends. He just sits and thinks.”

The auditorium is now a sports hall and soldiers stand atop recently fortified walls as children play on the green, expansive grounds below.

But the trauma has lingered, says Andaleeb Aftab, a chemistry teacher at the school who fled into a bathroom with other staff after gunmen opened fire on them in a hallway.

Aftab’s son, 16-year-old Huzaifa, was among those who died in the auditorium.

In their last exchange, she said, he came to the staff room and asked her for pocket money.

“But I told him I just saw you taking pocket money from your father in the parking lot — so don’t double cross me!” she remembers.

Aftab was trapped in the bathroom until evening, listening for hours as the attackers blew themselves up one by one.

It was only after she was rescued that she learned her son had died.

“They made our college a graveyard,” she says.

Mathematics teacher Abu Bakar, 43, now uses a cane to walk after he was shot three times when he threw himself in front of four students fleeing the gunmen. Three of them survived.

“I’m a teacher and I have to do my duty no matter what,” he says.

For other survivors the destructive effects of December 16 continue to shape their future.

Waheed Anjum, 18, was shot three times during the attack — once in each arm and once in the chest.

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Numerous operations meant he was out of school for six months, affecting his final grades, as well as his chances of either entering a college engineering programme or becoming a soldier like his father.

“I can’t move my arms properly. I can’t lift weights,” he said.

“They have declared me unfit.”

On Wednesday, the anniversary of the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the powerful army chief Raheel Sharif will join opposition leader Imran Khan for a ceremony at the school marking the massacre.

The attack on the Army Public School saw a shift in public opinion on the country’s more than decade long struggle against extremism.

Parents seeking vengeance backed by a shocked and outraged public drove support for a nationwide military-led crackdown.

The army intensified an offensive against militants in tribal areas where they had previously operated with impunity, and the government launched a sweeping plan to tackle extremism, including greater prosecution of hate crimes.

The effort has seen levels of militancy-linked violence fall to their lowest levels since 2007, the year the Pakistani Taliban came into being.

But critics have voiced concerns over a failure to tackle the long-term causes of the violence, suggesting the drop in attacks may be a veneer covering the extremism that still bubbles beneath society’s surface.

On Sunday, just four days before the anniversary, a bomb blew apart a market in the town of Parachinar in the tribal areas, killing some two dozen people.

“It’s been a whole year but we can’t forget a single moment of that day,” chemistry teacher Aftab says.

“Many of the students are still facing psychiatric problems. Many of the students are still injured.”

They are recovering “a little”, she said, but the suffering goes on.

“We’re not out of the 16th of December.”

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Feedback
    Dec 15, 2015 - 11:38AM

    We will never forget these children, they died for the NAP, ATC’s, NAB and rangers rights in Pakistan. They died for ISPR so that now ISPR can provide them terrorists children education in National university or science and technology and Army medical college. They died for a cause!Recommend

  • Kamran Mahmood
    Dec 15, 2015 - 1:51PM

    My children RIP every breath prays for you all every tear drop carries thank you for your sacrifices. What I have lost can never be returned and what you have taught to all can never be done by anyone else. You all are not lost and will never be forgotten INSHALLAH.

    The cowards may not realize what hole they have dug for themselves but there is ALLAH who remembers and who will ensure that they burn / rot and repeat till after judgement. Ameen.

    RIP little angles. I Salute all familiesRecommend

  • Kamran
    Dec 15, 2015 - 3:21PM

    if someone is looking or hearing, I would like to take your attention towards vendors/ (pheri wala) standing outside schools. Strangely most of them selling things belong to Sourthern Punjab. Their lanugage and speaking style is different from people normally residing in those areas of big cities of Punjab Lahore etc. These can be usually seen outside schools during school hours and chutti time.

    Govt and authorities should run back ground check and send observers to check.Recommend

  • Kamal
    Dec 15, 2015 - 5:57PM

    Tears every time – no words, just sadness feelings and a lump in throatRecommend

  • furqan
    Dec 16, 2015 - 8:35AM

    I want to salute the heros of aps who’s innocent and pure sacrifice has bonded this nation and has brought courage,spiritand determination in the nation and security forces to fight terrorism. I would also request the authorities to please take good care of the wounded children of aps and do their carrier counselling, this may be one way of showing that we haven’t forgotten their sacrifice.May ALLAH accept the sacrifice of children of aps,give them highest place in jannah and give us enough strength to take their revenge by culminating terrorism from our land,ameen Recommend

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