‘If we stop teaching, we let them win’

Five years after living through the grisly APS attack, two teachers reveal what motivated them to return to duty

Ehtisham Khan September 14, 2019
APS Students in a Solidarity rally for their fellow classmates who were victims of a gruesome attack. PHOTO: REUTERS

PESHAWAR: The terrorist attack on the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar is one of the blackest days in the history of Pakistan. In fact, no other example can be compared with the brutality that terrorists demonstrated by killing 150 people, including children, non-teaching staff and security personnel.

Even though the attack took many innocent lives, it definitely couldn’t take away the courage of the survivors and their families who have set an unprecedented example of bravery and resilience for the whole world.

“When the attack took place, I was at the senior section of the school to complete the admission formalities for my seven-year-old daughter Khaula. It was her first day at school and she was being photographed by the administration when I heard gunshots,” Altaf Hussain, an English teacher at the school said while recalling the fateful day of December 16, 2014.

Upon hearing the gunshots, Husain immediately went to the room where little Khaula was being photographed but he learned that she had ran away with a female teacher named Sadia Khatak.

“Even though Ms Sadia tried to hide Khaula behind her, some terrorists found them in the classroom where they took refuge. They first killed the teacher and then riddled my little daughter with bullets,” he recalled. “Her first day at school became the last day of her life.”

Without caring about the flying bullets, Hussain frantically ran from one class to another to look for his daughter. When he finally reached the classroom where Khaula was hiding with Ms Sadia, the terrorist also opened fire on him which made him crucially injured.

“I was hit with three bullets which later required a dozen operations. Even after five years, I haven’t completely recovered,” Hussain said. “Despite the pain and the horrible memories associated with the school where I lost my little daughter, I have rejoined APS because giving up means the enemy will win.”

He added that he cannot overcome the grief of losing a child but coming back to teach at the APS is a tribute to all the martyrs and brave survivors.

Another teacher who survived the brutal attack is Abu Bakr, who has been teaching at the APS for the past 21 years. When the attack happened, he risked his own life to save three children.

“When the terrorists opened fire, I was sitting in the staff room. Suddenly, some children barged in so I immediately stood up and hid the children behind me. However, the terrorists entered the room and fired at me,” Abu Bakr said. “The terrorists thought that I had died so they left but I survived the injuries.”

Abu Bakr said that he cannot forgive the perpetrators. His injuries made him disabled and he now walks with the help of a stick but his love for knowledge and education has motivated him to rejoin the school.

“If we sit at home out of fear, then the terrorists will achieve their objective. Therefore, we will not back down,” Abu Bakr said. “After the APS attack, we got the opportunity to unite against terrorism with renewed hope and a new life; today we are proud to give lessons of courageousness to the children, we are also thankful to Allah for including us in the list of ghazis,” he concluded.


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