Political and social activists from every side of the spectrum came out in unprecedented numbers on Wednesday to show solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar massacre.
Differing political and social views were set aside as unanimous disgust was expressed at the butchery of the previous day. Traders, students and other members of the general public were also seen joining protest gatherings in different areas.
Demonstrators demanded exemplary punishment for all terrorists, with many calls for hanging anyone who would kill a child.
The open lot outside the National Press Club was louder and busier than ever on Wednesday evening, as a cacophony of slogans, speeches and sirens pierced through the air.
Members of political parties, civil society activists and student bodies were spread over the area, surrounded by police and other security officials, as they expressed their anguish and outrage parallel to a candlelight vigil.
Members of progressive, secular, and nationalist political parties and students organisations including Awami National Party, Awami Workers Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, National Youth Organisation, Pakhtun Student Federation, National Student Federation, Pakhtunkhwa Student Organisation, Quaid-e-Azam Pakhtun Council Students, Hazara Human Rights Activists, Pakhtun Professional Forum gathered there and chanted slogans against the Taliban and militant ideology.
While strongly decries the barbaric attack, the activists condemned “fascism” and exploitation, while calling for the mainstreaming of Fata into Pakistan by extending all constitutional, judicial, legal and fundamental rights to the region. They also condemned the support of extremists by certain state elements and accountability of decisions to follow such paths.
They also demanded regularisation of madrassas along the same lines as government schools. “There should be large-scale changes in the school curricula across the country to promote peace, plurality and humanism.”
They rejected the “ongoing policy initiative of the PTI-JI coalition government in K-P to revert changes in the curriculum by including Jihadi hate materials.”
They also refused to support carpet-bombing Fata as it would not eliminate terrorists. “What is needed is a policy shift with targeted operations against all good, bad and ugly terrorists”.
Civil society activist Farzana Bari maintained that the national tragedy had brought the entire nation together. “It is time for our ruling class and military establishment to identity the Taliban as the enemy. They should listen to the people’s voice and turn the foreign policy around. We want education!” she said.
National Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz strongly condemned the attack. “This is a most grievous moment. Even children are not being spared. The TTP have taken responsibility for it. They represent a certain kind of thinking which does not respect human life. They’ve shown it again and again by attacking the weak and vulnerable – minorities, women, and now even children,” she said.
Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE), on behalf of the entire education community, categorically denounced “Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and all its corollary institutions, schools of thoughts and sympathisers.”
“With hundreds of families burying their beloved children, it feels like Pakistan is burying its ‘tomorrow’ today,” they said.
Child Rights Movement and National Action and Coordination Group condemned the attack, saying in
a statement, “We stand with the families who suffered this tragic loss. Our hearts bleed when we see the bodies in coffins moving towards graveyards at an age when they should have been going to schools in their uniforms.”
National Commission for Justice and Peace, a human rights body affiliated with the Catholic Church, in a statement pleaded “to the governments, all political parties, religious leaders civil society organisations and the judiciary to join hands to collectively end the menace of terrorism.”
Shehbaz Abdul Kareem, 11, and Mohammad Jawad, 12, both from the Pakistan Sweet Homes orphanage, said, “We are here to pray that we are soon rid of terrorism and can live happy and secure.”
Among the demonstrators were many citizens of the capital who came on the roads to protest for the first time.
Among them was Irum Khan, a housewife who told The Express Tribune, “Attacks on a school in a Cantonment area clearly shows that our children are not safe. As a mother, I really feel insecure while sending my kids to school.”
Shahid Awan, a banker, said, “This barbaric attack is a wakeup call for all of us to unite against the enemy and stop playing blame games.”
He said it was for the first time he had participated in such as protest, adding that he felt the urge to be there out of anger at the attack, and solidarity with the mothers and fathers who lost their children.
Alia Zafar, a protester, blamed “our own policies”. I don’t think the government or the military is going to do anything. All of us are victims. It’s horrible,” she lamented.
Leaned over to light a tall candle in a long line of glowing flames, schoolteacher Wajiha Saqib was mourning the fallen students and teachers at a silent vigil in Kohsar Park.
“I can only imagine what those children went through. Just the thought of it is horrific. We have to fight these extremists by teaching every child in the country,” said Saqib, who teaches at a private school.
Usman Khilji and Arsalan Ahmed organised the silent vigil in the park. Ahmed, whose grandfather’s house on Warsak Road is a stone’s throw from APS, said the tragedy was close to his heart.
Away from political rhetoric and sloganeering, the vigil at the park was a peaceful and mostly silent one.
“I very strongly stand against innocent lives being lost in the war of terror and the backlash,” said Ahmed.
Traders and lawyers of the twin cities also observed a black day, as most markets were closed and court proceedings were boycotted.“We are short of words to condemn this act. The attackers were not human. They were monsters,” Abdur Rasheed Sheikh of the Lahore High Court Bar Association said.
In all 422 schools and colleges of the capital, students observed a day of mourning, vowing to raise their voice against radicalism and extremism. Candle vigils and special prayers were also held at a number of public and private universities. Students of Islamabad Model Postgraduate College for Boys and the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology held solidarity walks to remember the victims.
Similar scenes were witnessed across Rawalpindi. Traders in Raja Bazaar and other markets expressed solidarity with the bereaved families and held a vigil.
“Our hearts go out to the parents whose children were martyred. We share their pain,” said Markazi Anjuman-e-Tajeran Rawalpindi spokesperson Qadir Mir.
Attendance at educational institutions remained thin. To share the grief with parents of the martyred children, many parents accompanied their children to school to participate in two minutes of silence at the morning assemblies.
“All of us spent the night in agony and disbelief. The pain of losing a child is unbearable,” said Faiza Raheem, who accompanied her fourth grader to Mission High School Raja Bazar.
Meanwhile, some residents staged protests in various localities by blocking roads and burning tyres to condemn the brutal and tragic incident. The road blocks, however, only created problems for commuters.
Residents of Satelite Town, Penora Chungi blocked IJ Principal Road near Katarian Bridge. Protesters carried banners and placards inscribed with demands condemning the incident and welcomed the prime minister’s decision to ending the moratorium on the death penalty.
Protests at Faizabad and in Sadiqabad similarly blocked the road for traffic to demand justice for the victims.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2014.
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