Published: December 19, 2014
The writer is a barrister and columnist. He tweets @AsadRahim

The writer is a barrister and columnist. He tweets @AsadRahim

The last 16th December, a majority of us hadn’t been born. This 16th December, we wished we hadn’t been alive.

There aren’t any words. Words are for people and policies and the sounds of human commerce. Words can’t convey grief; they can’t bring back our children; they can’t capture the sound of things breaking.

Because Pakistan is broken. Not the ‘broken’ that brings to mind failed states and bomb blasts. We’ve lived with that.

Being this broken meant, all around us, grown men couldn’t stop crying. 16th December saw them break down in restaurants and office buildings, inside locked rooms and public parks and in front of their children. Being this broken meant we wondered at night whether we could get dressed in the morning.

Could we dare imagine the parents?

We couldn’t. As anyone who has buried their loved ones knows, grief is seldom straightforward.

Grief hits us in waves, in human spasms. Which is why we may remember 16/12 only in fragments: ‘There were trails of bullet wounds across children’s bodies,’ said a doctor at Lady Reading, ‘as if somebody had moved the gun along them while shooting.’

We think of the child that cried they would find him in his hospital bed. We think of the child that played dead, folding his school tie in his mouth to stop himself from screaming. We think of the child that whispered on the phone to ‘mama that I was fine,’ with a bullet in his chest. They are here with us now, and we hold them tight.

But we also think of 24-year-old Afsha Ahmed, a girl that stood up to trained animals, and told them they’d have to kill her first.

And we ask ourselves: how did we get to where we are?

During the school siege in Beslan, there was an official rationale: they were taking hostages to negotiate. It was made clear, as Pakistanis began screaming and screaming — over a death toll that crawled over a hundred, then to 141 — that we had no rationale to give one another.

They had hit naval bases and hotel lobbies and international airports before. They came to kill our children this time.

Because in a sick society, that’s all we have left: our children are our healers, the future cure to all our poisons. The Taliban understood that. If only we understood them.

When 2014 began, this country saw its first suicide attack on a school building. Aitzaz Hasan rushed at the attacker, tackled the bomb, and embraced God. He was 15 years old.

We thought the heart of this country was good, even as Mujahid Ali Bangash buried his son in the cold. We thought there would be Aitzaz Hasans to save all our souls — to make sure that evil would be overpowered, inches before it crossed its first threshold into its first classroom.

But as 2014 draws to a close, what was left of our hearts is broken. They did make it inside Army Public School. And they went from classroom to classroom, shooting at our babies’ bodies. It was an act of zulm, by Khwarij that call themselves students.

We were told the Taliban don’t hurt children. This has proven true: the Taliban slaughter children in sprees. In his maiden address, the Prime Minister said, ‘Hum apnay bachon ke mazeed janazay nahin utha saktay.’ There have been many addresses since, but the Prime Minister continues to condole us over killings he can’t seem to stop.

By killers he can’t seem to name.

For a man who manufactures steel, he may want to put some in his spine. This country has stopped working.

But let’s face it: just the act of bashing the leadership is, like all our APCs, an act of impotence. It is an indictment, when little children start sharing on their mobile phones, ‘Suna hai bohat sasta hai khoon wahan ka, ek basti jissay log Pakistan kehtay hain.’ It is an indictment, when our citizens say, ‘Phool dekhay thay janazon pay hamesha, kal pehli baar phoolon ka janaza dekha.’ And it is an indictment, when mothers leave their babies behind; when fathers bury their sons.

We can’t go on like this.

Going after the TTP isn’t the endgame: it’s a first step. The second is going after all of them — making no distinction between them and all the other acronyms, including their sectarian cousins in the south. The third is going after ourselves: healing a cancer that has metastasised over 35 years this December.

It will take all of us: through reforming curricula, through regulating madrassa, to cleaning up policing, to patching together, piece by piece, the religious fissures that cripple this country.

But that’s for the long haul. In the short run, we need to stop airing the views of child murderers. Look at how we sound.

Because in the depths of darkness, we find certain truths. Indians telling Pakistanis they would walk across the border, to donate blood — Kailash Satyarthi begging the Taliban to spare the children, and take him instead. We find Afghans reeling in shock, and we see vigils and silences in Turkey. We find something of what we’ve always known: no one can break the spirit of Pakistan. Only Pakistanis can do that.

And broken we are. We’d heard of mass traumas in the past: when we were crippled by loss in ’47. We’d heard of mass hysteria in ‘53. We’d heard how we lost to the darkest parts of ourselves in’71. But we were there this time. We were witnesses on 16th December, 2014.

If darkness is measured by the depths of human misery, by the realisation that we can’t protect our children — by the sheer absence of light — then yes; this is our darkest hour. Because if these men are destined for heaven, we’re all better off in hell.

It is time, now, to look toward the better angels of our nature. And to those better angels we buried in Peshawar, with our dreams and hearts and happiness, we ask forgiveness.

We love you.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Sid Javaid
    Dec 19, 2014 - 3:44AM

    So very poignant; You have captured the sentiments of young Pakistanis perfectly. Enough is enough! Time to rid the world of this evil once and for all.


  • ajeet
    Dec 19, 2014 - 4:51AM

    I don’t think Pakistan will learn anything. From the killer of Salman Tassier being garlanded to the main accused in Mumbai massacre being given bail, Pakistan is fully messed up.Recommend

  • F Khan
    Dec 19, 2014 - 12:19PM

    @ajeet: Yes we are messed up. Had we not been messed up we wouldn’t have had, what we had, on 16th December and there would have not been this emotional write up. A moderate, liberal, inclusive, Pakistani needs support and understanding at this time from across the border and less of criticism, sarcasm and hate.


  • Faraz
    Dec 19, 2014 - 12:52PM

    @F Khan:
    Have to agree with you.
    I was greatly surprised and encouraged to see that 300 intrepid souls had the gumption to walk over to the Jamia Hafsa and face the inmates of that dreadful place.
    I hope that more these brave 300 represent the beginning of a surge.
    The Good and the decent in Pakistan need to drown out the crazies. All of us need to believe that they can.


  • Parvez
    Dec 19, 2014 - 3:53PM

    @ajeet: Most Indian commentators have been sensitive and compassionate ……….and then there are the Ajeet’s of the world……….not India’s fault.


  • Waleed H
    Dec 19, 2014 - 7:16PM

    We are truly broken. Our nation and now our hearts as well. It’s hard to imagine if we’ll ever be able to recover from this. What scares me the most is that with the abolishment of the moratorium on the execution of the death penalty in terrorism related cases, we’re bound to see further senseless killing such as this. Pray for the safety of our children, our nation and our future.


  • molly
    Dec 19, 2014 - 8:17PM

    @Ajeet ashamed that you are an Indian. You just demonstrated you belong to the ranks of the Peshawar killers


  • SD
    Dec 20, 2014 - 9:55AM

    Truth hurts !!!


  • Kanwal
    Dec 20, 2014 - 11:08AM

    I wish that the united stance against terrorism that is visible now, becomes a constant part of national life now. I wish this much innocent blood becomes enough to achieve this goal.


  • Dec 20, 2014 - 1:26PM

    see that our problem we can’t take criticism and we are ready to lash out …
    What ajeet is saying is right … We are an absolute broken nation …
    We seem to never learn ; we keep falling down and this time we have stooped to the lowest level we cudnt protect our own kids …. How many more tragedies do we need to realize we have failed miserably as a nation
    The main question we need a resolution ; a solution ? Please get me that before you say anything to


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