PESHAWAR: When Ijaz Ahmad’s elder brother called him last Tuesday and told him a school had been attacked in the city, Ahmad didn’t pay much heed. The father of four perhaps never wanted to believe his children would be in harm’s way. As the day unfolded ever so cruelly, hope kept blindfolding him, perhaps to delay the inevitable heartbreak.
Moments after the brother’s call, fear set in. The kind of expanding fear parents try to squash when they cannot immediately ascertain where their child might be. The technician who works in a private medical laboratory hurried next door to the photocopy shop which had a television. As he flipped through channels, he came across live footage and his world stopped.
“I saw the footage and immediately recognised the area—it was Army Public School,” Ahmad told The Express Tribune. “Two of my children were inside.” Sixteen-year-old eighth grader Shahzad Ijaz and 14-year-old Zikria Ijaz were at APS as terrorists lay siege to a school with over 1,000 children. By now everyone knows how December 16 ended—with at least 149 people dead, more than 132 of those children between the ages of nine and 18.
Ahmad jumped on his bike and raced to APS. “The building was surrounded by the army; no one was allowed to enter but one soldier told me that children were being evacuated near the Defence Park side and advised me to go there and search for my children.”
When Ahmad reached, he saw four children and he saw Zikria. He could not find Shahzad.
He knew then it was time to go to the hospital, expecting the worst and praying for any reprieve.
“I called my brothers and we went to CMH to search for him,” said Ahmad.
“The thing is, Shahzad was lying there among the dead but all of us brothers were crying; our eyes were brimming with tears so we could not find him.” Tears or the love of a parent kept Ahmad searching for two hours, with his brothers, for his teenage son.
“Then one of my brothers found Shahzad…he could only recognise him because of a fracture my son sustained nine months ago.” The 16-year-old had been shot in his head, the death blow.
As Ahmad bathed his first-born child for the last time, his fingers could feel his fractured legs—bones shattered, a life shattered.
“My Shahzad was in the auditorium, at a farewell party for grade 10 thrown by students of grades eight and nine,” added Ahmad. “They [the terrorists] entered using the back doors which had been shut by the teachers, but they broke the doors down and went inside,” he narrated the short span of events which have left a nation with unprecedented grief and rage.
“If children aren’t safe in an army school, then the entire country is not safe enough. I had two sons and two daughters but my eldest son has left us forever,” said the devastated father who is in his early fifties. “We had so many dreams in life for him but none of us could have imagined that on Tuesday we sent him to his death.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2014.