Parents seldom believe their children when they ask not to go to school because of a real or fake headache or flu. But after that ill-fated day when militants stormed into Army Public School (APS), the parents of over 134 students may have wished that their children had stayed home, even if the excuse was made up.
Nauman Iqbal, a resident of Sarki Gate, was among hundreds of parents who had not imagined that by sending his son to school on December 16, he would be sending them into the jaws of death.
“Ammar was my eldest son,” he tells The Express Tribune. “He had just turned 14 on December 8, just a week before his death. My other two children, Samar and Irtiqa, also studied at APS but they survived the massacre.”
The events of that chilly December morning have been forever imprinted on his mind.
“I received a phone call from a relative when the school was attacked,” Iqbal says. “He told me to come collect my two younger children who had been successfully evacuated from the junior section.”
However, the caller did not mention anything about Ammar’s well-being. It was perhaps Iqbal’s sixth sense which alerted him to the possibility that his eldest son, an eighth grader at APS, was still inside the school’s building and in danger. He only wished he could have reached there with more haste.
“I told my cousin to take Irtiqa and Samar home and started looking for Ammar,” he recalls.
After several hours of a frantic search, Ammar’s body was found at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH).
The brutality of it all
“They shot him in the head,” Iqbal says, holding back his tears. “They asked the children who their parents were and shot the children of servicemen. Some were shot in the eye and the face.”
According to the devastated father, rumours of militants separating children of army men and shooting them before the other students are all true. Believing this story provides Iqbal, who works in the military audits department, with an explanation for his son’s untimely death. A cruel rationale, but one nonetheless.
“My son wanted to join the Pakistan Army,” he says. “He wanted to serve the nation. His innocent smile would brighten your day. He didn’t deserve to die.” Tragedy comes in all shapes and sizes as a part of life. But losing a child under any circumstances is unbearable.
“His mother is inconsolable,” he says. “He was her pride and joy.”
The thought of his child being one of the many children at the school’s auditorium on that fated day is hair-raising.
“They were being given first-aid training in the auditorium when the militants stormed in,” he says, trying to envisage the scene in his mind with great difficulty. “They showed them no mercy. In the blink of an eye, innocent children became martyrs.”
Nearly two weeks after the massacre, Iqbal cannot summon the courage to visit the school which became the playground of his son’s death.
“Other parents have told me army personnel have been deployed in the area where militants entered the school,” he says.
Yet, Iqbal believes the damage has already been done.
“They should have not withdrawn security in the areas days before the attack,” he says, with a tear rolling down his cheek.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2014.