Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and his wife Reham Khan’s visit to the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on Wednesday turned less than cordial when a group of parents of children killed in the December 16 massacre at the school protested the PTI chief’s presence.
Imran, his wife and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak were met with slogans of ‘Go Imran Go’ and ‘Go Khattak Go’ as they arrived at the school on the third day of classes since the school was targeted by Taliban gunmen. However, once they entered the school, students thronged to meet the PTI chief.
The Taliban rampage left 150 people – including 132 children – dead and 130 injured. Earlier on Wednesday, Reham Khan tweeted, “We are in Peshawar today to salute the spirit of APS and encourage our children to return to school.”
Prior to the PTI convoy’s arrival, the IG police visited the APS and declared the area cleared for the visit. However, the PTI chairman’s convoy was met by a group of parents holding banners and posters outside the school. “Imran Khan was busy with his wedding ceremony while we were weeping for our children,” cried one mother.
A scuffle broke out amongst the protesters and security officials and the PTI chairman was forced to enter the APS via a backdoor entrance. Here, he was warmly welcomed by students as they gathered to meet him and his wife.
Outside the school, angry parents threatened to hold demonstrations against political leaders after the chehlum of their deceased children. “We do not need Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif or any other political leader. We want justice and revenge for our martyred children,” said one man. “No one will be allowed to play politics over the blood of our innocent children. We made a huge mistake giving votes to Imran Khan and his party.”
Some parents criticised CM Khattak and K-P Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, saying they ‘abused’ the protesters, an accusation the party denied via social media.
In a press conference held after the visit, the PTI chief stated, “I visited the APS to boost the morale of students but in fact their spirit encouraged me. I do not understand the purpose of the protest against me. I am the PTI chief and Pervez Khattak is the CM but the school is being run by the army.”
Following the incident, PTI officials tweeted that Imran would ‘expose those’ responsible for the protests. The party’s official account quoted K-P Minister for Higher Education and Information Mushtaq Ghani accusing the government of foul play, stating, “The PTI condemns the childish act by federal PML-N-led government to sabotage Imran Khan’s visit to Peshawar.”
Echoing the statements of some party leaders at the press conference, Imran said some of the parents outside the school appeared to be ‘political workers’. However, he added, “I understand the feelings of those parents who have lost their children.”
Parents respond to PTI
At a news conference held at a local hotel on Wednesday, those gathered outside the APS during Imran’s visit – including Abid Raza Bangash, father of martyred Rafiq Raza Bangash, Dr Farooq Shah Afridi, father of Mobeen Shah Afridi, Akhoon Khan, father of Afsar Shah, Ahmad Ali, father of Muhammad Ozar Ali and Sarwar Khan, father of Ali Khan – denied that they had been goaded on by any political party.
“We have formed an association, the Shaheed Peshawar Association, which has no political affiliation, and we gathered outside the APS to ask the PTI chairman who is responsible for our children’s deaths,” said Bangash. “If any political party or group is not found to be involved in our protest, then K-P Information Minister Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani should resign for suggesting this.”
Bangash demanded that Ghani, SSP Operation and DC Peshawar immediately resign from their posts. “If this is the change the PTI promised us in the elections then this nation will see more incidents like the attack on the APS in the future,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2015.