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Black day

By Samar Esapzai. December 16th 2014

I barely slept last night. I had one of the most restless of nights, where there was this odd, sinking feeling in my heart that something bad — really, truly bad — was about to happen. My daughter, who is 16-months-old now, also kept waking up crying in the middle of the night and I kept wondering why she was so upset, when normally she’s very calm and a heavy-sleeper (she usually sleeps through the night). It was only when we woke up around 8:30 am this morning, to a rather gloomy and dusky morning, and I checked my Twitter and Facebook time-lines, that it suddenly dawned on me what had actually happened. And it was bad; the worst news one could ever wake up to.

While I don’t consider myself intuitive, the sinking feeling that I had in my heart pretty much all of last night was confirmed this morning. I shockingly read tweet after tweet, depicting the tragedy that had suddenly befallen my beloved homeland, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — more specifically, my beautiful and tortured Peshawar. With an aching heart, I read tweet after tweet of innocent children who were killed at point-blank by the barbaric, evil Taliban. I read tweet after tweet of the suffering and carnage that the victims had endured, while trying to escape the brutality and inhumanity inflicted upon them. And I couldn’t help thinking to myself, as tears blinded me, what these people — these innocent children — had done to deserve such a horrific end? I held my daughter closer to me than ever before, showering her with never-ending hugs and kisses as she reminded me of every single one of those 100+ children that were killed in the Peshawar massacre. I couldn’t help thinking about the mothers of these children, and what they must be going through as news of the loss of their child’s life finally reached them. The thought itself is numbing. So very incredibly numbing.

Bleakest and bloodiest attacks in history of Pakistan

Today marks the bleakest and the most bloodiest attacks in the history of Pakistan. What started out as a normal typical day, with seemingly happy parents sending their children off to school had suddenly became the most worse of all nightmares that one could have ever imagined. None of these parents had the slightest idea — the slightest clue — that today would be the last day they will ever see, hug, or kiss their children again. It was reported that it was around 10 am in the morning when about nine Taliban militants were seen along the walls of the Army Public School, in Peshawar, in preparation for the attack. They all used a ladder to climb up the walls, their chests covered with explosive vests, and as soon as they entered the compound, they began bombing and firing mercilessly and incessantly at the students and teachers. The Taliban actually went from classroom to classroom, shooting children one by one, at point-bank, claiming that they were only targeting “older children” while sparing the younger ones. (Children roughly aged between the ages of 10 and 16 attended that school.) When further asked why they carried out this massacre, a spokesperson from the Taliban was quoted as saying that the “government of Pakistan is targeting our families and females.”

The more I tried to comprehend the reason as to why the Taliban carried out this horrendous attack, the more enraged I became because nothing and I mean absolutely nothing can rationalize the innocent lives that were mercilessly stolen. It’s one thing to despise the Pakistani army, which probably created and fuelled the Taliban in the first place, and it’s another thing when you attack an educational institution, in the name of God, where there are kids — innocent children — and teachers alike, who want nothing more than to learn and teach for their own betterment. The Taliban claim that they are fighting a “righteous war,” and that they are doing what they have to do to in order to enter the utopian Paradise, hence why they screamed “Allahu Akbar” each time they opened fire at the victims. Yet, what they fail to understand is that there is no such thing as a “righteous war”! A war is never righteous, nor is achieving martyrdom, especially when you take the lives of innocent civilians; this, in turn, makes you nothing but a cold-blooded, heartless murderer!

The following are some anecdotes and quotations, taken from the Dailymail news portal on the massacre at this link, depicting the first-hand accounts of the surviving victims of the nightmare that callously befell them earlier today. (Reader discretion is strongly advised, as some of these are quite harrowing and very scary to read.) I, too, couldn’t bring myself to read all of them either, as I felt like I was reading something out of a horror movie. These accounts are extremely horrifying and painstakingly frightening, especially where children were forced to watch and even kill other children, of which some were their very own siblings, as well as watch their own teachers getting burned to death. Utterly, utterly terrifying!

Irfan Shah was sitting in his class at 10:30 am local time when he heard the sound of firing outside.
‘It was our social studies period. Our teacher first told us that some kind of drill was going on and that we do not need to worry. It was very intense firing. Then the sound came closer. Then we heard cries. One of our friends opened the window of the class.’ He started weeping as there were several school fellows lying on the ground outside the class. ‘Everybody was in panic. Two of our class fellows ran outside class in panic. They were shot in front of us.’

He said that the teacher asked the children, part of a class of 33, to run towards the back gate of the school.
He continued: ‘The back gate is around 200 meters from our classroom. I tightly held the hand of my friend Daniyal and we both ran towards the back gate. We were weeping. I felt bullets passing by my head twice. It was so terrible.

‘We reached the back gate in a minute. As we stepped outside the gate, we started weeping again very loudly. An aunt from a nearby house heard us and took us inside her house. We were shivering. She gave us water and comforted us. We stayed there for 15 minutes.

Our van always parked a few hundred meters away from the school. We then went to our van. The van driver told us that our school fellows who have been murdered in the attack are martyrs and they would go to jannah (paradise).’

Shahrukh Khan, a 15-year-old student, who was shot in both legs, told how he hid under a bench and played dead to avoid being killed by the Taliban militants. Speaking from his bed in the trauma ward of the city’s Lady Reading Hospital, the teenager spoke of how he even shoved a tie in his mouth to stop him from screaming out in fear of the gunmen. Khan further described how, after they burst in shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ – which means ‘God is greatest’ – one of them shouted: ‘There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them!’

He said: ‘I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches. The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again. My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me — I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.’

Khan told how he tried to get up, but fell because of his injuries. Desperate to escape to safety, he crawled into the next room, where he found the body of the school’s office assistant, whose whole body was on fire.

He said: ‘She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.’

Khan, who said he also saw the body of a soldier who worked at the school, then crawled behind a door to hide, where he lost consciousness.

He added: ‘One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain.

‘One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. All around me my friends were lying injured and dead.’

Mohammad Muneeb stated how his 14-year-old brother Muhammad Shaheer was shot dead in front of him as 200 children sat in an auditorium, getting training in first aid.

‘Two guards were there, sitting on the desk at the front, when four people wearing black uniforms ran in. They just started firing. First they targeted the brigadier and his guards, where the two guards were killed.The brigadier managed to get away safely and then they started firing at the students. I saw my own brother die, he was shot in the throat.’

A school volunteer who did not want to be named described the auditorium shooting: ‘I was working with the other organizations. What I saw was indescribable. I was in the auditorium when they burst in, it was 10:30 am when they broke into the school. There was a function in the auditorium, they just opened fire on everyone. They just started firing and shooting violently with AK47s. There was around 200 children in the auditorium, all of them boys.’

Pharmacist Ahmed Salman, whose 15-year-old son was killed, said: ‘I took my son to school this morning and I was at work when someone told me there was firing in the school. I went there and saw children being taken out in ambulances. I was searching but I could not find him. My younger brother called me and told me that Ahmed’s body was lying in the mortuary of the military hospital. He had a bullet in his lungs.’

Mudassar Abbas, a physics laboratory assistant at the school, said some students were celebrating at a party when the attack began.

‘I saw six or seven people walking class-to-class and opening fire on children,’ he said.

Mudassir Awan, an employee at the school, said he saw at least six people scaling the walls of the building, but initially thought little of it.

‘We thought it must be the children playing some game. But then we saw a lot of firearms with them,’ he said.

‘As soon as the firing started, we ran to our classrooms. They were entering every class and they were killing the children,’ he added.

One of the wounded students, Abdullah Jamal, said he was with a group of 8th, 9th and 10th graders who were getting first-aid instructions and training with a team of Pakistani army medics when the attack began.

When the shooting started, Mr Jamal, who was shot in the leg, said nobody knew what was going on in the first few seconds.

‘Then I saw children falling down who were crying and screaming. I also fell down. I learned later that I have got a bullet,’ he said, speaking from his hospital bed.

‘All the children had bullet wounds. All the children were bleeding,’ he added.

Akhtar Ali, who works out for the UN, was weeping outside the school.

He told MailOnline: ‘My 14-year-old niece Afaq is inside the school. I don’t know if she is alive or dead. I am desperate. I am just waiting in hope. It is agony. ‘

‘My son was in uniform in the morning. He is in a casket now,’ wailed one parent, Tahir Ali, as he came to the hospital to collect the body of his 14-year-old son, Abdullah.

‘My son was my dream. My dream has been killed.’

Mrs. Humayun Khan, one of the mothers of a student, said with tears in her eyes: ‘Nobody is telling me about my son’s whereabouts… I have checked the hospital and he is not there. I am really losing my heart. God forbid may he’s not among the students still under custody of terrorists.’

A student who survived the attack said soldiers came to rescue students during a lull in the firing.

‘When we were coming out of the class we saw dead bodies of our friends lying in the corridors. They were bleeding. Some were shot three times, some four times,’ the student said.

‘The men entered the rooms one by one and started indiscriminate firing at the staff and students.’

Zakir Ahmad, who runs an electronics store in Peshawar, has lost his 16-year-old son, Abdullah, and is frantically searching for his 12-year-old son, Hassnain, who is still missing hours after the atrocity.

Crying and barely able to speak, he told MailOnline: ‘When I heard there was an attack I ran to the school. I heard firing. I sent my cousins and staff to search the hospitals while I stayed praying at school. Then after an hour I got the call, he just said Abdullah is dead. I have found him in the hospital. I still don’t know anything about my boy Hasnain. This is a terrible injustice. We are innocent people, and my boys are innocent who do not carry guns and bombs. The only justice for me is to find these people who are supporting extremists and hang them in rows. Make them die for what they did.

‘My son was such a good boy. Obedient, bright. When he was going to school this morning he came into my room and kissed me.’

Helpless

As a parent and as a mother myself, I can’t even begin to fathom what the families of these children must be going through right this very moment. Never have I ever felt so incredibly helpless in my life. I wish I had the power to go to each and every one of those families and tell them that their children are alive and well, that it was all just a horrible nightmare, and that no harm will ever befall them, because I can and will always save them. But, no. I don’t have the power to unharm the harmed. I don’t have the power to bring those that have been brutally killed back to life. I don’t have any power, whatsoever, to heal the wounds of these heartbroken families. And that is what kills me the most. This feeling of utter helplessness, which is undoubtedly the worst feeling in the whole world.

So, instead, I sit here and try to write this piece, as my hands shake and my tears fall, wishing, hoping that these families will get the justice that they deserve. And even though it has been reported that all nine militants have now been killed, it won’t bring back the innocent lives that were brutally murdered. But, at least it will assure these families that justice has been somewhat served, and that the murderers of their beloved children are not running around scott-and guilt-free.

I also can’t help but wonder what I will tell my daughter if and when she  ever brings up December 16, 2014. How do I even begin to explain to her about this massacre that occurred shortly after she turned 16 months? What will she think? How will she react? The fact that these innocent children were once her age too, not knowing, not realizing that a few years down the road their lives would be brutally cut short.

It really and truly frightens me to have to bring up this massacre again, in the future, but it will be inevitable for I know it is something that will haunt us for many, many years, decades, and generations to come. It has now become a part of our dark history; it will continue to loom over us as one of the most bloodiest and most bleakest days in the history of our pathetic nation. And it will further be a constant reminder of how inhumane we humans are and can be, simply in the name of God.

May the families of the slain victims find the strength, courage, and patience to get through all this. I know it is easier said than done, but it’s the least I can do at this point.

Samar EsapZai

 


Samar Esapzai is a PhD student in international rural development, focusing on Gender and Development of Pashtun women.

She blogs at http://sesapzai.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sesapzai.

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Samar's blogs on the Safe World website