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On this day, two years ago, Pakistan saw one of its toughest times as terrorists carried out an attack in Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS), killing 144 people, mostly children.
Considered as one of the blackest day in the history of the country, the wounds of that tragedy are still fresh and the pain is still felt as the entire country struggles to reconcile with the loss, especially the parents of the slain children.
As a security measure, all schools in provincial capital remain closed today in view of the APS terror attack. However, people will hold candlelight vigils throughout the country to honor all the innocent souls who were massacred brutally.
A Tragedy Revisited
For the past two years, Orengzeb Khan has been wearing the same black shalwar qameez to remember his son who also lost his life in the terrorist attack.
“My son was not hit in his head or heart. He was hit in his hip by a bullet and died a painful and slow death due to excessive bleeding. I should have been allowed in to evacuate him out and save his life.”
“I wear these clothes to mourn the death of my son. When they get dirty, I take them off, wash them and put them on again. I have not changed my routine for the past two years.”
Khan is not the only one paying tribute to the lives lost as people on social media have come together to grieve with the families of the children.
A year ago on Wednesday, Khan was shot three times when gunmen armed with suicide bombs stormed into the school auditorium where several year groups were watching a first-aid lecture. Most of the boys were unable to get to the exits, turning the hall into a scene of particular horror. The following day, when television crews were allowed in, the hard floors were still wet with blood.
More than 140 students and staff were killed, many of them executed at point-blank range by gunmen who also detonated bombs around the school buildings.
APS reopened just one month after the attack. But pupils and parents complain of ongoing trauma for which many are still receiving psychological help.
The auditorium where Khan almost died has been converted into a basketball court, and a new hall has been built elsewhere on the school’s neat campus. Security is extremely tight with armed guards and metal detectors at the school gate.
“There are new buildings, my friends are gone and some of the teachers are different,” said Khan, who took eight months to recover from his bullet wounds and a broken leg. “Everything has changed.”
Many say Pakistan itself has changed. After the attack all schools were ordered to rapidly build walls and extra defences. To the consternation of some of Pakistan’s European donors the country abandoned an informal moratorium on the death penalty and has so far executed more than 300 death row prisoners.
Most observers credit the attacks with spurring the country into tackling domestic terrorism like never before. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, publicly recognised Pakistan’s longstanding ambivalence on the matter, vowing an end to the distinction between “good and bad Taliban”.
A year after the APS attack, the tide of violence has fallen dramatically. “There are no more bomb blasts, all the terrorists have left Pakistan now,” said Ajoon Khan, a lawyer whose 15 year-old son Asfand died in the auditorium. “The country is changed completely because of the sacrifice of our children.”
The army, already Pakistan’s most dominant institution, has become even more powerful in the wake of the APS attack. Constitutional changes established empowered military courts to try civilians, bypassing a glacially slow judicial system where judges are easily intimidated.
A large number of children, 121, and three staff members were among those wounded. Seven soldiers of the Special Services Group and two officers were among the wounded, the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations, Maj Gen Asim Bajwa, said.
“This is the darkest day in the history of Pakistan,” he said at a press briefing at Corps Headquarters, Peshawar.
Below are 144 accounts, of courage and sadness of children, women and men whose absence will be forever painful, always remembered.