“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”
Such was the aftermath of the attack on the 16th of December, 2014, when 132 sons and daughters from The Army Public School in Peshawar were buried, having been killed by men of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) in their war against the Pakistani militia. In what has been termed ‘Pakistan’s 9/11’, seven members of the TTP entered the school compound, disguised in uniforms of the Pakistani paramilitary force at 10 AM, and fired indiscriminately on children inside an auditorium in the school. The students were being trained in first aid by an army officer when the TTP stormed in bearing automatic weapons. According to reports, the pupils were forced to watch their teachers and principal, Tahira Kazi, being burned alive before them.
A rescue operation was conducted by the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG), which killed the seven terrorists and saved over 960 of the people remaining in the school. Other police and military units joined in too, including the Army Corps of Military Police and the provincial civilian Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, helping in closing off any possible escape routes for the terrorists. The death toll climbed up to 150, including students, school staff, and soldiers who were engaged in the rescue operation.
This terrorist attack, one of the deadliest in the history of Pakistan, has been met with global condemnation due to its sheer brutality. Rafia Zakaria, a columnist for Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, stated that the siege on the school could have been guarded against, considering that for the past few years, Pakistan has had an attack on an educational institution nearly every week. She lashed out in her article, “In short, the attack in Peshawar reveals three things. First, the more than 400 U.S drone attacks since 2004 have done little to diminish the Taliban’s capacity to carry out such operations. Second, the Pakistan army, however strong its resolve, cannot protect soft targets such as schools. Finally, the government of Pakistan is unable to galvanize the public against extremism.”
A day after the attack, on the 17th of December, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared legal the execution of terrorists, lifting the moratorium on the death penalty set in 2008. This move was opposed by David Griffiths of Amnesty International, who said that the government would just be “perpetuating the cycle of violence with the resumption of executions.” Since the attack, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) strikes on terrorist camps and hideouts have been geared up, and the Pakistan Air Force is on a manhunt for TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah. Candlelit marches and other forms of protest both in the real and virtual world have risen, deploring the TTP. Globally, this act of terrorism has been seen, as not merely an attack on either the Pakistani militia or an army school, but as a slap in the face of humanity itself, incurring people across ages, races, and nationalities to stand up against it as one. The motive for the attack was said to be a retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a military offensive launched by the Pakistan Armed Forces against terrorist militia, where they had cleared around 90% of North Waziristan. TTP spokesman Muhammad Omar Khorasani said that “we targeted the school because the Army targets our families. We want them to feel our pain.”
What should the average 20-year-old do about this? Terrorism is only the second biggest threat the world faces today. Number one? Apathy. The general public isn’t concerned about extremism until it happens right at their doorstep. It is not just important for a generation to be educated, it is imperative for it to be enlightened, too. Let this incident at the Army Public School not be a mere trending buzzword in December. Make this the wake-up call for the end of terrorism at large.
There is a downside to going overboard in retaliating to this attack, however. History is proof that what follows a major terrorist attack is the branding of the entire community or nation of the attackers as violent extremists. If we do that, we are no better than the terrorists themselves. Yes, we should be angry, but the anger should be targeted only at those engaging in violence, for if we fall into the realm of stereotyping a community and attacking its innocent members, all we will be doing is, as Griffiths said, “perpetuating the cycle of violence.” Therefore, this generation as a whole should shake off the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality, rise against terrorism, and at the same time put an end to this endless cycle.
Education is the abolishment of ignorance, and the absence of ignorance is the death of terror, because terrorism, at its very core, is perpetrated by weak minds brainwashed by corrupted ideals. The story of Peshawar isn’t over. This calamity was not enough to stop children from receiving their education. In a feat of tremendous heroism and bravery, the children of the Army Public School returned for class on the 12th of January, 2015, after an extended winter break. The government had visited schools around the city in an effort to ensure their security, insisting that each school installs CCTV cameras, higher and stronger walls, and other protective measures.
Around the globe, young minds are at risk of manipulation. These young children, fearlessly going to school in spite of the tragedy they faced, should be seen as the first big step in fighting terror. The survivors of Peshawar have braved great loss, and they have seen the worst the enemy can wreak upon them, and yet they are not afraid. That is the greatest response we as an international society can give to those who attempt to poison and destroy us with fear. Not. Afraid.