PAKISTANI children yesterday returned to the school where Taleban gunmen killed 150 of their classmates and teachers last month, clutching their parents’ hands in a poignant symbol of perseverance despite the horrors they had endured.
It was the first time the school had reopened since the assault, and security was tight.
Pakistan has been reeling from the terrorist attack on 16 December in Peshawar – one of the worst the country has experienced. The killings, carried out by seven Taleban militants, put a spotlight on whether the authorities can end a stubborn insurgency that kills and maims thousands every year. The massacre also horrified parents and prompted officials to implement tighter security at schools.
For Peshawar parents such as Abid Ali Shah, yesterday morning was especially painful as he struggled to get his sons ready for school, something his wife used to do. She was a teacher at the school and was killed in the attack. Both of his sons attended the school. The youngest was shot in the head but survived after the militants thought he was dead.
“A hollowness in my life is getting greater. I am missing my wife,” Mr Shah said.
He said he had wanted to move his children to a different school or city but decided not to because they still have to take exams this spring. “Everything is ruined here, everything,” he said.
His older son, Sitwat Ali Shah, 17, said it was not until he saw his brother break down in tears as they prepared to go to school that he did so too.
Sitwat said both he and his brother have trouble sleeping and often wake up, crying for their mother.
“Those who have done all this to all of us cannot be called humans,” Sitwat said, adding he still wanted to go back to school and become an air force officer. A ceremony was held at the school to mark its reopening, but classes were due to restart today. Security was tight, part of a countrywide effort to boost safety measures at schools in the wake of the attack.
Schools have raised their boundary walls, added armed guards and installed metal detectors, although many have questioned why it took such a massacre to focus attention on school safety.
The government has stepped up military operations in the tribal areas, reinstated the death penalty and allowed military courts to try civilians – all attempts to crack down on terrorism. But in an attack yesterday, gunmen killed seven paramilitary soldiers in the southwestern Baluchistan province, underscoring the dangers the country still faces.
In Peshawar, media and vehicles were kept well away from the Army Public School, which had coils of barbed wire newly installed on top of the compound’s walls, and two helicopters circled overhead.
The chief of Pakistan’s army, General Raheel Sharif, was on hand with his wife to greet and console the students.
Some women brought garlands of flowers and draped them around the children.
Passages from the Koran were read and the national anthem was sung while parents, students and teachers were given a pamphlet about the psychological impact of terror attacks on children.
On social media, some Pakistanis questioned why top government officials were not at the ceremony.