Remembering the 144 we lost to Peshawar massacre

Shahzeb was 12, Awais Nasir 14; Khoula Nasir was merely six years old when they were killed on December 16, 2014.

 |  Tarar Square  |  6-minute read |   16-12-2015
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Khoula was six years old, and that was her first day at school. She was the only girl student who was killed that day.

Shahzeb was 12; he died trying to protect his friends that day.

Awais Nasir, 14, had a premonition about his death months before he was killed on that day.

Ahmed Mujtaba, 15, had four unworn suits hanging in his closet. He was among those who were killed that day.

Adnan Hussian, 16, was wearing his father’s brand-new sneakers on that day. Seriously injured, he was found wearing one shoe when he was found lying in blood. He dies two days later.

"Eighth-grader Uzair Ali saw the attackers and leapt to shield his friends by lying on top of them. He was killed; shot 13 times, but he managed to save his companions.14-year-old Fahad Hussain opened a door so his friends could run out. He stayed by the door making sure everyone was evacuated. He was gunned down while doing so.” (Dawn, Pakistan)

The stories of those 144 young lives...

It all seems like it happened a moment ago. That one moment that stretched itself into an eternity of pain that is like a scream stuck in a loop, playing over and over and over again. There is no closure. There never will be. There is no closure when a parent buries a child. There is no healing of pain when a mother bathes the bloodstained body of her six-year-old daughter. There is no pause to grief when a father bathes the bullet-riddled body of his 14-year-old son. There is no process of justice that balms the wound of losing a loved one to the bullet of a terrorist. There is no condolence, commiseration, message of solidarity that heals the wound that cuts deep into the soul. Army Public School, Peshawar, Pakistan.

144 lives were taken. 144 young lives that were so brutally taken no words would ever suffice to make sense of any bit of that day in hell. Those 144 became the face of that one day that changed Pakistan forever. Those 144 lives became the stories of unheard-of bravery, indescribable sacrifice, heartbreaking fear, soul-numbing helplessness, and the unleashing of terror that has a few parallels in the recent bloodstained history of that most sublime of divine creations: man. Man who sinks so low at times, it is hard to breathe trying to comprehend… why do people do what they do?

 Pakistan mourns today. And Pakistan has mourned every single day since December 16, 2014. And Pakistan will mourn for many more December 16s. May the souls of our 144 martyrs rest in the best of heaven. May their families find strength within themselves to keep living with that perpetual, that irreparable loss. May there never be another December 16, 2014 in Pakistan. Or anywhere else.

The whole narrative of tackling terrorism changed when those 144 graves were dug in Pakistan. And there has been no looking back. The government and armed forces-endorsed National Action Plan came into implementation, and the elimination of terrorism took on a whole new connotation. The vow to end terrorism became the rallying force, as Pakistan came together like never before.

To carry out swift and foolproof cases against alleged terrorists, military courts received democratic endorsement, and moratorium on capital punishment was lifted, giving way to a long line of hangings, raising eyebrows and concern from human rights organisations. The Pakistani nation supported the strictest possible punishment for those who killed its children, and terror in all forms became condemnable, sans any pretext, sans any ifs and buts. The compartmentalisation of “good” and “bad” terrorists was buried under a demand for uniform treatment of all who wreaked havoc on innocent, unarmed people.

Much changed in the last one year. And not much changed in the last one year. That basic flaw remains, like a metastasising cancer that eats on a body but goes unnoticed. Or is deemed too far-gone to be treatable. While convicted terrorists have been hanged, security paradigm has been strengthened, terror acts have decreased, and much cheer is heard at each hanging, there is one hydra-headed monster that goes unnoticed. Unchallenged. That of indoctrination. That of radicalisation. That of creating schisms on the basis of faith, ideology and nationality. That of glorifying violence on innocent mortal beings with the promise of a divine reward. That of teaching of the killing of those that are in opposition to the indoctrinated views. That of brainwashing young, gullible minds, turning them into killing machines. That of unleashing mayhem for purposes of hegemony camouflaging it in the name of God. That of distorting the pragmatism of religion to justify the massacre of people. That of endorsement of killing of non-Muslims making it a holy war. That of dividing the world into them-versus-us. That of massacring children in the name of revenge, to inflict pain that has no end.

Pakistan will change the day this hydra-headed monster is eliminated. The indescribable enormity of the massacre of December 16, 2014 will never be forgotten, but there is only one real condolence message that may bring some solace to those 144 families: finish the system of indoctrination that produces killers who took those 144 lives. Nothing will assuage the pain of those 144 families, but there is one mechanism to ensure December 16, 2014 is never ever replicated: stop the radicalisation of the impressionable minds of Pakistanis.

No amount of outrage and punishment will bring those 144 martyrs back, but surely there is some consolation in eradication of the systematic brainwashing of young people who think it is jihad to kill people in the name of religion. Be it New York, London, Bali, Nairobi, Paris, Bangkok, Kabul, Mumbai, or Peshawar, terror has no name, no gains, no victor. Each act of terror is wrong, each life taken by an act of terror is to be mourned, each perpetrator is to be condemned, and each terrorist is to be punished. When the pain of losing a loved one to terror is identical in all nations, how is terrorism to be compartmentalised? When the pain of burying a loved one lost to an act of terror is indistinguishable in all countries, how is terrorism to be differentiated? When the pain of living without a loved one is an open wound in people of all religions or those without any, how, under any pretext, is terrorism to be justified?

Until we state categorically, until we stand together without any ambivalence, and until we say in unison what humanity is, and Islam teaches us, nothing will change in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: “Whoever kills a person (unjustly)…it is as though he has killed all mankind.” - Holy Quran 5:32


Mehr Tarar Mehr Tarar @mehrtarar

A former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Pakistan, and a freelance columnist.

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