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APS, one year on

PESHAWAR: In a strong display of unity, top political and military leadership attended the memorial service for the victims of the Army Public School (APS) massacre.

Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif entered alongside Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Also on hand were chief ministers Qaim Ali Shah (Sindh), Shahbaz Sharif (Punjab), Pervez Khattak (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Abdul Malik Baloch (Balochistan) and Hafeezur Rehman (Gilgit Blatistan). Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf head Imran Khan was also present. The purpose of the event was twofold: one, to reflect on the horrific attack, honour the brave who were felled and partake, however possible, in the burden of grief their families are carrying; two, to declare the national resolve and defiance in the face of terrorism until the threat is eradicated.

Each and every victim of that day, from the noble Principal Tahira Qazi who died refusing to let the attackers reach more students, to the valiant teenaged boys saving their friends, to the gardener who rushed back to evacuate more children, was remembered with fond memories. In a ceremony lasting four hours, their parents and siblings were received by this leadership; there are no words to capture the heartbreak and agony in their steps or the confusion still in their eyes, a year on.

APS students hosted the event, narrating each individual’s name and offering a glimpse into their lives. Every so often, a hadith would be recited or a quote from the Quran. As the sun rose over the heads of those present melting the ice on the chairs, it became impossible not to wonder when the state’s incapacity would disappear. Facing the crowd was the memorial to the victims, two towers, one laid on its side, connected by an installation of beautiful cranes about to take flight. The dead have been released from their pain, it seemed to say.

Yet the anger of the affected families is palpable. Speaking to Daily Times all week, parents and families have demanded answers to questions and argue they have not seen justice meted out. “I am not satisfied with the hangings of the four men [convicted of collaboration on the APS attack]. Bring them here, bring them to this school and hang them here,” one father declared. “My son called me from the school, shot and hiding, saying he was thirsty,” another father recalled. “I showed up to the school with two guns but was not allowed in. How can I tell you how helplessness is the worst feeling as a parent? Have I failed?” he cried.

Mehran Khan is a 14-year old student at APS, and speaks with maturity beyond his years. “If the National Action Plan had been launched before this attack, perhaps this never would have happened.” The 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) crafted just days after the attack, was welcomed as a milestone, yet has remained sluggish this past year. Today the prime minister announced December 16 will be a national day for Qaumi Azm-e-Taleem, or the resolve to promote education. He also announced schools and colleges across the Islamabad Capital Territory will be renamed after the victims of the APS attack.

Talking to this reporter, a group of mothers had only one message. Symbolism would not be enough. “You [the media] have the voice in this country. So tell them that we are not proud of this sacrifice our children made.

We would have wanted them to be with us. Each morning we wake up wishing they could be there.” “We want this government to do everything to stop this from happening again.

Let no other family be torn apart like this. From your Punjab to our Peshawar, just end this.”

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