Children return to Army Public School in Peshawar
PESHAWAR: Child survivors of Pakistan´s worst ever terrorist attack returned to the school on Monday, where Taliban militants massacred their classmates, with both the students and their parents expressing a mixture of defiance and apprehension.
The December 16 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar by a group of gunmen and suicide bombers claimed the lives of 150 people, mostly children, and prompted a bout of national soul-searching.
Across the country, schools had remained shut for an extended winter break as authorities beefed up security measures.
For 16-year-old Shahrukh Khan, who was shot in both legs while pretending to play dead in his school´s auditorium, going back was traumatic.
“I have lost 30 of my friends, how I will sit in the empty class, how I will look to their empty benches,” he told AFP before the school reopened.
“My heart has been broken. All the class fellows I had, have died, now my heart does not want to attend school,” he added.
At least 20 soldiers were seen at the main entry point of the Army Public School, with an airport-style security gate installed at the front.
Elevated boundary walls with steel wire fencing have been put in place in some schools around Peshawar and nationwide as staff rang bells to signal the start of the day.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif made an unannounced visit with his wife, greeting students with handshakes and hugs.
Parents spoke of having to sit down with their children and mentally prepare them for their return to the school, which has undergone a complete renovation to remove all traces of the bloody attack.
“He was terrified but we talked him up, we can not keep him imprisoned between four walls and we must stand against militancy,” Muhammad Zahoor said as he walked his son along the main Warsak Road.
“I want to go to school to see my friends, I will join the army after my schooling and will take revenge,” said Muhammad Zaid, his son.
Of the 150 victims killed in Pakistan´s deadliest-ever attack, 134 were children.
Survivors recounted Taliban gunmen moving from room to room hunting for students and teachers, sometimes toying with them and pretending they would let them go, before lining them up and executing them in front of their peers.
Like Muhammad Zaid, many struck a defiant note.
“I am not scared, no force can stop me from going to attend my school, I will go and will tell the attackers, ´we are not afraid of you´,” 16-year-old Zahid Ayub, who sustained minor wounds, told AFP.
Meanwhile other parents across Pakistan spoke of their fears in a key psychological moment for the nation.
“Driving to school in the light of a quietly subdued rising sun. There´s a kind of stillness in the air. It sounds like a million mothers saying a silent prayer as they drop their babies to school. Stay safe. Stay safe,” wrote Saima Jamil Ashraf, a parent in Karachi, on Instagram.