Exclusive: Remembering the APS martyrs
It was the bloodiest massacre the country has seen for years. And December 16 marks the first anniversary of the brazen attack that left the whole world shell-shocked. Since the fateful day, country’s security apparatus has undergone radical revamps from ruthless action against militants to execution of compulsive terrorists.
It’s no secret that the attack on a military-run high school attended by more than 1,100 people, many of them children of army personnel, struck at the heart of military establishment.
It took armed forces more than eight hours, after militants slipped into the heavily guarded compound through a back entrance, to clear the building. After over eight hours of the carnage, the army had declared the operation to flush terrorists out over, and said that all nine insurgents had been killed, but the torrent of damage had already done in shape of martyrdom of school staffers and a large number of children.
The operation was wrapped up following intense gun battles as night fell on Peshawar, a teeming, volatile city near the Afghan border.
At least 960 pupils and staff were evacuated during the army operation in the school.
The Taliban, waging war against Pakistan in order to topple the government and enforce an Islamic state and rule, immediately claimed responsibility.
THE APS TRAGEDY – LOOKING BACK IN TIME…
“We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani shortly after the attack.
During the clearance operation, helicopters rumbled overhead, police struggled to hold back distraught parents who were trying to break past a security cordon and get into the school.
The gunmen, who several students said communicated with each other in a foreign language, possibly Arabic, managed to slip past the school’s tight security because at least some of them were wearing Pakistani military uniforms.
Army chief’s anger soared
Army chief Raheel Sharif’s first public remarks after the attack reflected rising anger.
“These terrorists have struck the heart of the nation. But our resolve to tackle this menace has gotten a new lease of life. We will pursue these monsters and their facilitators until they are eliminated for good,” he said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used similarly strong words.
“We will take revenge for each and every drop of our children’s blood that was spilt today,” he said.
Attackers meet fate at the gallows
The security authorities executed four men linked to a massacre with parents of victims saying the convicts deserved “no forgiveness” as the anniversary of the attack approached.
The executions, carried out by hanging on December 2 at a prison in the city of Kohat. These were the first hangings in connection to the school attack.
Militants who met their deadly fate at the gallows were Maulvi Abdus Salam, Hazrat Ali, Mujeebur Rehman and Sabeel, alias Yahya.
Survivors of the assault were “happy” to hear of the executions, with one father saying the hangings should have been carried out in public squares rather than behind prison doors.
The armed forces also carried out numerous airstrikes in violence-prone tribal areas to eliminate terrorists who sneak into Pakistan through Afghanistan and shelter along the border to carry out attacks here.
Military courts resurrected
The barbaric attack prompted a nation-wide crackdown on extremism, with the establishment of military courts and the resumption of capital punishment after a six-year moratorium.
In August 2015, after a trial that took place behind closed doors, the army announced that six militants linked to the assault would be executed, while a seventh was handed a life sentence.
The four executed on December 2 were the first to be hanged after convictions in military courts.
Sense of security returns
A palpable sense of security is returning to Pakistan as a crackdown on militancy bears fruit, but critics warn the government has not taken long-term steps to tackle the underlying scourge of terrorism.
In Pakistan, an offensive against extremists and a grand “National Action Plan” (NAP) to rein in militancy have seen a drop in attacks this year.
The combined results, so far, are persuasive: in 2013 there were 170 reported attacks killing 1,202 people, while in 2014 the figures stood at 110 reported attacks killing 644. The total number of blasts by October this year, however, dropped to 36 with 211 dead.
Also read: APS massacre–the darkest hour before dawn
Story by: Azhar Khan;
Timeline compiled by Shahjahan Khurram and Azhar Khan;
Pictures compiled by: Pyar Ali
Gallery: so many precious lives cut short