5 years after APS attack, citizens honour victims by advocating for peace

By Javed Khan


Pakistani civil society activists release lanterns into the sky in Lahore on December 15, 2016, as they pay tribute to victims of a terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on the attack's second anniversary. [Arif Ali/AFP]

PESHAWAR -- As Pakistanis mark the fifth anniversary of the deadly attack on the Army Public School (APS), the families of the victims continue to work toward peace and defeating extremism.

More than 150 Pakistanis, mostly children, were killed on December 16, 2014, when Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists stormed the school in Peshawar. More than 110 others were wounded.

Sher Shah Shaheed, a 10th grade student, was among those killed. Ahmad Shah, his brother and an 8th grade student at the time, survived but has been traumatised since.

"My aim is to promote and preach peace in the region through education, for which my son sacrificed his life," said Tufail Khattak, the father of Sher and Ahmad.


Parents and family members of martyrs of APS attack stage a rally outside the Peshawar Press Club December 15 to mark the 5th anniversary of the deadliest attack. [Javed Khan] 


Students who won the Sher Shah Shaheed Talent Award take a photo with Tufail Khattak (left), chairman of the trust, in Chirat, Nowshera, in April. [Courtesy of Tufail Khattak ]

After the massacre, Khattak created the Sher Shah Shaheed Trust and Talent Award for deserving and talented students in his native town of Chirat in Nowshera. The trust awards about 27 students scholarships and shields every year.

This year he is giving nine awards named for Yasir Ullah, he said.

"Yasir was the lone martyr from Chitral in the tragedy, and I wanted to acknowledge his sacrifice and encourage the youth of his district too," said Khattak.

"My son Sher Shah sacrificed his life for education, while my younger son Ahmad Shah is yet to come out of the trauma, but now I want to support the education of my other children [talented and deserving students]," said Khattak.

Education is the solution to every problem, especially for changing extremist mindsets, he said.

"I want to support the education as well as sporting activities of children from my village, district and other areas," said Khattak.

Meanwhile, Fazal Khan Advocate, the father of Sahibzada Umar Khan, who was killed, has set up a free hospital for poor patients in his native Murshid Abad locality in Peshawar.

"My son wanted to become a doctor and treat the deserving patients for free. I set up the hospital to honour my promise to him," he said.

Honouring the victims

Workers installed portraits of the victims in different places of Peshawar ahead of the fifth anniversary. Events are taking place at government schools named for the victims.

A number of groups and organisations have arranged torch-bearing rallies, seminars, walks and other events.

"On 16 December seminar of the parents in Peshawar for the martyed [sic] children in the hall of the public library," tweeted Yousaf Anwar, a KP social media user.

Top officials in Islamabad and Peshawar honoured the anniversary.

Pakistan's president, prime minister and army chief all issued remembrances of the tragic day.

"The blood of the innocent united the nation against all forms of extremism, terrorism, violence and hatred," said Prime Minister Imran Khan in a statement on the fifth anniversary.

Five of the culprits have been hanged, said Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa in a tweet, adding, "Salute to martyrs and their families."

The KP government set Monday (December 16) as a day of solidarity with the APS martyrs.

"The martyrs of the APS are our heroes who sacrificed their lives to foil the nefarious designs of the terrorists," said Ziaullah Bangash, adviser to the KP chief minister on education. Bangash directed all the schools in the province to hold special ceremonies to pay tribute to the young heroes.

"We continue to light the candle of education in the province and the rest of the country that the terrorists wanted to snuff out ... but failed to do so," said Bangash. The entire nation and its institutions stand united to eliminate terrorism from the country after the APS tragedy, he added.

Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, a former federal interior minister, paid tribute to the APS martyrs and survivors in a statement. "The tragedy united the entire nation against terrorists," said Sherpao, who himself survived at least three suicide bombings targeting him. "The nation will always remember the sacrifice of the young heroes."

Ever vigilant

"We have upgraded the security of the sensitive places and the educational institutions on the anniversary," said Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Peshawar Mohammad Ali Gandapur.

Police have regularly checked school security the past few years to protect students and teachers, he said.

Security forces have routinely carried out search and strike operations since the government inaugurated the counter-terrorism National Action Plan (NAP) shortly after the APS massacre, said Gandapur.

"Incidents of terrorism are decreasing each year, and and the figures for this year are the lowest in many years," said Kokab Farooq, spokesman for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Police.

No major terrorist attack has occurred in KP so far in 2019, he added.

"The overall incidents of terrorism [nationwide] decreased from 75 in the first 10 months of 2018 to 72 during the current year," said Farooq.

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