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Pakistan's schools of sorrow

Published Dec 16, 2014 09:42pm


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An injured student lies in bed at a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. -AFP
An injured student lies in bed at a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. -AFP

They began the day in their school uniforms, they ended it in burial shrouds.

On the morning of December 16, 2014, it was exam time at the Army Public School in Peshawar and most of the students were inside the examination hall where they would take their tests.

The night before, there must have been much cramming, much last minute memorisation, much anxiety about how they would fare.

Their minds would have been focused on doing the best they could, scoring the highest marks. They did not expect to die.

Also read: 'I saw death so close': student recalls Peshawar school carnage

The assailants who came to kill them scaled a wall adjoining a graveyard. Once inside, they fired in the schoolyard dispersing the students that remained there.

Then, they came to the examination hall.

To save themselves, the students hit the ground, their young bodies aligning with the earth to evade the bullets that sought their bodies. But the killers had come to kill; according to eyewitnesses, there was no hurried or haphazard showering of bullets.

The killers killed one by one, pointing their guns at one child and then another, watching their bodies flinch and fail. Later, when the corpses would be counted, they would number over a hundred.

Also read: Militant siege of Peshawar school over, at least 141 killed

In the aftermath, the children are gone, silenced and buried. The country is in mourning, stunned again, shaken again, angered again at the barbarity that lives within and spawns such death.

Outrage is an easy emotion in Pakistan and after a decade of terrorist attacks almost a habit; when the tears dry up as tears do, little changes.

Were we not locked into this cycle of act, outrage and forgetfulness, the imminence of an attack such as this one would have long been acknowledged, its probability seen as high, its likelihood necessitating preparation and security.

There were numbers that told of the possibility; a report issued by the Global Coalition for the Protection of Education earlier this year noted that in the years between 2009 and 2012 there were 800 attacks on schools in Pakistan.

Not one or two, but 800 warnings of the carnage to come, boxed away, set aside, pushed away to the back pages of newspapers, the recesses of consciousness.

In pictures: Tears, loss and despair for our children

In the years after the bombing of Hiroshima, the Japanese created a memorial to the victims. Painstakingly, they collected the bits and pieces of the belongings left behind by the dead so they would be a reminder to the living of the near limitless depths of human depravity.

The most touching, the most poignant and the most heartbreaking of the collection are the belongings of the many dead children; schoolbooks with work half done, lunchboxes with food half eaten, last uniforms worn in final moments.

Those children are dead too, but at least they are remembered and memorialised; theirs is an immortal innocence that speaks decades later and chastises humanity for its criminal apathy.

In Pakistan’s surfeit of victims, young and old and all innocent, no such retrospection can be expected. In the escalating horror of each attack, there is no room to enshrine the particularity of each victim, one schoolboy’s face frozen in death mixes with another teacher’s gunned down corpse.

We look away, we sigh, we shrug and we move on.

In the meantime, the attacks continue, a panorama of pain for Pakistan, a country identified by its maimed and massacred schoolchildren.



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Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (41) Closed

Krish Chennai Dec 16, 2014 10:05pm

Yeah, seek not to find for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. We can live with the pain.

AHA Dec 16, 2014 10:09pm

It is extremely important that we honestly and sincerely try to understand the causes of our problems, and then make concerted efforts to fix them. We must not let our children suffer because of our ineptness.

harsh Dec 16, 2014 10:40pm

Reminds me of the mumbai attack, I was and still to some point full of poison towards Pakistan, but this snake of terrorism affects everyone, whether hindu or muslim, these innocent poor kids who had nothing to do with religion, boundry, border, politics, why they should be targeted, my heart goes out for these lost souls and their grieving families, may god bless them and give them strength and may such evil people who plan these attacks should die a slow painful death. Very sad day not just for Pakistan but for whole humanity.

Rashid Dec 16, 2014 10:44pm
  1. Amend the constitution so that Pakistan is a secular nation, and religion practiced indoors only.
  2. There are no "good terrorists" and "bad terrorists" - there are only terrorists.
  3. Outlaw the owning of weapons such as semi-automatic guns by the public. After this, sanitize neighborhood after neighborhood of illegal weapons.
  4. Support moderate Islam, and by implication, reject the fundamentalists.

Maybe - just maybe - with these, the country can survive the forces ripping it apart.

Singh Dec 16, 2014 10:46pm

Extremely sad to read this news. Unable to describe how i feel in words...terrible..

Jay Dec 16, 2014 10:52pm

Such potential .. lost forever ... may they rest in peace. There is nothing we can even offer to the affected parents except our prayers ....

Pradeep Sinha Dec 16, 2014 11:09pm

My condolences to the nation, and to those who lost loved ones.

While nothing good can come out of mass murders such as these, I hope ordinary peace loving people in Pakistan will realize that India is not the enemy. The enemy is within Pakistan, and it is these barbaric Taliban groups.

Sabeen Saad Dec 16, 2014 11:12pm

@harsh We (Indians and Pakistanis) have a lot of poison towards each other, most times. But I for one appreciate your and many Indians words of sympathy and empathy. Maybe some day, probably not in my lifetime or even my grand kids- we will look past our past, and India and Pakistan could-be.

The heart is very heavy today...and yes a very sad day for humanity. May Allah give peace to the grieving families and the victims. And i pray these monsters, the lot of them, pay for their crimes- in this world and then the next world where they rot in a never ending black hole till the end of end.

Arun Dec 16, 2014 11:26pm

I am sorry lill angels...was not there to protect sleep now for us we will weep in this guilt to the grave

shahid Dec 17, 2014 12:29am


Amend the constitution so that Pakistan is a secular nation, and religion practiced indoors only.

And how is that going to fix the problems? The last time I checked Sri Lanka was and still is a secular state and none of the Tamil Tigers had received any education in the madressahs. Nor are there any muahideen fighting in Satish Garh and Jharkhand India. And of course India is a declared secular state since 1947.

Salim Khan Dec 17, 2014 12:56am

I am heart broken and lost and I am not sure if I would ever recover from this tragedy.

Prayers from India Dec 17, 2014 01:14am

In the words of Gulzar Sahab, "Apnee marzee se toh mazhab bhi nahin usne chuna tha, uska mazhab tha jo maa baap se hee usne viraasat mein liya tha..."

Peace. Children of Pakistan.

Shiveta Sharma Dec 17, 2014 02:52am

Can't control my tears. Its painful, its unbearable. Does Jehad means killing of innocent people, young kids? No religion teach this and its unacceptable. What was their fault who were attacked by terrorist? They have no religion. May God give them peace and courage to the families who lost their young kids. Please stop killing innocent people.

shamajids Dec 17, 2014 03:51am

My heart cries to read suffering of these children and their parents. The mind rages to eliminate the evil forces behind this terrorism but the soul pulls back in the grief and sadness. The humanity has suffered from immense loss in the form of these bright kids of Peshawar.

independentthinker Dec 17, 2014 04:12am

Very well written! Something inside me tells me things are about to change! This massacre is not the same as others. One can only take so much. Pakistan will not sit quiet. Our people will not let this slip by. The whole world is watching. As much it kills me to think of all those innocent lives lost, they will not go in vain. Their sacrifice will bring some positive results for the rest of us. It is a rude awakening - but something that had to come. I can see a bright future for Pakistan - it could take time, but it will happen. Our people are going to bring a change - I promise.

tri Dec 17, 2014 06:50am

declare war on terrorism if not now when?

tri Dec 17, 2014 06:50am

eliminate all terrorists please

tri Dec 17, 2014 06:52am

PM this is war on children stop this flush out all terrorists

Mohammad Adam Khan Dec 17, 2014 07:07am

This was not the first incident or nor the last. It happens when nation has gone, far away from realities. ~Adam~

Nageshwara Dec 17, 2014 07:16am

Extremely sad.....Going after kids is sheer madness and poor reflection of the society.

gautam Dec 17, 2014 07:25am

Oh my Gosh!!!! Poor little kids...Please End this Mayhem....If this rude wakeup call doesn't shake up then what else can! This is the worst that can ever happen. Beautiful Lil Lil angels, What harm have they done to fall prey to a diabolic wicked mind. Please put aside politics. There is no place for it. All the powers must get into act and eliminate this EVIL EVIL EVIL. SAVE LIVES...SAVE YOUNG ONES...My heart goes out to them and their parents. May their soul rest in peace.

Nitin Dec 17, 2014 07:40am

@Rashid You should be the Prime Minister of Pakistan

Shyam Dec 17, 2014 07:48am

Nothing can be more painful than the loss of young ones. The hands that experienced the joy of lifting and playing with those tiny ones tremble with limitless grief while laying the little ones to eternal rest.

We must not forget the joy or the pain. This should start a revolution to shun hatred and violence and seek peace and prosperity of all.

Joe FL Dec 17, 2014 07:52am

@independentthinker "I can see a bright future for Pakistan - it could take time, but it will happen. Our people are going to bring a change - I promise."

Please, a note from the USA. We are grieving so deeply for the innocent children who have been lost and for their parents who will suffer all the rest of their lives.

We are all one people in this humanity and in this tiny world of ours.

Subhash Dec 17, 2014 08:30am

If Pakistan government doesn't wake up now, there will be no coming back from this abyss. Let us understand that we are not fighting humans here. These are no different to cold robots and must be destroyed, not just punished. Thank you for a heart felt article. The question is, do we have words to describe if these monsters strike again?

Dr. Sadaf Dec 17, 2014 09:07am

It is a cruel wake up call for the concerned authorities, innocent human life is more important than business interests.

Sunil Dec 17, 2014 09:36am

Now there will constant fear in every school of Pakistan, and who knows parents might stop sending children.

Bye Bye Dec 17, 2014 10:17am


For sixty seven years all so called leaders have done the same, "promised change". Yes, change they did, their bank accounts balances has changed to higher numbers than before.

cognizance Dec 17, 2014 10:21am

By dear younger Brothers of Pakistan...crush this evil...crush them now..before more damage happens....i as an indian and more importantly as a brother of the same civilizational womb that gave birth to our countries stand firmly beside you all in this effort against such pure evil...remember that there are no good or bad terrorists....eliminate them and south asia shall see a new dawn.The prosperity of South Asia lies through the sword called Pakistan.Only you can eliminate them...only you.

Jack Dec 17, 2014 10:22am

We can only get rid of these perverts if we hang them in the street. Slaughter them with half of their head tied to the their neck and hang their slaughtered bodies in the street to be a lesson for others. The government captures these terrorist and keep them in hiding and God know where they go after theyare caught. This is the only way to deal with them. I do not understand why if anyone has a problem in Uzbikistan, Azarbaijan, Afghanistan and Kashmir they come to Pakistan to blow themselves and play with our innocent lives. We should have tougher border control to tackle the influx of these terrorist. My thoughts and prayers are with families whose innocent kids became the target of our weak governance. Waiting for a better day!

Hala Tahir Dec 17, 2014 10:54am

We have no words to express our sorrow and we cant' even imagine the pain of the parents and families who have lost their children and loved one's. Our hearts bleed for our innocent children. The whole nation cries for them. This is the time for all the political parties to put aside their conflicts and come together and unite and punish those monsters.

Sarbari Gomes Dec 17, 2014 12:16pm

We in India are heartbroken and enraged and angry and pained. They are our children too.. With the people of Pakistan in this terrible hour.

ateeq malik Dec 17, 2014 12:18pm

We protest and condemn the inhuman, brutality, barbarity in Peshawer, we can not even imagine the condition of those parents who sent their beloved childrens in uniform and found them in kafan later. It is time to come out of this quagmire because terror in Pakistan needs to be fought with unity.

HeartbrokenIndian Dec 17, 2014 01:48pm

I like to believe I am a tough man.. tears don't come to me easily, but I wept unabashedly as I read saw this news on TV yesterday. So many lovely, innocent children murdered in cold blood. Indian or Pakistani - a terrorist's bullet pierces our flesh just the same. My prayers with the fallen children and my heart felt condolences to the grieving parents. I can't even begun to think what they must be feeling..

vijaychennai Dec 17, 2014 01:49pm

Not only the terrorists kill the children, they also killed the parents, the siblings, the grand parents, and all the relatives. RIP.

Juror # 8 Dec 17, 2014 02:58pm

I have to say that its a tragic incident but it's deserving because we never value the blood of others and took no measures to eliminate the threat to innocent people, just because they are Hazaras, Ahmadis, Shia & Christians. 22 September 2013: Militants linked to the Taliban kill at least 80 people at a church in Peshawar, in one of the worst attacks on Christians. 10 January 2013: Militant bombers target the Hazara Shia Muslim minority in the city of Quetta, killing 120 at a snooker hall and on a street. 28 May 2010: Gunmen attack two mosques of the minority Ahmadi Islamic sect in Lahore, killing more than 80 people. Bravo we deserve this because we have become an inhumane nation, doing nothing except when it happens in our homes. Blood of innocent Hazaras, Ahmadis, Shia & Christians curses us and we are indeed in Wrath of God.

Harsh Verma Dec 17, 2014 03:00pm

This is very devastating and inhuman act by Talibans. This shows how coward they are. Now a days terror attacks world over is very common but I never ever thought of these kind of brutal killings of innocents. It seems this is the beginning of targeting children. Who have not seen enough in their life. Terrorists can repeat the same kind of massacre in future anywhere so we should be alert now. May GOD give peace to all departed souls.

Amarnath Dec 17, 2014 03:01pm

my first kid is just a month and a half. we are deciding whether to put our son in the school.... and my heart can't accept that i would be leaving such little one in a day care with 20 other kids. I can't imagine what the parents of these little departed souls would be going through.

with every ounce of strength that every ordinary pakistani can muster, talk and ask your leaders and yourselves, how this can be changed

Shiva Dec 17, 2014 03:49pm

May god grant eternal peace to the departed souls. Those beautiful children lost their lives because of the wrong policies of the governments. Pakistan should declare itself as secular nation and abolish blasphemy law as soon as possible.

Ijaz Dec 17, 2014 03:52pm

Everybody I have spoken to says that the terrorists could not be Muslims to do this. If this is the case what has happened to their bodies. I would burn them and dump the ashes in a rubbish truck. After all why do non muslims need a jannazah?

observer Dec 18, 2014 01:33pm


And you have found that Children are being massacred in Satish Garh (where ever that is)?

Have you?