TO dwell upon what must have gone through the minds of those connected with Peshawar’s Army Public School, when it reopened yesterday, less than a month after the grotesque Dec 16 massacre, is to be overtaken simultaneously by apprehension and awe.
The former sentiment stems from reasons that are obvious, but it is the latter that dominates because of the immense courage and fortitude shown by the staff, parent body and especially the students of the school.
The horror these premises saw was too much, and took place too recently; too many spoke silently by their absence. Those who had to make such a difficult decision can be offered only the empathy of a nation in mourning, for perhaps there was never really a choice when it came to reopening the school: the darkness that seeks to overcome the country has to be resisted in every way possible — sadly enough, regardless of the enormous personal cost extracted.
The army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, was correct in showing support by visiting the school on the day it reopened, but it is the prime minister who should have been present. It is reasonable to expect the head of government to concern himself with such an event, not for the optics or reasons of politics but out of genuine emotion. Yet, unfortunately, in this country such hopes often turn out to be in vain.
Now that the school’s administration and student body have signalled their desire to turn towards the future, it behoves the government, the army and the polity at large to provide all the help possible.
Most obviously and crucially, there is the need to make available teams of professionals who are easily accessible and can help in grief counselling and countering the effects of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. In the wake of an atrocity of such scale, it is hard enough to imagine adults finding coping mechanisms; for children this appears almost impossible.
If the state is committed to its promises of saving the future of the country ie its children, then this would be a good place to start. The school administration, on its part, can consider methods of catharsis too, one example being the conversion of the auditorium, the main venue of the killings and which has been cordoned off, into a memorial.
Meanwhile, in Peshawar and elsewhere, there is the need for the state to more urgently start beefing up security and step up coordination on gathering intelligence. Educational institutions have been asked to tighten protocols, and they must surely do that. But it is for the government to aggressively counter the central problem: the hydra-headed monster of militancy.
The words that spring to mind come from Pakistan-born British author Nadeem Aslam: “Pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave.”
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2015