Inconceivable courage

Published January 17, 2015
January 12, 2015, students of APS Peshawar, Class Nine, back in school!
January 12, 2015, students of APS Peshawar, Class Nine, back in school!

The students of Army Public School Peshawar return to school this week, as do millions of other children around Pakistan. Let us recognise the sacrifice of the martyrs and the courage and resilience of the survivors with a personal account of that tragic day last month

On December 16, 2014, just as on any regular weekday, I packed my bag and left for school which is just ten minutes’ walk from my home. Apparently it was just another ordinary day for me but who knew what tragedy was going to take place.

I am in class nine and am the captain of one of the houses of our school, so I was on duty during the morning assembly and we all went to our classes after it. We studied for the first three periods and at the start of fourth period, the school peon came to our class and asked us to go to the auditorium. We became very happy that this meant we would be missing some of our classes, but we didn’t know what lay ahead.

Taking my bag from the class when I visited the school on December 20, 2014
Taking my bag from the class when I visited the school on December 20, 2014

I, being the house captain, kept on standing while all my classmates took their seats. Class eight, nine and ten were there in the auditorium.

The programme had just started and when our principal was giving the initial address before the lecture on first aid that we were going to attend, we heard some gunfire from the back of our auditorium.

Everyone freaked out and I asked my teacher what was going on. He told me to relax and said that the army may probably be doing a drill. I became satisfied that there was nothing to worry about.

After five minutes, when the army doctor came on the stage and started his lecture, I heard the noise of somebody violently kicking the back-door of the auditorium. I was standing in the aisle, and started walking towards the front row. After two or three kicks, the door was knocked down, and some seven to eight terrorists entered and started firing blindly.

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Those were the most horrific moments of my life. I could see many of my friends screaming amidst all the shooting. The doctor had come off the stage, and opened the front door from where he managed to escape. Some 30 to 40 students also managed to escape from this door but many others fell down — some after getting shot, others due to all the stampede that took place as all the students tried to get out of the auditorium through that one door.

Fate wanted to save me. I was absolutely fine till I felt my left ear bleeding profusely and my shirt turned red. Teachers were especially being targeted. I kept on walking towards the door, till I saw my English teacher, Madam Samina, lying down. Even my black shoes had turned red by this time. She asked me to come and lie down with her so that the terrorists don’t come to know that both of us are alive. I did just as she said and both of us feigned death.

I could hear children screaming and bullets being fired for another 15-20 minutes. I kept on reciting the Holy Kalimah as I realised those could be my last moments. I was terrified!

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The guns became silent and the screams were no more being heard. I took a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived. Suddenly I heard a couple of bullets being fired every other second till I was kicked brutally. I didn’t move or even whine. It was a matter of two lives! I was kicked twice again but I stayed glued to the teacher and my blood had stained her clothes too. I kept on lying there for around 15 more minutes till I heard some students whispering. I opened my eyes, looked around and stood up. A few of my friends were taking the last breaths of their life — they were so close to me but I could not help them!

The terrorists had left the auditorium by then, and all students who were alive went wherever they thought it would be safe. I decided to go to the dressing room that was on right side of the stage. Madam Samina also came along. There I saw two more teachers lying down and two unarmed soldiers too. One of the teachers, who was the wife of a senior military officer, asked the soldiers to phone her husband and ask him to send the rescue team.

Editorial: Death for terrorism

We were unlucky once again. One of the terrorist overheard what she had just said. Out of nowhere, he entered the dressing room and started firing towards that teacher and the two soldiers. They were martyred on the spot!

Madam Samina had already left the dressing room through another door and the third teacher was hiding besides a wooden table, so she was saved too. Three of my friends were also fired upon, but either he deliberately turned a blind eye towards the rest of us or he thought we are dead, and, miraculously, we survived.

Just as he left the dressing room, I felt something burning just besides me. The teacher who has asked the soldiers to phone her husband was on fire! He had thrown some chemical on her that caught fire. I tried to put out the fire with a piece of cloth I found nearby but it was of no use. The fire started to spread and it became very difficult for us to remain inside this wooden dressing room. We had to leave because if it weren’t those shameless animals, it was the fire which was going to kill us. A teacher, six of my classmates, Baqir, Ansaar, Arsalan, Waseem, Sartaj, Awwal and Hadi, and I left the dressing room to return to the auditorium and came on the stage. I lay down there among the dead and injured for almost 20 minutes, till one student shouted that the army had arrived.

I saw two soldiers standing at the back door. I asked them to come in the auditorium and rescue some children who are injured but they said that they could not enter right then, rather we should come out. I helped two of my friends, Baqir and Ansaar, who were severely bleeding, to leave the hall. Baqir had a head injury while Ansaar’s right forearm had a bullet wound. I tightly grabbed the forearm of Ansaar because it was bleeding heavily.

When we came out of the auditorium, the soldiers told us to go to the back road where an Edhi ambulance was waiting. It took us to the Lady Reading Hospital, from where I was shifted to the military hospital. I underwent a three-hour operation as the plastic surgeon tried to stitch the two separated parts of my ear. Alhamdulillah, the operation was a success and my ear is almost normal in shape now!

Ten out of 28 of my classmates embraced martyrdom. As I write all this, I cannot stop my tears as the nostalgic memories of all my martyred friends keep on hurting me. It pains to see mothers moaning for their lost children and to see some of my injured friends still on hospital beds.

But we are a nation of the strongest spirit. All such dastardly attacks not only strengthen our resilience, but also multiply our determination to fight these miscreants.

I look forward to attending my school again and we will go in the highest of spirits, though we won’t ever forget the ones who have left us for good. Although I accept with a heavy heart that yes Pakistan bleeds, let’s promise that we will emerge as an army of 190 million people in order to heal our bleeding motherland.

Yes, we can do it! Pakistan zindabad!

A few names have been changed due to privacy concerns.

The writer standing outside the auditorium, where the highest number of casualties took place
The writer standing outside the auditorium, where the highest number of casualties took place
Glimpse of the first day APS Peshawar reopens …

On January 12, 2015, I went to school along with my mother at 8am, as the school administration had invited the students as well as their parents to attend the reopening ceremony of our beloved school. I had already visited my school a couple of times after the attack, but this time I was going in the uniform, which brought back the poignant memories of the black day!

When I entered my school, I saw posters and pictures of the martyred ones, which brought tears to my eyes because I used to see all of them in the morning assembly, in the classrooms, as well as during the break time.

There was tight security that day and a helicopter was hovering over the school.

When I went inside the school, I saw many students and parents standing in the assembly ground. I went to the line where my other class fellows were standing. I felt delighted when I saw my friends after about one month. All the students talked to one another and shared their stories about what happened to them and how were they rescued.

After some time, the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif arrived and met parents, students and faculty members. In the assembly we recited the National Anthem and some students recited the poem of Allama Iqbal “Lub pe ati hai dua ban ke tumanna meri”.

After the assembly, all the teachers met the students and their parents. It was good to rejoin the school and spend some time with our teachers and class fellows, but the memories of those who were no more with us, kept on paining all of us.

My friends and I also went around the school to the auditorium and classes. After meeting all my friends and teachers, we left for home around 11.30am!

There will be no regular classes in our school this week as it has been dedicated to the martyred students and staff. We will make posters and charts and paste them in our respective classes.

Long live Army Public School, Warsak Road Peshawar!

Published in Dawn, Young World, January 17th, 2015


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