The road leading towards Warsak dam just outside Peshawar is familiar; I have visited friends in the area, I have spent several sunny, winter afternoons in their garden, marveling at the wonder of nature which bursts forth with its bounty even when the soil seems to have been frozen hard with winter cold. I have sat on the swing in the corner of that garden and looked up at the sky, blue, cloudless, kites and eagles soaring on outspread wings, owning the firmament. And I have felt whole; I felt I belonged as I unraveled the knots in my heart in the warmth of that kindness, that friendship which caresses the raw parts of those of us who choose to wander through life alone.

Today, the sky is grey, much as the landscape of my heart is desolate. I have stood outside the gate of the Army Public School on Warsak Road and hesitated to ask the soldier guarding it if I could get a glimpse of the site where carnage took so many young lives, and those of their guardians as well. It was a long while before I turned away, not wanting to be a part of the voyeurism which has followed disaster upon disaster in this, our bleeding, beloved homeland. Instead, I walked along the wall of this school, wondering at the moments before life came to a sudden standstill, when death painted the walls inside in colours we would not want to remember but which stain our memory nevertheless.

I stood at a certain point along the wall where scaffolding had been erected to enable masons to add layer upon layer of brick, sealing our failures in the fissures between cement and baked earth. How high a wall would keep out the menace which has taken the lives of over 50,000 Pakistani citizens? Shall this wall carry a crown of thorns, those rolls of barbed wire reminiscent of other walls, in other times, other places, aimed to keep some out, to keep others in? Will the extra layers of bricks eliminate the terrible scourge that has plagued us like a virulent disease, eating up desperately needed resources, destroying a sense of the collective? Did we even have a sense of the collective will? A collective heart? A collective destiny?


Blood stains grow darker and dry up, bodies are buried, vigils end, questions remain unanswered and life goes on …


Across the winding road is a mud hut with a green door, padlocked with a heavy chain to the doorframe. The door is fashioned crudely, rough yet functional, intended to protect those within by keeping those on the outside at a safe distance. Is this where the attackers of the Army Public School in Peshawar stayed the night? Is this where they planned this act, sketching out the details on the uneven dirt floor of its courtyard? Is this where they dreamt of the reward they would be granted once their deed was done and they were transported to the place they believed was rightfully their destiny?

The road outside the school appears to lead to a small settlement comprising simple two-roomed houses, their inhabitants probably eking out a life living at the edge of the city’s irrigation canal. Who are the people living here? How do they make a living? Where are the women and children when their men go to work? Is there a hospital near by where they could seek health care? Is there a school which would admit their children? Have these children been immunised from dreaded diseases like measles and polio? Who are these people who live here, across the wall where so many young lives were snuffed out in an instant? Did they hear the gunshots, the cries, the dull thud of falling bodies? Did they hear the life escaping from bludgeoned bodies, bleeding into the cracks of the cold cement floor? Did they hear the desperate pleas for help?


I shall not ask for I know that the answers shall not usher in the urgency needed to root out the evil which has been planted amongst us by those who claim to be our own, those who sit on the various commissions and pontificate on a national security policy.


I shall not be asking these questions, knowing that the answers shall not undo the terrible wrong committed here and in other parts of this blighted land. I shall not ask these of the guards standing at the entrance of the military’s engineering corps just a stone’s throw from the school. I shall not ask these of the men who received the intelligence report alerting the administration to the vulnerability of schools and of this one in particular. I shall not ask why the sniper who had been posted behind sand bags on top of the roof had been removed from his post several weeks before the attack. I shall not ask the Prime Minister why a national security strategy was not put into place when hundreds of Hazara men women and children, hundreds of Christian men women and children were brutally killed by the same forces. I shall not ask the Frontier Constabulary why its brave men have been forgotten by us, the men who were executed, their heads decapitated after being held hostage by the same forces which continue on their rampage of terror.

I shall not ask the widows, the mothers, the orphaned children what it feels like to know that the body you mourn had been dragged off a truck by those who treated it like a piece of rotting meat, lining up headless corpses along the side of a road, the tarmac glistening where fresh blood seeped out of fresh wounds. I shall not ask the mothers of the young polio workers how it felt to gather their daughters in their arms, some of them as young as 17, some still cradling their plastic kits on their shoulders.


Will the extra layers of bricks eliminate the terrible scourge that has plagued us like a virulent disease, eating up desperately needed resources, destroying a sense of the collective? Did we even have a sense of the collective will? A collective heart? A collective destiny?


I shall not ask the children of the young couple burnt to death in a brick kiln outside Lahore how it feels to know that there is nothing left of their mother but ash and perhaps a few scorched bones. I shall not ask Aasia Bibi how it feels to know that she has been shut away from life and all that she has loved for a crime that no one can pretend to understand.

I shall not ask for I know that the answers shall not usher in the urgency needed to root out the evil which has been planted amongst us by those who claim to be our own, those who sit on the various commissions and pontificate on a national security policy.

I shall not ask these for I know that even after the final operation against a mortal enemy, the centre of gravity shall remain firmly planted in our minds, the fertile ground of which has been watered by want and deprivation, injustice and inequity, nurtured by divisive forces intent on wreaking havoc on the body politic. I shall not quote Noam Chomsky and Edward Said on the bleeding harvest of the post-colonial world, I shall not place the blame at the foot of capitalist democracies which nurture agendas as lethal as the fire which burns our resolve. I shall not question the doctrine of fundamentalisms which pits one against the other, demonising the one, deifying the other. I shall not see the coalescence of all these and more, for I am told that the sky shall not remain grey for much longer, that the road skirting around the wall of the killing field leads to a safer, brighter future for the children who have survived, as well as for the children of Bihari Colony just outside the Army Public School, progeny of a history which has gone so terribly wrong.

I stand outside the wall and look out towards the place from where the attackers may have come on their mission to destroy all that was sacred and pure. In my mind’s eye I see them coming, and I know that this is what we have earned through our ineptitude, incompetence, complacency, and inability to see the truth looming large in front of us. But I shall not speak this truth, for we must continue to believe that while we mourn the deaths of so many young lives, we somehow find time to celebrate marriages, even that of a Man of Destiny who should have known that the heart was still raw, that the time was not right, that his leadership demanded greater resolve, greater attention paid to his own constituency which bleeds as I write these lines, for another life has been claimed by terror, another family buries a son, another woman mourns for her lost husband, another grave is dug in this cold, hard soil of my bleeding, blighted homeland. How high shall these walls rise?

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 18th, 2015

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