Every Saturday five and a half years old Hibbah draws something on a piece of paper to show it to her mother, buried not far from home. “It’s just a five minute walk from here, Hibbah’s father, Umarzeb Butt points out.
The past one year has been a struggle for Umar and his three daughters, the three-something Annaya and a-year-plus Affaf among them, to cope with the tragic loss of the children’s mother.
Beenish, who taught computer science to class eight students, was among the 150 schoolchildren and staffers killed in the carnage at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Dec 16.
“It has been a difficult year,” recalls Umar who works as a public relations officer at a private cellular company in Peshawar. Theirs was a love-marriage, having met while students at a university.
On that tragic day, Umar, as was a routine with him every day, called his wife while leaving for office. “It was 9.37 am,” he still remembers vividly. The call remained connected for 41 seconds. “But there was no voice from the other end.”
At 9.38am, the military told Umar and others, who had lost their loved ones, that suicide bombers had struck the school, entering from the rear of the building.
He takes the same road every day to the office, passing by the school. There was no usual movement, no security, no cordon. At around 10.30am, he says, he received a call about some shooting at the school.
Hibbah and Annaya were at the army-run kindergarten just next door. The two girls, evacuated by the military along with others, were picked up by Umar’s brother as he went about searching for his wife.
What happened next was even more heart-wrenching. As evening fell, he made his way through a multitude of desperate people outside the Combined Military Hospital, wanting to know about their loved ones, not knowing whether they were dead or alive.
Umar identified his love of life from her sweater, stretching out from the white shroud covering her body with a number tag scribbled on her finger: “106”.
Ever since, every Saturday, Umar takes his three daughters to their mom’s grave. “This is your mother’s new home,” he explained to his daughters. “This is where she lives now. She is in heaven.”
This may have eased the pain of Umar’s daughters, but like so many grieving parents and family members, he too has questions that have remained unanswered.
The chronology of events leading to the massacre, the timing and response of the security forces and whether or not there was prior intelligence and if there was, could the tragedy have been averted.
But there are other, far larger questions too. Have the militants been really defeated and their back broken? Which militant group was involved in the APS massacre?
Have all the characters involved in the blood and gore at APC been brought to justice? Do they still have the capability to carry out attacks on the scale of APS and other major terrorist attacks? Where does the nation stand today vis-à-vis militancy and where do we go from here?
Have the militants been defeated?
The militancy scene in Pakistan has changed completely after the launch of Operation Zarb-i-Azb in June last year.
Militants have been driven out of the major redoubt and last sanctuary in the tribal region of North Waziristan and Tirah in Khyber tribal region. Pockets however, remain in the region between North and South Waziristan, a portion in Shawal and small valley of Tirah called Rajgal bordering Afghanistan.
Besides, there are some splinter groups here and there, particularly in Tank district and Frontier Region Tank. This is in addition to ‘sleeper cells’, despite a string of successful sting operations by intelligence agencies across the country.
Nationwide incidents of terrorism that had peaked at 2061 in 2010 are down to 1109, showing a little over 50 per cent reduction. Casualty figures are down to 796 -- 443 civilians and 353 members of law-enforcement agencies.
But the larger question is: have the militants been defeated? Government and security officials concur that that is indeed the case. But have they been finished? “No,” is the emphatic answer.
Having been driven out of their sanctuaries in Fata, militants have moved across the border from where they continue to organise and execute attacks inside Pakistan.
Security officials say that different groups of Pakistani militants are now operating from their bases across the border in Afghanistan’s Nangarahar, Kunar, Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces with the knowledge and sometimes tacit approval of their Afghan hosts.
It was from those sanctuaries that militants affiliated with the Omar Naray group planned and executed the attacks on the APS and PAF air base in Badabher, Peshawar.
Major terrorist attacks on Imambargahs in Shikarpur and Peshawar, Christian churches in Youhannabad in Lahore and killing of passengers in Quetta and targeted killings in Karachi bring home the point that militants still have the capability to perpetrate violence.
“There is no question about this,” a senior security official said. “Do they have the capability to carry out attacks of the scale of the one on APS or Mehran and other places?” -- Absolutely, the official said.
“What does it take to sow blood and mayhem?”, he asked. “Just a bunch of militants,” he continued. “They are out but not dead. Absolutely not.”
National Action Plan
Zarb-i-Azb Operation has made a serious and major dent in the militants’ capabilities, freedom of movement and freedom of action.
The implementation of the Nation Action Plan, devised and approved immediately after the APS tragedy, has somehow lacked the government’s enthusiasm and resolve.
Progress in terms of administrative measures has been described as satisfactory by officials monitoring its implementation when it comes to the execution of convicted terrorists and setting up of military and special trial courts.
The military has set up 11 military courts, 142 cases were referred to it, out of which 55 cases were decided, 31 militants were convicted while 87 cases are in process.
There has also been some progress in action against hate speech and extremist material, setting up of a counter-terrorism force, Karachi operation and strengthening of National Counter Terrorism Authority.
However, progress is slow and unsatisfactory on choking terror finances, madressah reforms, measures to check religious persecution of minorities, use of internet and social media to spread hate and terrorism, Fata reforms, political and infrastructure development initiatives in Balochistan and resolving issues pertaining to the repatriation of Afghan refugees.
More importantly, the pace of work on introducing legal and judicial reforms has been extremely slow. Only early this month, the prime minister formed a high level committee headed by the Minister for Climate, Zahid Hamid.
Of most importance is the two-year sunset clause pertaining to the establishment and operation of military courts to handle cases of hardened terrorists -- one year has elapsed and one more year to go. What happens next? No one knows.
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2015