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In this picture, Beenish is seen teaching in her classroom.
In this picture, Beenish is seen teaching in her classroom.

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.

Umarzeb Butt with his family. Umarzeb Butt with his family.

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.”

Know more about Beenish here

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.

144STORIES: Visit the Army Public School Memorial

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2015

Comments (28) Closed

ashraf Dec 16, 2015 08:53am

Looking at the graph, the incidence of terrorism in 2015 is still around 10 times the annual average between 2001 & 2005. We have a long long way to go .... there should be no room for complacency

ali Dec 16, 2015 10:05am

The militancy is far from over, the operation need to be continued with full force till the terrorists are eliminated and the government and the Army need to review on a regular basis as to what they have achieved and what has not been achieved.The cases should also be strong and punishment should be ensured.

jab Dec 16, 2015 10:13am

Rather than poster of hatred , posters of communal harmony , unity and social equality should be displayed everywhere, text books should be devoid of any religious texts and any small act of kindness should be praised like herculean act of heroism so that others should seek motivation

Jalbani Baloch Dec 16, 2015 10:47am

The militants still pose a threat to the security and safety of our people and can strike at any time. The reason is very simple. These militants are back and funded by foreign countries including Afghanistan and India. They have dispersed after the launch of military operation against them and have got safe sanctuaries in other side of border and can make comeback, when the military operation in tribal areas is put to an end. Hence, it is the clarion call of the time that military presence must be maintained in these tribal areas for a longer period of time by establishing permanent military bases and cantonment areas and embarking on promoting education and infrastructure development.

jaswinder Kaur Dec 16, 2015 10:47am

But who is going to eliminate good terrorists? Ongoing operation is not pointed towards them! One day they will also become bad terrorists like TTP is for Pakistan now. This will not stop till all terrorists are wiped out from Pakistani soil.

AHA Dec 16, 2015 10:50am

Answer will be yes until following two conditions are met 1) Stop classifying terrorists and eliminate all including those who are posing in social servants/religious leaders dress 2) Resolve disputes and have a right relationship with neighbors

Rishabh Dec 16, 2015 11:11am

The only way to combat militancy is to reform the education system and create social values once again. But in the ongoing political struggle, it seems difficult though not impossible. The defence of the minorities should become as important as defence of others.

Unless society reforms, it will continue along the same lines. I wish best of luck to the children in Pakistan. Hope they awaken to a better future.

Biryani Dec 16, 2015 11:19am

People of authority in Pakistan have a long way to go not to distinguish between good and bad perpetrators.

Frankenstein Dec 16, 2015 11:47am

The operation has two wings one is a military based and the other is rehabilitation of those who effected by this operation which is the responsibility of Federal/Provincial Govts. In my honest opinion non of the Govts has done anything. The education,unemployment, lack of justice and health issues are there nothing significant has been done by any Govt. But what I have find out is that we Pakistanis are real problem I have saw people in Children Hospital Lahore,blaming Punjab Govt for not giving them health facilities. But just hundred meters away the same people praising Govt and PML-N standing in front of Metro Bus Terminal and if you ask them about the appalled conditions of hospitals they say "aaj say pehly b aesay hee they halat ab hum kya kar saktay ha" They have acknowledged thay their life wont get better

Tariq Dec 16, 2015 11:50am

The Graph shows incidents of violence since 2001 and onward with many times fold in numbers. Things should looked in around 2001 and from there one can understand and make future strategy.

auginpk Dec 16, 2015 12:02pm

It is extremely difficult to guard against persons or people with death wish. We have to be constantly vigilant against such incidents.

The people behind terrorist acts should also need be eliminated.

Rohail Dec 16, 2015 12:04pm

Don't even bother to even think about it. Army is very strong and deployed to tackle such incidents. We are going to defeat terror in all form with unity.

Mahmood Dec 16, 2015 12:32pm

And yet the government has time and again, assured the public of 'fool-proof' security! God help us all.

Faisal Dec 16, 2015 12:51pm

We all are responsible for this.

Kamal Pasha Dec 16, 2015 12:54pm

To destroy the terrorists in Pakistan, everybody has to take part in this struggle. Everybody means, Judiciaries, human rights activists, civil society etc etc.

Skeptic Dec 16, 2015 01:14pm

With this type of security, (or lack thereof), and threats, there are some, right here on this forum, believe that Pakistan is going to be Asian economic powerhouse!!

I don't see too many foreigners brave enough to invest in Pakistan. Add the acute shortage of electricity for industry to produce, it doesn't require much stretch of the imagination to see where we are headed, compared to our neighbors!

Ishrat salim Dec 16, 2015 02:21pm

As per NAP the Army is doing what they have been assigned to do, but what is lacking is the will on the part of civilian govt to implement most of the points in NAP including setting up of strong and effective NACTA, it is far from over. This attitude had forced the Army to point out deficiency in implementation of NAP as governance issue, which was criticized by almost all, why ? Unless NAP is implemented in its true sense only then this menace can be controlled to a great extent, otherwise, it will soon raise its ugly head again and the Army cannot be blamed for it, they are doing an excellent job with enormous sacrifice.

Dr. Farooq Khan Dec 16, 2015 03:13pm

@jaswinder Kaur, I guess our neighbor has to do that with the peace process by giving rights of self determination. Why don't you agree that on this 21st century no-one should be slave of no-one.

Shahid Dec 16, 2015 03:18pm

Lots needed to be done

Azmeen Dec 16, 2015 03:41pm

Effective policing with support of local communities and modern education are MUST to overcome the menace of terrorism.

Dr Khurshid Alam Dec 16, 2015 04:31pm

A factual view. We are far behind what is being claimed on media. The Civil side of the government has no contribution at all, both at federal and provincial level. I have my profound doubts of the military intelligence agencies. My point is supported by our losses. Souther Punjab is untouched where the factories are situated and producing terrorists. Kpk has no government.

Shahid Dec 16, 2015 04:35pm

If everyone responsible to maintain security of the country do his work with honestly, i can assure you this kind of incident will never happen again. Agencies should do their own work, and not to indulge in business and money making activities. Its just we need brave leadership and people who are honest with their work and duty. Things will change completely. If someone making fuss in my house, only i am responsible for it.

Asmat Ullah Dec 16, 2015 05:31pm

With all intellectual honesty define three words Leadership, political will and justice. Think if these three combined is the answer to all our problems. Think again we never had any of them not in our rulers but in me, you and a lot of our countrymen. When nations suffer pains at the hands of other they become oppressed but when they bear pain at their own will for a greater cause they become great.

Muzaffar Ali Dec 16, 2015 07:55pm

We need to develop a culture of self reflection.....

at times we behave like militants with our own family and neighborhood.

Naveed Dec 16, 2015 09:28pm

Thats why we need to stay neutral in current geopolitical scenarios to avoid blowback that only destabilize us internally and causes problems in future.

Roussou Dec 16, 2015 10:13pm

It's not a war of guns, bombs or bullets. It's a war of specific mentality, war of ideology which can only be won by giving an alternative narrative to it. Have we done that? It's a long walk with years to traverse. Probably I won't be around when we are able to finally vanquish this mindset but my children will eat the sweet fruit of this war against terrorist mindset, Inshallah!

Maqsood Ahmed Soomro Dec 17, 2015 01:02am

We need to get rid of this militant mind set, It is rightly pointed by the author , they can and if provided will strike at any time. We need to be more vigilant and had to devise a framework in which such mind set is discouraged or not allowed to disseminate among the masses.

Maqsood Ahmed Soomro Dec 17, 2015 01:08am

Another reason of this militant mindsets are our textual books. Which are filled with heroic tales of Muslims against Christians and Hindus.Now is perhaps the time to curtail such tales for a while and probably teach our children about communal harmony, co existence and tolerance. I am sure such a breed of teaching would make a difference.

Therefore, the government needs to ensure , the rehabilitation process is initiated and sustained across all board for the affected of terror hit areas, As they are the most vulnerable and could easily be coerced into any terror activity. Education reforms, Rehabilitation are certainly the need of the hour.