Countrywide mourning on APS anniversary

Published December 17, 2015
In this file photo, a man places a rose after lighting candles in front of portraits of the victims of the APS attack during a vigil in Lahore. ─ Reuters/File
In this file photo, a man places a rose after lighting candles in front of portraits of the victims of the APS attack during a vigil in Lahore. ─ Reuters/File

PESHAWAR: Schools remained closed across the country on Wednesday on the anniversary of last year’s Taliban attack that killed nearly 150 people, most of them schoolchildren, at the Army Public School (APS) here.

The closure was part of a day of national mourning and a precaution against militant attacks tied to the anniversary, Khyber Pakh­t­unkhwa government spokesman Mushtaq Ghani said.

For several days, mourners have placed flowers and floral wreaths and have been lighting candles and pasting the victims’ photos in various cities.

Also read: One-year anniversary: Top civil-military leadership honour APS victims

One of the people attending the Peshawar ceremony was Andleeb Aftab, a teacher at the school who was wounded in the attack and whose 14-year-old son Huzaifa was killed.

“My son is a martyr. Martyrs never die. I still feel that my son is around,” she said. “I see him playing on the school grounds. Every child of this school is my son.”

Nearly 100,000 people have been arrested across the country under the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism prepared after the APS massacre, although only about 2,000 of them were militants, an interior ministry official said.

The rare figures on results of the plan could reinforce critics who say it has resulted mostly in indiscriminate clampdowns that do not solve long-standing security problems.

It is unclear how many of those arrested have faced trial and how many have been freed.

Military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said recently that 142 cases had been referred to special military courts, but other courts could also handle cases under the NAP.

Families unhappy

Families of children killed or wounded in the APS attack accuse the government of breaking its promises of medical treatment and justice.

The government promised it would help with medical expenses above an initial Rs400,000 grant, but only 22 of approximately 60 families which applied have received any funds, said Akbar Khan, who represents 124 families of those wounded.

“There are many children who were disfigured, or crippled, who need continuous long-term treatment. And above all, they need psychological rehabilitation,” said Mr Khan, whose 17-year-old son Umar was shot in his left arm during the attack.

Muhammad Ibrahim, a KP health official, said not all funds had been disbursed because of delays in families submitting receipts for the money they spent.

Mr Khan is among the parents who have also asked the government to facilitate treatment of their children abroad, as promised, but have not heard back.

“I was shot twice in my arm. I have had three or four surgeries, but still need further treatment. And we cannot get that treatment in Pakistan,” said Syed Ansar Ali Shah, 16, who has a metal plate holding his left hand together.

According to Mr Khan, just two children, Ahmed Nawaz and Ibrahim Afridi, have so far received government assistance for treatment abroad.

The health official disputed the figure, saying at least six people had been sent overseas with government funding.

The provincial health department is now demanding that the unspent portion of the Rs400,000 grant people had received be returned, the families of some of the injured say.

“These parents say that their children have not recovered: they cannot sleep, they cannot move properly and some of them even have bullets still lodged in them,” Akbar Khan said.

Health official Ibrahim confirmed that some families had been asked to return funds they had not used.

Education affected

Azhar Mehmood, 15, was shot four times and has difficulty walking. He still attends the APS, but says months of surgery have adversely affected his education.

He was among several students who complained that the government broke a promise to delay board exams for the injured children. As a result, they say, they have lost a year of study.

“I was shot in both my hands, and I wasn’t able to write. I was in hospital at that time. When the exams started, my both hands were in plaster,” said Obaid Sajid, 16, who has to repeat the ninth grade.

For the victims’ families, the primary concern is that justice is done.

On Dec 2, four men were tried in secret military courts for their involvement in the massacre and hanged. All of them were said to have confessed to facilitating the attack, the military said in a statement.

Shahana Ajoon, whose 15-year-old son was killed, said she had no faith in the investigation, because it took place behind closed doors and no evidence was made public.

“We do not know who those people were. We should have been taken into confidence. We should have been shown why these were the people who were the culprits,” she said.

144STORIES: Visit the Army Public School Memorial

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2015

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