The elephant in the room

December 17, 2015

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PRESIDENT Mamnoon Hussain in April this year signed an ordinance for the formation of a judicial commission to investigate alleged irregularities and rigging in the 2013 general elections. It was promulgated on the advice of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf chairman Imran Khan had been protesting since August 14, 2013 and only ended his Dharna (sit-in) when the December 16 Army Public School massacre occurred.

On First anniversary of Army Public School massacre, Imran Khan tried to hush the parents demanding judicial inquiry into the incident by just saying, “What we can do…we can’t bring them back”.

No one expects PTI to go for another Dharna since it itself is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the massacre happened. Parents had been demanding a judicial inquiry into the matter for a year. Instead of paying any heed to them, they were shut out of the ceremonies held by the government to remember the ‘sacrifices’ of the children of APS.

“Parents will not have a closure until they see the faces of those, who killed their children. Just arresting people and hanging them would not satisfy parents until they know who were these people,” says a 9th grader Mohammad Subhan, an APS survivor, who is a mental wreck even after a year having seen his friends and teachers bleed and blown to death in front of his eyes.

One wonders why would the sole demand of these parents look so strange or challenging when The Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1956 clearly says that government “may appoint a Commission of Inquiry for the purpose of making an inquiry into any definite matter of public importance”.

The APS massacre surely has become a matter of public importance looking at the way songs and monuments have been created and ceremonies are being held on its first anniversary.

The bereaving families’ demand is not even that unique since whenever there is blame game or mysterious circumstances surrounding an incident, the affected parties press for such fair inquiries. Just last year on June 17, the Punjab government established a judicial commission to probe the killing of 14 persons in Model Town tragedy. The reports may or may not be made public but somehow somewhere the bereaved families do find answers.

The PTI government itself had been demanding judicial inquiries into issues like Multan stampede, polythene bag factory tragedy and election fraud but why it is mum in this tragedy which changed the national discourse. It is strange because not only the party is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it happened but more importantly the parents had been begging for “Insaf” (justice) it claims to stand for.

But Special Assistant to Chief Minister Mushtaq Ghani just a day before the APS anniversary stated that he understood the feelings of the families but he dismissed the need for a judicial inquiry, saying the facts of the assault were clear. What the parents and even the surviving children had been saying out loud was that facts surrounding the tragedy were not clear.

Questions like who planned it and who were the planners, plotters, backers, implementers and the masterminds of the attack, still lurk in the minds of parents and even children. They are restless because first one group and then another group was blamed for the attack. Some said seven terrorists attacked the school and then it was said that 27 men were allegedly involved in it. The nationality of terrorists was also controversial. First intelligence agencies of two neighbouring countries were blamed for hatching the plan then it was a ‘slim’ man whose group was involved in this evil deed.

The parents in distress for a year and the surviving children whose souls have been injured forever by this horrific incident have a right to know what was the nature of prior intelligence about such an attack and if there were any such threats what was the response to it. Moreover, they have a right to know what was response to that attack. Was it adequate, timely and professional on both accounts?

APS tragedy may have no other comparison in the recent history but somewhat to that of Beslan school siege in September 2004 in which some 300 people were made hostage by Chechen extremists and then killed. The Beslan hostage crisis deeply impacted the Russian psyche because closer examination of the incident indicated a number of mistakes were made in possibly preventing, and certainly in responding to, the crisis, writes Peter Forester, an analyst.

If APS was also faced with a similar hostage situation, shouldn’t the parents know if the classic SOPs were followed? These maybe tough questions for those responsible for tackling terrorism but if there is nothing to hide and all that was needed to be done was done then why the stone-walling which was keeping the bereaved parents from having a closure. Closures are very important in such traumatic experiences, psychologists say.

Even in a dispute between families, as is prevalent in Pakhtun culture, if a loved one is murdered in mysterious circumstances, the family doesn’t rest till the murder is avenged. Hundred years may pass in between but if the family doesn’t get revenge from those it even suspects of involvement in the murder or otherwise peacefully if guilty party approaches for “Rogha” (reconciliation) after regretting what they have done a misdeed and show readiness to pay compensation of any kind, only then the family of victim has its closure.

The parents of APS children here are only asking for a judicial inquiry into the tragedy to just find the answers to the questions keeping them up at nights for the past one year. Even distractions like government sponsored Umra (visit to holy places in Saudi Arabia) cannot bring them peace, not even hangings of men they have not heard confess to the crime can help. On a closure from getting the truth about the APS massacre can bring not only the bereaved parents but the entire nation to a psychological closure or mental peace.

The APS tragedy is said to have united the nation and even army to fight terrorism more vehemently as was evident that Operation Zarb-i-Azb launched in June 2014 spurred up after Dec 16 massacre, stalling terrorist attacks. What the entire nation needs is mental peace. Why are we so reluctant to see the elephant in the room?

If there are no skeletons in the closet, why is there so much resistance to the judicial inquiry?

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2015