We don’t realise how terrorist attacks affect our children indirectly. Have we ever stopped to think how it is changing our younger generation’s behaviour pattern?
I will never forget the conversation I had with my ten-year-old cousin when he came home from school a day after the attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine. It was on this occasion that I understood the long-term impacts that these attacks have on children.
I couldn’t believe when he excitedly said to me, "Zawarah baji, you know what happened today? Two suicide bombers came into my friend’s brother’s school. All the children hid under the desks and Ayyan’s brother lay down on the floor pretending to be dead so that terrorists wouldn’t kill him. Then, the police came and took the terrorists away."
What he did not know was that this was a mock operation conducted by security forces to prepare and train children on how to react in case of an actual terrorist attack.
His naive enthusiasm transported me back to 2015 when he had returned from school on the day that marked the one-month anniversary of the tragic Army Public School massacre. I remember how proudly he told me, "You know what? Our teachers now have an app in their phones and if they tap it four times, the police will come in two minutes." Intrigued, I asked him to tell me more.
"Oh and before this, we had only four guards and now we have nine. Oh and you know what, before this we only had cameras inside the school but now we have cameras outside as well. The best part is that our windows are now bullet-proof and will only shatter if a bomb explodes. Our teacher told us that when we hear an alarm, we all have to duck and hide under our desks till our principal gives us more instructions using her special microphone."
I kept listening, till I finally gathered the courage to ask, "Why do you keep saying ‘before this’? Before what?" And then came his reply: "You don’t know what happened on 16th December? "No, what happened?" I asked him. "Terrorists killed so many innocent children in a school."
I wondered how a seven-year-old child knew all this since we have always tried to keep him away from television. Our news channels fail to understand the basic ethics of reporting and keep showing gruesome footage from different incidents, not taking into account how it affects the families of the victims as well as children who are exposed to such images.
He then continued telling me that terrorists did this. "Who is a terrorist?" I asked him. "Don’t you know? Terrorists are mad men. They are monsters. They are not Muslims or Christians, they are not even humans. They kill people for no reason because they are crazy," he angrily told me.
"Why did they attack children?" I asked him next. "Because, they strike for little meat first before targeting the big meat", was his unconventional reply.
I was still marveling at his response when he added, "When I grow up, I will join the army and kill all these terrorists." "I thought you just said killing someone is a bad thing. If you kill them, wouldn’t that make you a bad person as well?"
That was the moment when he lost his calm and started arguing with me. "If I don’t kill these terrorists, they will kill more of us. They will strike our families. Do you want them to come after your family? Do you want them to kill all of us?" It took me a good five minutes and a chocolate bar to calm him down and change the subject.
Later after our conversation had ended, I sat down thinking about what had become of our country.
More than two years since the massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan is still in shambles. Instead of care-free morning assemblies, our younger generation has emergency drills.
The only thing I had to worry about when I was in school was whether my mother had packed Super Crisps and Frost juice or French toast for lunch.
Having French toast for lunch was my worst nightmare. But today, our kids face a different reality. Their worst nightmare is a terrorist attack. It breaks my heart.
We are a resilient nation, but how long will we keep suffering? I hope I live to see the day when we stop losing our people to war and terrorism.
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