Five years have passed since terrorists attacked the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, leaving 147 people, most of them students, martyred and hundreds of other people scarred for life by the trauma of losing their loved ones in the carnage.

Parents and other family members of those falling victim to one of the worst terrorist attacks this country faced on Dec 16, 2014, are still overwhelmed by grief and sorrow. While coming to terms with the tragedy is next to impossible for the nation, it is more difficult for the close family members of the victims.

Since the tragedy took place, pal of gloom descends on the provincial capital with the start of December every year.

On this anniversary the grief-stricken parents have still been searching for answers to different questions and now they await the outcome of a judicial commission constituted last year for looking into different aspects of this tragedy.

The single-member commission of Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Khan of the Peshawar High Court was constituted on Oct 12, 2019, by the high court on the orders of the Supreme Court and since Oct 19, 2019, it has been functioning.

The commission was initially assigned six-week time by the Supreme Court for conducting the inquiry during which it had completed recording statements of the parents, injured students and officials of police and Counter Terrorism Department. Subsequently, the apex court allowed more time for the probe.

Recently, the commission’s focal person Imranullah Khan told mediapersons that the inquiry was in the final stages. The commission has been holding in-camera proceedings due to sensitivity of the matter and has recorded statements of over 150 persons, including army officers, police officials, injured students and parents of the martyred children.

Important army officers whose statements were recorded included then Peshawar Corps Commander Lt-Gen Hidayatur Rehman; then chairman of Army Public Educational Institutions (APEI) BoG Brig Mudassir Azam; an officer of 102 Brigade, HQ-11 Corps, Brig Inayatullah; Major Dr Asim Shehzad of Army Medical Corps; and secretary of the BoG Col Hazrat Bilal.

One important statement recorded by the commission was that of Major General Inam Haider Malik, who was brigadier at the time of occurrence and had conducted an inquiry into the incident.

Similarly, the commission has also recorded statements of some high-ranking police officials, including two former provincial police officers Salahuddin Mehsud and Nasir Durrani, then DIG of Counter Terrorism Department, Mohammad Alam Shinwari, then secretary of home and tribal affairs department Syed Akhter Ali Shah, then capital city police officer Ijaz Khan, then SP Cantt Faisal Shehzad and then SP City Mustafa Tanveer and others.

The appearance of some of the army officers was delayed for few months due to tension between Pakistan and India on border early this year.

“We are in touch with the commission and we have been assured that the inquiry is in the final stages and might be sent to the Supreme Court after completion by end of this month,” said Ajoon Khan, father of a martyred student Asfand Khan.

Mr Khan, who is president of APS Shuhada Forum, had in past several petitions before the high court sought directives of the court to the government for providing information to them in relation to the attack.

Presently, a petition filed by him on behalf of other aggrieved parents has been pending before the PHC regarding imposition of developmental charges on plots given to them in Defence Housing Authority, Peshawar.

Former Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken notice of the issue in April last year when during his visit to Peshawar several of the parents of martyred students had approached and requested him to redress their grievances.

Subsequently, then chief justice ordered conducting an inquiry into the occurrence through a judicial commission comprising a PHC judge.

The most disturbing aspect of the occurrence was when the parents came to know about a confidential letter through which the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) had on Aug 28, 2014, informed different provincial and federal authorities that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had made a plan to carry out terrorist activities against the Army Public School and College and other educational institutions run by the Pakistan Army and to kill children of army officers in order to avenge the killings of their accomplices.

In their comments filed in the high court in the petition of Ajoon Khan, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and police had stated that after receiving a threat alert from the federal government in Aug 2014 about possible militant attack on educational institutions, they had informed the management of all such schools, including the APS, Peshawar.

The provincial home secretary and Inspector General of Police, in their joint comments, stated that during that occurrence the police had performed their duty as per its capacity.

The officials had stated: “Administration of all under threat schools/colleges, including the Army Public School and College Warsak Road, Peshawar Cantt, was duly informed about the threat alert. SDPO (sub-divisional police officer) Cantt, and SHO Michni Gate held a meeting with the principal on 01.09.2014 and sensitised her of the Threat Alert and precautionary measures required to be taken in light of an already circulated security advisory.”

A TTP commander Umer Mansoor had claimed responsibility for this terrorist attack. The US government and Pakistan Army had confirmed that Umer was killed in a US drone strike on July 9, 2016, in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.

Military courts set up after the said occurrence through constitutional amendments had convicted seven persons in connection with the APS attack. Six of them were sentenced to death whereas the seventh one was awarded life term in prison. The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) had made public those convictions in a press release on Aug 13, 2015.

Six of the convicts belonged to a least heard of militant outfit, Toheedwal Jihad Group (TWJ), whereas the seventh one was a member of TTP. Those awarded death sentence include Sabeel alias Yahya, Hazrat Ali, Mujeebur Rehman, Molvi Abdus Salam and Attequr Rehman of TWJ, and Taj Mohammad of TTP. The remaining convict, Kifayatullah of TWJ, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2019