APS attack judicial commission report points to security 'fiasco' at school

Published September 25, 2020
The horrific attack on APS Peshawar on Dec 16, 2014, had left more than 140 people, mostly children, dead. — AP/File
The horrific attack on APS Peshawar on Dec 16, 2014, had left more than 140 people, mostly children, dead. — AP/File

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the government to make public the report of a one-member judicial commission on the 2014 Army Public School (APS) Peshawar carnage.

In the deadliest terror attack in the country’s history, 131 schoolchildren and 10 other people were martyred when heavily armed militants stormed the school building on December 16, 2014.

A two-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed heard the case based on a suo motu notice taken on complaints of the parents of the martyred children, who claimed that the real culprits involved in the gruesome incident had not yet been arrested by authorities.

Dawn memorial: Remembering lives lost in the Peshawar school attack

Following extensive proceedings spread over almost 20 months, the presiding officer of the commission, Justice Mohammad Ibrahim of the Peshawar High Court, had submitted the report to the apex court on July 9.

The 525-page report made public today provides an insight into the security lapses and local facilitation to militants that apparently led to the horrific attack.

The report in its conclusion noted that terrorism perpetrated by Pakistan's enemies had reached its peak in the year 2013-14, but said "this [still] doesn't obligate us to hold that our sensitive installation(s) and soft target(s) could be forsaken as a prey to the terrorists' attack."

It said the entry of terrorists from across the Afghan border into the school's perimeter after "befooling the security apparatus" was mainly due to the porous nature of the border and "unrestrained movement" of Afghan refugees across the frontier.

The report termed as "unpardonable" the assistance provided to the militants by the residents of the school's locality, saying it was "palpable".

"When one's own blood and flesh commit treachery and betrayal, the result would always be devastating," it stated, adding that no agency, no matter how capable or equipped, could effortlessly counter an attack "when infidels are within the inside".

According to the report, on the morning of Dec 16, 2014, the APS premises was left unattended after an MVT (security patrolling team) moved towards the smoke rising from a vehicle set on fire by the terrorists as part of their plan to create a distraction.

Using this edge, the militants entered the school from the backside. Although another MVT responded to the attack, it wasn't able to buy the needed time for the Quick Response Force (QRF) and Rapid Response Force (RRF) to overwhelm the terrorists before they could "cause the catastrophe", the report said.

It said the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) had issued a generic threat alert about terrorists seeking to target army families and academic institutions as retribution for the successful military operations Zarb-i-Azb and Khyber-I against militants.

Following this, although the armed forces successfully operated against terrorists' niches, "the incident of APS plagued their success stories which deserved deification", the report added.

Detailing the "fiasco" in the school's security apparatus, the inquiry commission said the number of static guards, which comprised the first tier of security, was "incomparable" to the looming threat. The guards' improper position and accentuated main gates and front area compromised the school's security from the back, from where the terrorists managed to enter "with no retaliation".

"Equally incomprehensible is the inertia on part of the Askari Guards as well as the deputed static guards to the initial heavy firing and blasts by terrorists," the report read. "Had they shown a little response and could engage the militants in the very beginning of the attack, the impact of the incident might have been lesser."

However, it noted that the terrorists' movement towards the adjacent toddlers' block of the school was restricted by soldiers of MVT-2 and QRF on their arrival.

According to the report, the unit regulating MVT-1 has been handed down punishment by a "court of inquiry".

The author of the report said although there was a "clandestine and somewhere failing agreement of views of the aggrieved/complainants (parents of victims) relating to the incident ... it is most probably because of the communication gap between them and the military which I believe must have abridged in due course of the proceedings before this commission".

The report lauded the Pakistan Army both for uprooting terrorism from the country in the wake of the APS attack and for "their unflinching support to the victim families".

"The bereaved families and armed forces are two limbs of the same body," it said, adding that "no external force" could harm the relationship between the citizens and armed forces of Pakistan.

SC asks govt to take action 'from the top'

During a hearing of the case on Friday, the attorney general while submitting a reply on the inquiry commission's report on behalf of the government informed the SC that "every possible action" was being taken against the persons involved in the carnage.

Chief Justice Ahmed regretted that traditionally lower-ranked officials were held responsible for such incidents and "nothing is asked of the people at the top".

"This tradition should stop," he said, adding that the government should take action to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The top judge observed that the militants were able to achieve the objective they had set out for, saying "security institutions should have been aware of this conspiracy."

"The people are not safe even in this much security."

The parents of the deceased children said the incident was not terrorism but "targeted killing". Seeking action against those responsible, they said they did not want any other parents to go through the pain they endured.

The court ordered that a copy of the inquiry commission's report and of the government's response be provided to the parents of the APS victims. It also appointed lawyer Amanullah Kanrani as amicus curiae (friend of court) in the case.

The hearing of the case was adjourned for a month.

The judicial inquiry commission was constituted on October 12, 2018, by the PHC, on the order of the Supreme Court and it had started functioning on Oct 19 the same year.

The commission’s spokesperson had earlier told media that it had recorded statements of 132 persons, 31 of whom were police and army officials, while the rest of the 101 were witnesses, including injured students and parents of the martyred children. The commission had also examined different investigations conducted by police as well as security agencies.

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