APS commission report

Updated 28 Sep 2020

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IS closure even possible for the survivors of the APS massacre and the families of those who lost loved ones on that terrible day? One hundred and forty-seven people, including 132 students, were martyred when militants attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar on Dec 16, 2014.

For hours, distraught parents — not knowing whether their children were alive or dead — were gathered at the entrance as security personnel fought pitched battles through the day with heavily armed assailants inside the premises. At the end of it, several areas of the school presented scenes of carnage, particularly the auditorium.

The families’ long, agonising struggle to have their voices heard and their burning questions answered — primarily about the lapses in security — has finally borne fruit. On Friday, the report by the judicial commission appointed two years ago to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the attack was furnished before the Supreme Court.

However, the 525-page document contains much information that is unlikely to be of substantial comfort to the families; indeed its findings reveal how a faster and better coordinated response could have thwarted the attack, or resulted in fewer deaths. Based on statements from victims’ families, police, bureaucrats and military personnel, as well as its own observations, the report delves into the three-layer security protocol meant to keep the school safe.

There were the guards at the gate, two Mobile Vigilance Teams in the vicinity, the Quick Response Force stationed 10 minutes away and the police’s Rapid Response Force for deployment in the cantonment area. One MVT was lured further afield by a simple decoy tactic: the attackers set alight the vehicle in which they had arrived. That enabled them to sneak into the school premises from the back wall, a critical advantage because they took up their positions inside before anyone was aware an attack was underway.

The inquiry found it inexplicable that the guards displayed total inertia when the sounds of gunfire were first heard from within. The victims’ parents also questioned why the police were not allowed to enter despite having arrived on the scene and notwithstanding that the commandos had not yet reached the site. Above all though, the report regretted that locals had provided shelter to some of the terrorists, thereby facilitating them in their evil designs.

This was a tragedy so monumental that it will likely remain forever seared in the national consciousness. What happened in its aftermath is equally heartbreaking. The victims’ families found themselves stone-walled by the authorities when they demanded answers as to why the security apparatus failed the children so completely and when there would be any accountability for that. At least some of their questions have been answered now. Certainly the security forces have foiled many heinous plots but as the APS attack demonstrates, terrorists have to be lucky just once to negate those efforts.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2020