A year on fear still grips Pakistan school massacre survivors

As they prepare to mark the first anniversary of the Peshawar school massacre today, students, teachers and staff say it must never be forgotten.
As they prepare to mark the first anniversary of the Peshawar school massacre today, students, teachers and staff say it must never be forgotten.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PESHAWAR • Mubashir Subhan was in the school auditorium, surrounded by friends, when Taleban gunmen came crashing in. The first bullet grazed the back of his head, the second passed through his shoulder and the third struck his left hand.

More than 150 lives were lost in the Peshawar school massacre on Dec 16 last year, the deadliest extremist attack in Pakistan's history.

One year on, those who survived now study in the same rooms where they huddled in terror as their classmates fell around them.

The majority of them were children, many of whom were in the auditorium with Subhan when nine attackers armed with guns and explosives went on a killing spree.

 

Many are still gripped by a sense of paralysis when they enter the Army Public School in the north-western city.

"I feel unable to function," Subhan, a bearded, soft-spoken 16-year-old said. When he is alone, memories of the friends who died alongside him that day come crowding in. He cannot fathom how quickly his life was shattered.

Today, on the anniversary of the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the powerful army chief Raheel Sharif will join opposition leader Imran Khan for a ceremony at the school marking the massacre.

The attack on the school saw a shift in public opinion on the country's more than decade-long struggle against extremism.

Parents seeking vengeance backed by a shocked and outraged public drove support for a nationwide military-led crackdown.

The army intensified an offensive against militants in tribal areas where they had previously operated with impunity, and the government launched a sweeping plan to tackle extremism.

The effort has seen levels of militancy-linked violence fall to their lowest since 2007, the year the Pakistani Taleban came into being.

But critics have voiced concerns over a failure to tackle the long-term causes of the violence, suggesting the drop in attacks may be a veneer covering the extremism that still bubbles beneath society's surface.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'A year on, fear still grips school massacre survivors'. Print Edition | Subscribe