For the past seven years, families of the APS victims have get-togethers every month to remember their children, and share their grief
On a late September evening, families gathered around an old wooden table at Rakshanda and Kabiruddin’s house in Peshawar to mark the 20th birthday of their son, Wahabuddin.
There was cake. There was also biryani, kofta with roti and soda drinks. What was missing from the birthday party was the birthday boy. At the age of 13, Wahab fell victim to one of Pakistan’s deadliest and horrifying terror attacks, the Army Public School (APS) massacre in 2014.
Within a few months of the attack, Kabir’s health deteriorated, and he, too, passed away. “Wahab and Kabir were very close,” reminisces Rakshanda. “My son had a passion for modern science. He would talk to his father about it all the time.”
Robbed of their children, and lives with a future of possibilities, the families of APS victims find solace in each other. For the past seven years, they have get-togethers every month to remember their children, and share their grief.
Talking to The News on Sunday, parents of the children echoed the same grievance: the long wait for justice. Rakshanda says she has stopped attending events and functions because she is tired of people bringing up the investigation.
“People only remember us when it’s December 16,” laments Falak Naz, who lost two sons, Saifullah (13) and Noorullah (14), on that fateful day. “They don’t follow the court case.”
A nurse by profession, Falak Naz moved to Peshawar with her husband, Tahsinullah Durrani, over a decade ago in search of a better life. “We come from a small village and wanted to educate our children,” she tells TNS. “We thought that Peshawar would be safe. We were wrong.”
Some of the parents have expressed anguish over the recent statements of Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Dr Arif Alvi, and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, where they talked about amnesty for the terror groups, including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – the militant outfit responsible for the 2014 attack on Army Public School (APS) that killed 149 people, including students aged 7 to 18.
“There’s a road named after my son near the Peshawar Zoo,” says Shahana. “They took my child. Instead of justice, the government gave us a road sign.”
Over half-a-decade since the attack, no conclusive action has been taken against the offenders and their abettors, the parents say. However, some officials claiming knowledge of the matter say that all perpetrators of the APS attack have either been killed or sentenced to death. Six of the main culprits were tried by a military court and sentenced to death, say officials close to the investigation, adding that one of them has a petition in the Supreme Court. The officials also say that compensation has been paid to the families.
Both Mullah Fazlullah aka Mullah Radio, who allegedly ordered the attack, and Umar Naray of Tariq Gedar group, who planned and carried out the attack, were killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan.
However, this has not pacified the families. “We paid for security expenses every month,” says Ajoon Khan, who lost his son, Asfand, in the attack. “There was an epic failure on part of the government and security agencies.”
A lawyer by profession, Khan has been following the APS case diligently.
“The APS commission, headed by Justice Ibrahim Khan of the Peshawar High Court (PHC), submitted a 3,000 page-report to the Supreme Court in July 2020,” he says. The parents filed an application with the SC Registrar seeking an early hearing of the case.
“I am not sad anymore. I am angry. What a strange country we live in. The terrorists who claimed responsibility for terror attacks are offered amnesty,” says Shahana, his wife, questioning the impact of such a strategy.
“I was the first parent to reach the school on that fateful day,” she remembers. The image of her son’s lifeless body still haunts her.
“There’s a road named after my son near the Peshawar Zoo,” she says, reflecting over the emotions it triggers. “They took my child. Instead of justice, the government gave us a road sign.”
The writer is a freelance journalist and a former editor