Grief Still Prevails
Dec. 17, 2015
Last year on December 16th, gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban stormed an army-run school in the city of Peshawar. More than 140 people were killed, mostly students.
On Wednesday, people in Pakistan observed the first anniversary of the tragic attack. Families and classmates of the victims gathered to pay tribute to their loved ones and friends.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and top military officials attended the memorial ceremony.
"God willing, the day is not far away when terrorism will be completely eliminated. Each and every part of Pakistan will become peaceful,” he said.
“Those who are trying to extinguish the candle of knowledge and spread darkness will be wiped out, and every city, town and village in Pakistan will be illuminated with the knowledge that comes with education."
At the ceremony, the names of those killed were read aloud. They included Muhammad Tufail Khattak's oldest son, Sher, who was 15.
"The thought of it brings pain and sadness -- it makes my heart bleed," Khattak said.
At home, he cherishes mementos of Sher to keep his memory alive.
"These items are constant reminders of how intelligent, how capable, how great he was," Khattak said.
A star student at school, Sher had his life and future abruptly snuffed out.
He was shot in the chest in the school auditorium, as he was protecting his younger brother, who attended the same school.
"He looked like he was sleeping. I could almost hear him say, 'Dad!’” Khattak recalled. “Words can't describe how I feel about the perpetrators."
Khattak has two other children. He helps them with their homework in the evening. And they provide emotional support for their grieving father.
But the family lives in constant fear that the extremists could strike again at any moment.
Khattak’s 14-year-old son, Ahmad, doesn't use public transportation.
Every morning, a private driver comes to the door to pick him up and take him to school.
"I'm frightened of being shot from behind,” Ahmad said. “That's why my father hired a driver for me."
Khattak invited to his home other fathers whose children also died in the school attack. Sharing the same sense of grief, they encouraged each other to somehow overcome their pain.
"It's only been one year. But even if it had been 50, I'd never forget my love for Sher," Khattak said.
"Continuing to do our utmost to educate our children -- that's the best revenge,” he added. “Their memories will never die."
At the end of the gathering, the participants wrote messages to their lost children, to be used as dedications at the memorial ceremony.
"Sher Shah, I love you, I miss you. You were a great son,” read Khattak’s.
"I've lost one son. I don't want my other son to meet the same fate."
Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya spoke to NHK World's Fumio Sugaya live from Islamabad.
Beppu: So Fumio, after the killings last December, the Pakistani military intensified operations against the extremists. What is the current situation?
Sugaya: Well, after the incident, the Pakistani government broke off peace talks with the Pakistan Taliban Movement. The military then stepped up its fighting. The operations are not open to media coverage. So, it's difficult to confirm what's happening. Military officials say their operations are going successfully. They say they've killed more than 3,400 extremists and destroyed about 800 of their hideouts. The Pakistani air force is supporting the ground assaults with airstrikes. The military is seeking to contain the extremists with force.
Shibuya: Fumio, Is security improving in the country?
Sugaya: In the country's capital city of Islamabad, it seems the military campaign is considered a positive thing... a way to improve security. In urban areas, security has been relatively stable over the past year or so. This increased citizen appreciation for the military. But attacks by extremists continued in other areas. In September, gunmen stormed an air base near Peshawar. Thirty people were killed. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
According to an NHK correspondent stationed in northwestern Pakistan, the ongoing military operations have seriously disrupted people's lives in the region. Some have been killed in the attacks against extremists. Local authorities say about 700,000 people have been internally displaced. It's believed that some insurgents escaped to Afghanistan. There are concerns they could launch more attacks in Pakistan from their new bases in that neighboring country.