One thing is clear after the Peshawar Massacre: changing the status quo in Pakistan is no longer a choice, it’s an absolute necessity.
Nine Taliban gunmen from the Taliban party formerly deemed by the government entered an army public school in Peshawar, barbarically killing at least 145, with 132 being students aged between 12 and 16. The death count continues to rise as some students admitted to the nearby hospital ICU have begun to succumb to their injuries. Survivor reports indicate that the gunmen began by shooting aimlessly – then targeted students and teachers, riddling each with multiple shots and even setting some staff members on fire. They looked under tables and benches to ensure there were no survivors, even shooting those lying lifeless on the floor between books, blood and dust. When commandos from the army’s elite Special Services Group moved in, some gunmen had killed themselves; others fell prey to the army forces.
The 16th of December 2014 heavily burdens our collective conscience. For millions of Pakistani students, it was the most normal of ‘normal’ days: waking up, getting ready between hourly energy cuts due to electricity load shedding, and hastily glancing at the news headlines about . I was attending a lecture in Lahore, some 326 miles away from the victimised school, when Twitter alerts and RSS feeds began beeping on cell phones, and my friends’ display pictures began changing to pure black. Even though we’ve lost more than 70,000 people to terrorist attacks in the past 13 years, this one hit hard.
I wouldn’t call it apathy, but it seems that for most Pakistanis I know in the big cities, the government’s military operation against the Taliban on the Pakistan-Afghan border and North Waziristan, and their cold-blooded backlash, has seemed far removed from our daily lives. When my friends abroad questioned me about anti-terrorism offensives, I would tell them my information portals were the same as theirs, and the Pakistan I experienced was a different space from another conflict-ridden Pakistan – creating a Pakistan within a Pakistan. But in recent times, the assassination attempt on , the attack on the and the Peshawar school attack have merged the stream of militant reality with that of our everyday lives.
Now, there is only one reality. It’s not merely the armed forces fighting terrorism in the country, but all of us: and this requires, nay it demands, that there be a change of perspective. Writing in the Express Tribune, prompts us to regard this as the 9/11 of Pakistan. We are beyond qualifying arguments on whether this is Islamic or not, because this is cold-blooded murder, supported by no religion in the world, including Islam. We had put too much faith in our division of the Taliban into “good” and “bad” and continued under a false veneer of security. We incorrectly assumed that negotiations with the Taliban were measures of safekeeping, that we were winning this war. Perhaps the most gullible of us even told ourselves that the Taliban were still humans, capable of humanity, that they would not cross the line and attack innocent children. We now know how deluded we have been this whole time.
School response to terror
Being called the bravest nation by Newsweek, we are not ‘terrorised’ by the terrorists – yet to overcome this war is not merely to voice resentment, but to consistently speak out for education and security in Pakistan. Following the massacre, the provincial government in Punjab ordered schools to immediately close for the winter break because of the security threat. I heard a seven year old asking his mother if he too would be shot if he attended school. These are instances of an educational reality that is severely handicapped by terrorism.
Though the massacre was an instance of pure revenge on the children of army officers, the Taliban have been attacking other schools in Pakistan’s northwest region. This is because educated children will not be brainwashed by their warped religio-political dogma, threatening the sustainability of their efforts. In my research on how students perceive Islamic fundamentalism across various types of Pakistani schools, I discovered that post 9/11, schools of a religious nature are hyper-cognisant of how they are seen as Jihad factories and are therefore emphasising the need to cultivate enlightened, critically-minded youth. Our education system, then, may be the strongest weapon we have to combat terrorists.
Political parties, though divided, have united to push Afghanistan into handing over the man behind this ferocity, Maulana Fazlullah. Citizens’ outrage has prompted the Prime Minister to lift the temporary death penalty ban, followed by public executions of terrorists who had been previously imprisoned. In short, it is a time of minimal to zero concession. A major shift in policy is needed, but it is more critical that this be sustained.
Though I cannot speak for all us, many of us have been rendered, albeit unwillingly, apathetic to the attacks on humanity suffered in Pakistan because of their frequency. This was the weak argument we were using up until now as we slumbered on in a chaotic world. But there’s a time for all of us when we awaken and that wakefulness of our conscience is a blessing in itself that must be grasped, nurtured and fed – and I believe Pakistan has suddenly awakened. Finally. Thankfully.
*Saalika Mela  did an MPhil in Educational Leadership and School Improvement and is currently pursuing a course in religious instruction at Al Huda International, while working on research on Islamic Fundamentalism. Picture credit of man escorting schoolchildren after they were rescued from the Peshawar school: Express Tribune and Wiki Media Commons.