On a seemingly quiet winter morning, on a fairly slow news day, armed gunmen, fully equipped with suicide vests, slipped into Bacha Khan University, Charsadda, and killed twenty-one people, injuring around thirty people. Most of them were staff and students. Among the victims, a resident professor, Syed Hamid Hussain, fought off the attackers to the best of his abilities, shielding his students. He saved his students from death – he was supposed to be teaching chemistry that day.
None of this was supposed to happen today.
The university students were gathered today to commemorate a man called Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan – whose philosophy was non-violent. In the face of British oppression, Bacha Khan stood tall. Today his memory was marked by more blood – a war far more confusing than the one the people of the subcontinent were fighting against the British. Those young students had no idea they were going to war. Just like the many innocent civilians who perish in attacks like these only to be lauded as ‘martyrs’ and ‘shaheeds’.
It is yet another irony. Young boys and girls with books do not want martyrdom. They didn’t sign up for this. These heavy words are subterfuges for our fears. The reality is upsetting to us that our children, our men are dying in wars that men in suits fight in their comfortable rooms, marking innocent blood as ‘collateral’. Fancy policy makers, big time generals, big names. Zarb-e-Azb. National Action Plan. All Parties Conferences. Martyrs. Shaheeds. Commemorations. Resilience. Sacrifice. Heroes.
The truth is, the terrorists won today. Those suicide jackets didn’t go off, say the reports, but they managed to kill twenty people. Those faces of attackers may have been wiped off from the news cycles, but the fear of their ideology lurks in every day, in every moment of our lives as our loved ones dress to go to school, to work, to the market, trying to feel ‘normal’. There is no normal. You may think it is. But it isn’t.
There’s Zarb e Azb going on, says ISPR, with “90% of the area clear” and where terrorists’ “backs have been broken” and has met with “great successes”.
Operation Zarb e Azb, the military backed offensive had been launched against the Taliban back in June 2014 after the attack on Karachi airport, today marking its nineteenth month. While it was still going on, the Army Public School in Peshawar was brutally attacked on December 2014 killing 144 beautiful lives and traumatizing hundreds more. While the incidence of attacks may have been reduced compared to the years before, one wonders who is winning the PR war. The terrorists or recently promoted, Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa? Our information minister? Every time a terrorist attack happens, the hyperbole is played up. The songs are sung and the videos are released and the ‘analysis’ are presented and the official looking visits are propounded with sharp efficiency. But all of this is completely useless to that dead chemistry professor. To those parents who are mourning their children from APS. To the many more who have paid the price of a war that we didn’t even know we were fighting.
These attacks are designed specifically to kill, to be explosive, for the lack of a better word, and most importantly to make a statement: you are not stronger than the fear, you are not stronger than our bullets, you are not impervious to the bombs, your children are not safe, you think you can send your family to mosques, to churches, to schools, to universities – but in reality, you are always looking behind your shoulder, aren’t you? You are always wondering, hoping, thinking, about that suspicious box. That shifty looking fellow standing in the corner. You are paranoid. It makes sense. You are afraid.
Without taking away the due success of Zarb e Azb, Janab Chief of Army Staff, Janab Prime Minister, Janab Interior Minister, Janab CM KPK, I must remind you. I must remind you amongst gory headlines of dead tolls and images of crying parents and trucks loading coffins.
I must remind you lest you forget. I must remind you lest you forget the face of the young chemistry professor amidst that giant flower arrangement. I must remind the big men making big decisions. The important men still differentiating between the good Taliban and bad Taliban. The men silently letting terrorist allies and apologists thrive and maintain sleeper cells all around Pakistan. I must remind you among all the conspiracy theories that take away attention from facing the real menace. I must remind you, as you might find it easier to blame RAW, that the mastermind of the APS attack claimed responsibility of Charsadda. I must remind you lest you forget. The terrorists are winning. They are monsters. And they are winning. Our children are human. And we are losing them.
And the irony is getting bloodier and bloodier each day.