By Ayesha Babbar
Very few events in our recent history have brought humanity together like the massacre that took place at the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar last year on 16 December, 2014. The shootings, the deadliest and most horrific of their kind in Pakistan’s history, were carried out by the Taliban killing 141 innocent pupils and teachers. Dressed in the guise of military uniforms, the seven gunmen shot and shot again to make sure they could claim as many lives as possible.
In the aftermath, as the world pulled together, shocked at the scale and the nature of the attack, people from far and wide wanted to help in any way they could – be it Amir Khan, the British-Pakistani boxing champion, who visited the region and donated his fighting shorts to be sold in support of the affected, saying that was ‘least he could do’ or the Kiwi cricketing duo of Kane Williamson and Adam Milne who pledged their match fees for the then ongoing Pakistan – New Zealand series to help with the rehabilitation of the injured.
To help the children scarred forever by the images of their friends and teachers being barraged by bullets something much more was needed. As Amir Khan observed, ‘The kids are really scared to go back to school again. They really need a bit of a confidence boost and hopefully they will go back to normal life.”
Even today, as I look through the stories of bravery and courage that emerged from the tragedy, I get goose bumps. One such story is that of Ahmad Nawaz. Ahmad, who was 14 at the time and a student of APS Peshawar, saved his life by playing dead. On that dark, bloody morning, when the gunmen arrived at the school, Ahmed was in the main auditorium with his classmates. As soon as he realised what was happening, he threw himself under some seats and pretended to be dead. The gunman who was shooting inside the auditorium shot Ahmad in his left arm. Although he was in excruciating pain, Ahmad continued laying still on the floor.
Later, as the gunman left, Ahmad fled to another room where some of the other injured students were hiding. Not satisfied with the innocent lives they had already taken, the gunmen returned. This time they were shooting the already-injured children in order to make sure they were dead. They missed Ahmad’s still body on the floor. Their next target was a teacher, who had also taken cover with the students. As she was burnt to death crying out for help, poor Ahmad could do nothing more than lay absolutely still. These killers were not going to show any mercy.
Ahmad was later rescued by the Pakistani Army. His brother, Haris, who 13 and also at the same school, was not as fortunate. By the time the military came, Haris had already succumbed to a bullet shot into his face.
After initial treatment in Pakistan, Ahmad was moved to Britain for further treatment. It was during this time of great suffering that his resolve to grow up to join the Army and defend his countrymen became stronger. After undergoing various life-saving surgeries, Ahmad is now back at school.
Last week, he visited Leeds and Bradford to promote education in the region, sharing his own story. The visit where Ahmad was accompanied by his parents, Muhammad and Samina, was facilitated by Zeynab Ahmad.
While in Bradford, Ahmad also met the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor Joanne Dodds, and Council Leader, David Green at the City Hall. Later in the day, he got the opportunity to share his gruesome story at a private VIP dinner, hosted at Akbar Café. He made a special mention of the efforts of Zeynab Ahmad, in inviting him to Bradford. The audience, which was made up of politicians, deputy head teachers, business and community leaders from the Yorkshire region, was left inspired by the young 15 year old, who has decided to rebuild his life like many of his friends and classmates at the APS Peshawar.
Most of his classmates in Peshawar are now back at the same school. These students are now more determined than ever to achieve their goals in life as they feel that they owe the ambition and courage to their lost loved ones.
As the school’s anthem, which has now been adopted by students across Pakistan, goes:
‘Main aisi quom se houn jiske who bachon se darta hai’
I am from a nation, whose children frighten him
‘Bada dushman bana phirta hai jo bachon se larta hai’
Some enemy he is, who targets the children.
It is a sentiment that is echoed widely in the school amongst the remaining students and their families. General Raheel Sharif, the Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan, has himself been taking a personal interest in the rehabilitation and progress of the students.
The painful memories of that sad day, when the heaviest coffins were lifted, will probably remain etched in the minds of all of us for many, many years to come but for now, the students are back at school, trying to excel and prosper with an even stronger resolve, serving as an inspiration for people from across the world.