Malaysia Bagus News
Malaysia Bagus News
The authorities at Peshawar's Army Public School (APS) have carried out massive renovations in an attempt to remove the memory of the 16 December 2014 attack by the Pakistan Taliban that claimed 150 lives. But the first anniversary has laid bare the scars left by the tragedy.
Altaf Hussain, an English language teacher at the APS, describes himself as a strong-willed man. But many regrets have chased him over the last year.
He was injured in the attack, but it was the death of his six-year-old daughter, Khaula Bibi, that hurt the most.
Mr Hussain joined APS in August 2014, just four months before the massacre. He moved his family to Peshawar from his native town of Balakot. Two of his sons were admitted to the 7th Grade in APS, while Khaula was cleared for admission to 1st Grade on 15 December 2014.
The next day, she became the youngest and only female pupil to die in the APS massacre.
"We were in the computer lab on the first floor of the college wing, making snapshots of her and printing them on her admission form, when we heard the firing," Mr Hussain says.
He went around the corridor to see what was happening, and then came back thinking it must be an army drill. But soon afterwards, Madam Shahnaz, a school teacher, came running up the stairs and said they were killing the children.
It is a long story, but Mr Hussain says he entrusted Khaula to Ms Shahnaz and went out to assess the situation. He got two bullets in his torso and passed out.
He never saw Khaula again, or attended her funeral. He was on a ventilator for two days, and on a hospital bed for more than two weeks.
He was later told she took a bullet in the head, and that Ms Shahnaz was also killed.
"I passed her onto death with my own hands," he says.
"I could have taken her to safety. By then, I knew which side the gunmen were coming from and where was safe [to go], but instead I decided to engage the killers, trying to prevent them from coming up the stairs."
As with Mr Hussain, the onset of December is also stirring up memories for other parents and children.
"Anniversaries are sad occasions, they tend to increase the severity of a memory of loss, or an ordeal, and may even cause emotional breakdown," says Dr Mian Mukhtarul Haq Azemi, a senior psychiatrist at Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Peshawar's largest.
Since the APS attack, LRH has provided psychotherapy to more than 500 parents and children suffering from anxiety, depression or the more severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But Dr Azemi believes those affected by the APS massacre may run into thousands.
The Peshawar massacre
Kazim Hussain, a nutritionist and businessman whose son was shot twice but survived, is one of them.
He can still experience the horror of searching for his son in the 30 to 35 beds that were randomly strewn across the emergency ward of LRH on that fateful day.
"The boys in those beds were all of the same age, the same size, all soaked in blood. They were quiet, not crying, not moaning. There were no tears in their eyes, just shock, and fear."
He recalls that he would look at one boy, and decide it was not his son. He would move to the next bed, then come back to the first one and take another look to make sure it was not his son.
"I wish no-one ever has to face a scene like that," he says.
Mr Hussain is the member of an association of parents that has been trying to get treatment, both mental and physical, and academic relief for students who survived.
They have been highlighting the problems of the children who underwent behavioural changes, ran into fits of anger, broke things, stopped focussing on studies, and did poorly in exams.
They have been demanding an inquiry to fix responsibility for the security lapse despite a security alert in the preceding month of August, a demand which they say has fallen on deaf ears.
"All of this has distracted me for one whole year - I can't concentrate on my work," Mr Hussain says.
Like most other parents, he has moved his son to another school in the hope of helping him to regain his confidence and focus.
But there are others who have done exactly the opposite to achieve the same end.
Afshan Tehseen, 42, joined APS as a teacher to help her only child, 15-year-old Ghulam Sameer Awan, go back to the same school where he faced the assassins' bullets.
Sameer was hit in the stomach, hid in a crowded classroom in the school wing, and managed to make a phone call to his mother for help. His father was away on business in Lahore.
Afshan says she ran several kilometres from her house to APS along a road jammed with traffic. There was no scarf on her head, and one of her shoes broke.
Outside the security cordon near APS, a man sat on the pavement, beating his head in grief. She also sat on the pavement, crying.
A neighbour later drove her to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) where Sameer had been taken. The scene there was similar to what Mr Hussain had seen at LRH.
"Every boy looked like Sono (Sameer's pet name). I can't count the number of stretchers I chased in the hope of finding him. At one point, I was sure I had found him, but when they removed the boy's shoes, he was wearing black socks whereas I had given Sono white socks to wear in the morning."
Later, when Sameer came home from hospital, he suffered fits of stress, depression and loss of sleep. He would freeze in fear at the sound of gunfire. And he lost interest in his studies.
Afshan says all their relatives were against sending him back to APS. "But my husband and I thought going back to APS was the only way to help him exorcise his demons."
And an easy way to do this was for her to join the school as a teacher, a job she had already done for 10 years at another school previously.
"He has a sense of security that I am there with him, and I have the satisfaction that he is before my eyes all the time. We are all happy."