“I saw army instructors falling on the ground first. I saw many of my friends getting bullets on their heads, chests, arms and legs right in front of me. Their body parts and blood were flying like small pieces of cotton in the class room. Warm blood and flesh of my friends fell on my face and other parts of my body. It was horrible. They kept on firing bullets for at least 10 minutes and then stopped. It was a pause of a maximum of a minute. Next moment, they started spraying bullets again towards those who were crying with pain or moving. I also received two bullets on my right arm. I wanted to cry with my full voice but I held my pain and did not cry because it meant death.” –Ehsan Elahi
Umar Mansoor, a 36-year old father of three and a volleyball player, was the mastermind behind the Peshawar massacre carried out by the Pakistani Taliban on December 16, 2014. Approximately 132 children and 9 staff were brutally murdered, making it one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan’s history. The attack on this private army school was the Taliban’s response to the Pakistani army’s military offensive against the Taliban and implementation of extrajudicial killings.
Mansoor claims, “If our women and children die as martyrs, your children will not escape. We will fight against you in such a style that you attack us and we will take revenge on innocents.” Another Taliban spokesman, Muhammad Umar Khorasani, states, “We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females. We want them to feel the pain.” Traditionally, women and children are protected in war, so this attack shocked not only the entire nation, but the whole world, too. However, Mansoor is also close to Mullah Fazlullah, the leader that ordered assassins to kill Malala Yousafzai, so children does not seem to be off-limits for the Pakistani Taliban.
The Silver Lining
The Peshawar massacre is undoubtedly one of the saddest events that our world has faced over the past few decades. After reading about, listening to, and seeing videos and images of the Pakistani Taliban’s atrocious acts in Peshawar, it is easy to get very disheartened and lose faith in humanity altogether. After all, the victims were just children.
As such, while we mourn for the children that lost their lives a few days ago and continue to show our support to their families and the nation, I think it is important to look at some of the silver linings.
First, this event is significant because it is the first time ever that the Afghan Taliban have publicly condemned the actions of their counterparts, the Pakistani Taliban. A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, who ironically have also been known to kill innocent civilians, states, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has always condemned the killing of children and innocent people at every juncture. The intentional killing of innocent people, women and children goes against the principles of Islam and every Islamic government and movement must adhere to this fundamental essence.” The public shaming by the Afghan Taliban has embarrassed Mullah Fazlullah immensely and has also caused many of Mullah Fazlullah’s followers to leave the Pakistani Taliban. Hopefully, the Pakistani government, along with its international alliances, will seize this opportunity to rid the country and the world of at least one terrorist group, a victory that the world very much needs at the moment.
Next, this event has brought together two nations, India and Pakistan, that have a long history of animosity, fighting, and war. While India and Pakistan used to be one country before 1947, the partition, which resulted in never-ending disputes over borders and an increase in religious intolerance, created a lot of hatred between both countries. However, the Peshawar attack has united both countries, with over a million Indian Twitterers using the hashtag “#IndiaWithPakistan” to show their support for Pakistan. Pakistani Twiterati responded by using the hashtag “#PakWithIndiaNoToLakhviBail” to support India because accused terrorist of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, got bail last Thursday.
Lastly, not only have the Afghan Taliban and India sent their sincerest condolences to Pakistan after this attack, but people from all different nations, regardless of religion or other beliefs, have come together to support the victims of the attack, the victims’ families, and Pakistan. People from all corners of the world, from the US to London to China to Australia, have shown their solidarity with the victims and their families through candlelight vigils. The world stands united as it condemns the brutal massacre of the 132 children and 9 staff members.
So, why does it take acts of terrorism, especially one that killed over 130 children, to unite the whole world? Why is a massacre of children one of the only things that can get people and nations to put aside their differences and unite? Is this the only common ground that we can find? I wish I had an answer to these questions, but I think these are the questions that we need to start asking ourselves. It appears that the detrimental effects of natural disasters and extremism are the two things that unites people and nations, regardless of religion, race, caste, gender, etc. As such, I believe that there needs to be global dialogue and action around finding methods to increase feelings of tolerance, peace, and unity among people and nations on a daily basis, and not just in emergency situations.
Looking into the Future
Like always, I want to end this post on a slightly more positive note. We have all heard and read about the Peshawar attack, but what does it actually mean for the future of schools and children in conflict areas? Can something be done to prevent these attacks and ensure the safety of children? And is anything being done right now?
UNICEF, along with a few other UN agencies, are working with country governments to develop policies and programs that address the issues, such as the lack of security, education, shelter, food, or water, faced by children and people in areas of conflict. Moreover, over the last couple of years, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) has published the Draft Lucens Guidelines that just so happens to answer these questions. The GCPEA has also published several reports, that are usually updated annually, that can also aid governments in the effective implementation of policies and programs to protect attacks on education, such as what recently happened in Peshawar. These reports include but are not limited to information on what teachers and communities can do, lessons learned from war and conflict, and how to protect schools, institutions, students, teachers, and administrators from attacks on education. My hope is to see these guidelines, which are based off of field research and extensive data collection, implemented in all countries around the world, especially those in conflict.
As you can see, all hope is not lost as there are many organizations continuously fighting for the safety and well-being of children and adults in conflict all around the world. Effective implementation of these guidelines and programs is vital to prevent situations like the Peshawar massacre from happening again. On this note, I want to leave you with two quotes from Mahatma Gandhi: (1) “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty, and (2) “The golden rule of conduct … is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision. Even amongst the most conscientious persons, there will be room enough for honest differences of opinion. The only possible rule of conduct in any civilized society is, therefore, mutual toleration.”
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