“Riz, you have a phone call”, were the words I heard as I entered the air-crew room after a mission. I grabbed a mug of coffee and walked to the landline, least did I expect my youngest, 10 years old sister on the other end, a surprise, she never called me in my squadron ever before. I tried recalling if I had forgotten anything she had asked for but nothing struck my mind. Before I could even say anything, I heard loud erratic breathing and a trembling voice of my baby sister. All I could make out of what she said was: “You’re going to kill each and every one of the bad guys out there right?” I was stunned. I said yes of course that’s what I’m here for. She only could add: “Thank you.”
“A school in Peshawar has just been attacked”, I learnt, and for a moment I thought I heard wrong. How can someone attack a school? I asked myself. Even by the perverse religious lucidity the pseudo cults had been exploiting in the name of the religion of peace, how can someone even think of targeting innocent children who wouldn’t even know why were they being targeted? The unimaginable had happened. The Army Public School in Peshawar had been attacked by 7 terrorists who stormed in and opened fire indiscriminately and killed scores of the innocent angels. It was the Armageddon to say the least. Children were killed after confirmations for being sons of armed forces personnel. They were shot in the head. They were shot in the face. They were dragged out from under the chairs, under the tables and shot. At point blank. Their offense? They were sons and daughters of those who have dedicated their lives to defend their countrymen. 960 students and staff members were evacuated safely by Pakistan’s Special Services Group’s Zarrar Company specialized in anti-terrorism and hostage evacuation aided by Pakistan Air Force’s airborne surveillance aircraft. 141 embraced martyrdom on this black day in the history of humanity. 133 children aged 5-18 were martyred with an inquisitive expression on their faces “What is even our fault?” Teachers were set alight alive and students were made to watch them. Humanity died 141 deaths this day.
My mother called me last night: “Fight them. Kill them. They’ve hurt your mothers”, never had I heard my mother so enraged before. “Even my life for the vengeance”, I reassured her. It was as if she knew my answer but my tone would determine if she could even continue being my mother or not.
Armed Forces personnel are known to be emotionally distant and strong. My best friend gave his life for the motherland in my arms. I held his hands in mine and the last look on his face was of satisfaction and of entreat to continue the mission of safeguarding the motherland. The blood from his chest dropped on my hands, and sealed the deal. Maybe it is the military engrained in us, our emotional pendulum doesn’t swing back and forth wildly that much. We do not mourn our martyrs, we take pride in them. All that, but it took me 3 days to be even able to write this, one is just short on words on this savagery.
I’ve never seen such pin drop silence in our fighter crew rooms, ever. Even at losing our comrades in action, we get together, reiterate our resolve to continue the mission and fly to safeguard our homeland. 3 days and counting, no one has spoken a word since, just the exchange of silent reassurances between fighter pilots to avenge our children and we will.
The nation has been shaken by this vicious incident. People are frustrated and want to play their part in avenging those animals who took away our children. Anything they do just doesn’t seem enough. Every heart goes out to our mothers and want to take away their pain however it is possible. I got this message from a Pakistani right after the incident, and I’ve not seen truest of the spirits put up in words better than this.
The international media needs to align its true North too. These innocent children were not martyred because they were going to school, they were targeted because they were the children of the armed forces personnel who are fighting against terrorism at the forefront.
Today, I visited Army Public School Peshawar. As desolated as any place ever could be, I could see our traumatized children uncertain of what was coming at them in that blood adorned auditorium, I could hear them running in the destructed corridors amidst the gunshots. I could read their last messages on their bloodied books grabbed in pain. I could hear them all around asking me if I would continue their mission and I inevitably, inadvertently, kept nodding in affirmation throughout. Every step I took in those corridors, strengthened my resolve to get back and fight back stronger than ever, but there was something I had to do first.
I visited Combined Military and Lady Reading Hospitals Peshawar to meet the injured children and their families and to visit the great mothers who we all as a nation are indebted to. Every child I met in hospital was an epitome of courage and resilience and couldn’t wait to get better and get back to the same classrooms their friends had been shot in. “I will go back and complete my studies in the same school and join our armed forces to fight all the enemies.”, a 10 years old injured student told me. What a resolve, what a nation.
I then went to meet the mother of a 14 years old martyr. Believe you me, fighting a war, bombing the enemy, facing the bullets and the missiles is a lot easier, than facing a mother who lost her child. I walked in, the father of the martyred student embraced me. I could hear his heart beat and his lips quiver as he took me to the child’s mother: “He’s going to avenge our son”, he said and all of a sudden I felt as if I’m holding the whole sky on my shoulders. The esteemed most respectful mother looked up at me, there was a killing silence in the room. All she could do was extend her hand towards me, I knelt down, took her hand in my hands and kissed it: “Ma I will surely avenge every single one of our children”. A tear fell from her eye, rolled down on her cheek, dropped on our hands, and sealed the deal.
“What can we as Pakistanis in the civil do to help?”, a very dear friend asked me. Well first things first, we as fighter pilots and soldiers only need two things that boost our morale in the field infinite folds – National unity, and motivation. There has only been one time in the history of our country that has seen such superlative national unity as of today, the 1965 Indo-Pak war. All we need now is the motivation. There’s no denial this barbaric incident shook all of us, as the saner voices out there, we have all the more responsibility to get out there, walk our people through these toughest of the times. Our children will most likely develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We have to talk them through this, motivate them, and give them a reason to believe. We have to give our people just the hope they need to cling onto. Help us, those who are at the fronts and build the nation. This won’t be easy let me tell you but we will do it, Insha’Allah.
I will not mourn, I will not express my anger. I want to remember this incident as it is when I fight and kill our enemies, I want to remember every face of my children as I extinct all the terrorists and ash their bodies. I will not sit back. I have written off my life in my oath to my nation, I am indebted to her a 141 times more now. We shall avenge every breath and the drop of the blood of our children.
Every bomb that we target these hell bound terrorists with, will convey a message from the children of Pakistan, that they, will not bend and that they, will stand up again. We shall rise and shine. Won’t forget. Won’t forgive.
May the Lord give me the strength to uphold the promise I made to my mothers and may He help my people get through the toughest of the times. Amen !