Pakistan on alert as nation marks anniversary since school massacre

2015-12-16 12:23
Pakistani army troops patrol a street leading to the Army Public School due to hold a ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the school massacre which left more than150 people dead, in Peshawar. (A Majeed, AFP)

Pakistani army troops patrol a street leading to the Army Public School due to hold a ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the school massacre which left more than150 people dead, in Peshawar. (A Majeed, AFP)

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Peshawar - Pakistan deployed paramilitary forces and police in major cities on Wednesday as it marked the first anniversary of a Taliban school massacre that left 151 people dead, shocking a country already scarred by nearly a decade of attacks.

The assault by nine gunmen on an army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which mostly claimed the lives of schoolchildren, was Pakistan's deadliest ever extremist assault.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to attend a ceremony at the Army Public School in Peshawar Wednesday, along with the powerful military chief General Raheel Sharif and opposition leader Imran Khan.

"Security has been beefed up throughout the country and additional police troops have been deployed in major cities, while paramilitary troops have been deployed at places deemed sensitive," a spokesman for the Interior Ministry told AFP Wednesday without elaborating.

Soldiers were standing at alert on main roads and junctions in Peshawar early on Wednesday ahead of the ceremony. A security official told AFP Tuesday that almost a full brigade would be deployed in the city.

Army Public Schools across the country are "particularly under threat", he said, especially in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, which neighbours the capital Islamabad.

Khan called on the nation to stand firm against extremism in honour of the victims of the "unimaginable tragedy".

"A year later we must honour the memory of APS martyrs & courage of the survivors by strengthening our resolve to defeat terrorists' agenda," he said on Twitter.

Hardened resolve

Of the 151 people slaughtered by the Taliban in the hours-long siege, 134 were children, according to the army's final toll.

The attack hardened public opinion against extremism and prompted a military-led crackdown that has improved security, with 2015 on course for the fewest deaths linked to extremist violence since 2007, the year the Pakistani Taliban was formed.

But critics warn that long-term steps are not being taken to eradicate the scourge of extremism in society.

Two survivors of the massacre attended a sombre ceremony on Tuesday in the British city of Birmingham organised by Nobel price winner Malala Yousafzai who herself survived a 2012 Taliban attack.

Malala was shot in the head in retribution for publicly advocating education for girls.

At the ceremony, Malala condemned Donald Trump's views on Muslims, saying the US Republican presidential candidate's comments were "full of hatred, full of this ideology of being discriminative towards others".

Trump has been heavily criticised for calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States after a Muslim husband and wife killed 14 people in a shooting rampage in California.

One of the massacre survivors, 14-year-old Ahmad Nawaz, recounted the horror of the attack in which he was shot in the arm and his brother was killed.

"I saw my teacher burned alive in that incident and the friends with whom I was playing," he told AFP in Birmingham.

"I was surrounded by the dead bodies of those friends. So it was the horrifying experience of my life and I still have nightmares."

One year on, a veneer of normality has returned to the Peshawar school where classes have resumed and children play while soldiers stand atop recently fortified walls.

But the trauma lingers and parents of the slain children say they are still seeking answers about how the nation's security apparatus could have failed them so completely.

In August, after a military trial that took place behind closed doors, the army announced that six militants linked to the Peshawar assault would be executed, while a seventh was given a life sentence.

On December 2, four were hanged at dawn in a prison in the northwestern city of Kohat, enraging parents who wanted to witness their deaths.

Some parents are also demanding a full judicial inquiry, complaining that no government, security or military official has yet been held to public account.

Read more on:    pakistan  |  security

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