PESHAWAR (TIP): Pakistan’s leader, speaking beneath portraits of children killed by Taliban bullets, called Dec 16 for vengeance as the country marked the first anniversary of a school massacre that killed 151 people in its worst-ever extremist attack.
Families of the victims along with military and political leaders attended an emotional ceremony at the army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar to mark the assault, which mostly claimed the lives of schoolchildren and has been termed a “mini-9/11” for the country.
Relatives were accompanied by students bearing images of their loved ones as they spoke one by one of children with bright smiles who worried about their hair and handwriting but had dreams of being artists and engineers.
Many of the parents broke down on seeing students in the Army Public School uniforms, an AFP reporter said.
“My children, today I make this promise to you, that I will take revenge for every drop of your blood,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, addressing the victims directly.
But angry and distraught parents told AFP nothing could bring back their children, with many reiterating calls for a judicial inquiry into the security failings that led to the attack.
“They can’t stop the tears of my wife,” said Jamal Abdul Nasir, breaking down into tears himself as he remembered his son Awais. “We want nothing, only justice.”
At least a dozen families boycotted Wednesday’s ceremony in protest.
Powerful military chief Raheel Sharif and opposition leader Imran Khan also attended the ceremony. A military official told AFP there were some 2,500 guests including celebrities and sports stars.
“We think a lot about the students who lost their lives,” Abu Bakar, a teacher who was shot three times as he threw himself in front of fleeing children during the siege, told AFP, saying the loss was “something that cannot be described”.
“This should not have happened to them. They were innocent students,” he said.
Groups in other major cities organised their own vigils, while on social media, many Pakistanis changed their profile pictures to an image depicting an APS uniform with a bloody bullet hole and a caption reading: “Some stains don’t wash out”.
The Taliban have said they carried out the attack, in which all nine gunmen died, in retaliation for an army offensive on extremists in the tribal areas.
But the attack hardened public opinion against extremism and prompted a military-led crackdown that has improved security. This year is on course for the fewest deaths linked to extremist violence since 2007, the year the Pakistani Taliban were formed.
Sharif said he hoped the day was “not very far when these terrorists will be eliminated forever and every corner of Pakistan will be a place of peace and prosperity”.