APS tragedy: forever etched
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BY Z A H I D H US S A I N | 12/16/2015 12:00:00 AM
ONE year on, the horror of the Army Public School tragedy in Peshawar continues to haunt our conscience. Terror atrocities have killed thousands of people in this country and yet it remains unthinkable that anyone could target children. There are perhaps few parallels of such brutality in modern history.

Children as young as 10 were among the victims.

It was, perhaps, the gravest moment even for this country that has seen so many tragedies and bled so many times. The wounds of parents losing their children can never be healed. Those who escaped the macabre dance of death are back in school traumatised by the memories of their colleagues mowed down in front of them. Their lives can never be the same again. The Dec 16 massacre gave a new and more brutal turn to militancy in the country.

Many of the victims were children of army officers and personnel engaged in fighting in the tribal areas. The terrorists chose a soft target to send a message to the army and to spread fear. They failed, however, in their objective despite the horror they inflicted. The gruesome action united the nation.

Even those who sat on the fringes in the battle were compelled to join in.

Some of the perpetrators are believed to have been killed. But the masterminds are still at large plotting new terror attacks from their bases across the border. Those who justify the terror brutality that does not even spare children are still among us making our new generation even more vulnerable.

The execution of a few terrorists is not going to eliminate this evil. It is a protracted war against a mindset that is deeply entrenched in our society. How willing are we to fight this battle? One year on from this unforgettable national tragedy it is time for renection andintrospection.

One year later, we are still looking for an answer to how it all happened. How did terrorists laden with heavy weapons penetrate the supposedly high-security zone and enter the school unobstructed? The killing spree continued for some time before the security forces arrived. Was there any investiga-tion? Was anyone held responsible for criminal negligence and punished? Have we really learnt any lessons from the tragedy? The answers are not clear.

Surely, the nation stood united in grief and in condemnation of the horrific action, but was that just a fleeting moment? The resolve to take the battle against terrorism to the end was short-lived. It did not take much time for the apologists to resurface with their twisted narrative. There has not been any serious effort to counter it. It was back to the old ways, almost as if nothing had happened. Even those children injured in the attack were forgotten. Only the parents were left grieving for their slain children.

Then there are also questions about the muchtouted National Action Plan agreed on by the civil and military leadership in the aftermath of the school attacl(. Although the 20 points constituting NAP can hardly be described as a coherent counterterrorism strategy, no serious effort has been made to implement even these.

Except for the military courts and the revival of the death penalty there has hardly been any visible progress on the other points. Hardly any action has been taken against the radical madressahs and sectarian groups involved in militant violence. While some senior Lashkar-i-Jhangvi leaders have been killed in what is described as `police encounters`, many others are still active inciting sectarian killings.

The promise of reforming the legal system and speedy trial of thousands of suspected militants detained by the security forces during the operation is yet to be implemented. Many of them have been freed by the courts apparently for lack of evidence.

Surely the most critical issue is terror financing.

Some cosmetic actions notwithstanding, little has been done to block the inflow of outside funding for militant groups and radical madressahs. In fact, in some cases it has been alleged that elements in the government have been protecting the sources as well as the recipients for political reasons. What is most alarming are widespread reports of some countries recruiting fighters for the ongoing proxy war inthe Middle East. It is a very dangerous situation further fanning sectarian tensions in the country.

The madressah reforms and their registration that were among the most important points of NAP have been put on the back burner under pressure from radical religious groups and the mainstream Islamic parties. No action has been taken against Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head cleric of Islamabad`s Lal Masjid for condoning the Peshawar carnage and inciting violence.

It is true that the level of militant violence has come down significantly over the last one year mainly because of the military operation in North Waziristan and other tribal agencies. This has crippled the Tehreek-i-Taliban Palcistan`s capacity to carry out large-scale spectacular terrorist actions.

But there has not been any respite in attacks on religious minorities. The attacks on the Christian and Ahmadi communities mostly in Punjab remain a serious concern. Both the federal and provincial governments have failed to show the kind of commitment required to fight terrorism.

The non-implementation of NAP has endangered the gains made by the security forces in the tribal areas. Thousands of our soldiers and ofhcers have laid down their lives to defeat the TTP and restore state authority in the region. The blood of fallen soldiers would go to waste if the scope of the operation against militancy and extremism is not extended to the entire country.

It is basically radicalisation that produces extremist mindsets and the terrorists of the kind who were involved in the APS attack. Without removing the sources of radicalisation and extremism, the battle against terrorism cannot be won. A similar tragedy could happen again if we slip in our commitment to taking the battle against extremism to its logical conclusion. The best way to pay homage to the victims of the December tragedy is to reaffirm our resolve not to let this happen again. • The writer is an author and joumalist.