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The APS Attack: Pakistan's 9/11

16th December 2014 was a day like no other. It was to change Pakistan forever. On this fateful day, seven armed gumnen stormed the building of the APS campus located in Peshawar and indiscriminately opened fire on teachers and children, killing a total of 150 people. The majority of which were students. This was an attack that shocked not only Pakistan but the world. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack so it was categorised as a terrorist offence. Nonetheless, this was a deadly massacre that not only proved fierce enough to be named as Pakistan's version of the 9/11 but also included schools as sites of violence in the war against terrorism.

In the aftermath of the APS attack, educational institutions were rendered vulnerable. There was immense fear amongst students from the school itself alongside those countrywide of attaining education. It was as if schools and education were a new target for the terrorists against the army and it terrified the youth as well as the parents. The attack's aftermath expected competent action from the Pakistani state. The Peshawar massacre had proved that there was something deeply flawed not only in terms of national security and the manner in which the state chose to engage with the terorists but also it was education and schools that needed reform as well. This attack did not only prompted swift short term action but had forced the state to enquire the matter deeply and look for long term plans to prevent this from happening again.

However, in wake of this incident, the government's reaction has not been anything but disappointing. Following the attack, the Pakistani military intensified its offensive against the Taliban in the north. Schools were asked to hire snipers and jack up their security. All the children that lost their lives in the attacked were named as martyrs and the ISPR also released an emotionally overpowering song to pay tribute to the victims, "bara dustman bana phirta hai jo bachon se larta hai", It was as if the state was not ready to pay attention to the larger issues at hand that could have been an underlying cause of this attack such as the education that these "mujahideen" receive in madrassas and how they needed reform. The main and only response was to deal with violence through violence. School security was immensely heightened across the country so much so that schools became a rather scary, militarised and suffocating space for children to study in instead of being comfortable and welcoming.

The survivors of the attack, enrolled students at APS also did not receive the required psychological support needed. According to a teacher, some counsellors were only assigned for certain months after the attack and then they left. Trauma and unhealthy enviornment to study in led to students getting bad grades and their future career choices being affected. The government simply provided monetary compensation to households that lost their children or had them injured and tightened the security of the school instead of providing the victims with justice and the survivors with emotional support and a guarantee that this would not happen again. The Pakistani government should have also looked at making counsellors mandatory at all schools as living in an active war with terriorists, experiencing and watching bomb blasts all day on television screens does affect children. Even if this attack is kept in isolation, it was terrible and full of sorrow for all the students nationwide.

Response to a tragedy as grave as the Peshawar massacre is incredibly pertinent. Pakistan's response to it can only be counted as a short term fixture with beefed security and increased war efforts in the conflict against the Taliban. However, such an attack questions the state's priorities, focusing on a long term reform involving madrassas, psychological services at school amongst others are some of the policies that the state should have adopted and even must adopt now. It is important to question whether Pakistan has learned if anything from the APS tragedy in the long run.

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