The Sham of “Never Again, Never Forget”


“Never again”
“Never forget”

For most of us, this is a mantra recited every 16th December.
And while we speak of the 141, we forget that those really left behind were 141 shattered families.

Amid their immeasurable pain, sorrow and loss, these families, gathered immense courage to knock at the doors of power.

The APS attack, which the so-called “paradigm shift” and the grand National Action Plan were predicated upon, has actually been the subject of a concerted and brazen campaign of silencing and harassment which has been directed at these parents who have been tirelessly and bravely demanding an inquiry and investigation into the ghastly attack.

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Who does an inquiry threaten and why?
What dangers does it pose?

An investigation and a probe will provide no closure to the insurmountable grief of the bereaved, but an investigation will provide some semblance of accountability, answers, and a degree of insight that may be used to prevent further lapses and failures which endanger countless lives.

The APS attack doesn’t warrant the spectacle of mawkish speeches and songs, grand commemorations and empty and insincere vows declared every 16th December, the APS attack doesn’t demand this sham and farce which humiliates rather than honors and remembers the loss.

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As long as an inquiry into the attack is not conducted, the sham of justice, the sham of “never again” and “never forget” shall continue.

And today, let us also remember these parents, and salute them for their resolve and courage, for not bowing to numerous pressures and intimidation, for being the only ones to never forget.

Commemoration to Spectacle


What should’ve been a somber remembrance of the most violent and horrific act in Pakistan’s history and memory was brazenly converted into a national spectacle on the 16th amid no sense of shame or respect.

Knowing the nature of the course things in Pakistan tend to take on occasions and days of some significance, the sensible thing to do for anyone on this 16th  December should’ve been the maintenance of a distance from all the noise and fuss which reigns here. But it was foolish to expect that the usual would be avoided on a day of such grave and grim character.

From “virtual documentaries” on the APS attack, GEO’s anchors distastefully donning APS uniforms as some sort of costumes, to playing instrumental variations of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful Life’ as the background to coverage of the bereaved families’ grief; the media coverage, exceptions apart, was crass and infuriating.

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Similarly, posters and advertisements of ChenOne brazenly “saluting” the APS children while promoting its “Mid-Season 50% Sale” appeared in large numbers all over DHA Lahore. As if advertising a mid-season sale during the month with reference to a ghastly tragedy of the same month at the same place was some an entirely sensible and sensitive move, which could only be read as: “Hey, we honor the memory and now that you have noticed this advertisement, hey, we also have a sale this month!”

Screenshot 2015-12-22 12.45.33Moreover, what was observed as the commemoration was also an overly-nationalistic and militaristic pomp and show about which Umair Javed tweeted, “Instead of sombre mourning, guilt and reflection on the senseless violence we’ve turned 16th December into a display of chauvinistic nationalism.”

Further down the line of all that was disconcerting and dismaying on the first anniversary of the Peshawar attacks were a set of narratives that were being constantly reinforced and parroted, particularly of resilience and sacrifice.

To reiterate something I have often said, it is a penchant of ours to present our temporary outrage, temporary outpouring of grief and temporary empathy in the glossy garb of ‘resilience’. And once again, this 16th, many proudly proclaimed just how “resilient” Pakistan has been after the Peshawar attacks, how “resilient” this nation is; without any thought for the parents and families who are still grieving and will forever grieve; without any thought for these families who have been knocking at every door, every day for a year, for their demand of a judicial inquiry into the massacre of their children.

And perhaps resilience is the last of what we need after the Peshawar Attack. What we need is unequivocal and lasting rage in the face of terrorism and extremism and every shape and form of it. Let us not be resilient for once. Let us remember and grieve for those taken from us in Peshawar not just every 16th December but every day and forever.

The second narrative was of the 144 lost in Peshawar being a sacrifice; portraying the children’s death as some sort of glorious ‘sacrifice’ rendered in the name of the nation and country. This is nothing but a crass narrative constructed to give the tragedy an ennobling tint other; obscuring its stark reality so that our eyes are shielded from seeing it for what it was: a senseless, violent, cold, calculated shedding of blood. A sacrifice is a conscious and voluntary decision, not the inhumane usurpation of innocent lives that were never given a chance to even begin or blossom. No parent sends his or her children to school as some sacrifice, no parent sends his or her child to school only to never see him again. As one mother put it, “People say I should be proud because my son is a martyr, would any mother willingly trade places with me so she could feel this ‘pride’?” What happened in Peshawar was no sacrifice, and it was nothing to which the slightest sentiment of pride could be associated. To call the killing of our children as a ‘sacrifice’ is a shameless and insensitive trivialization of the tragedy.

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A social-media post by Maham Nasir sharply denounced the disgraceful discourse:

“Stop trivialising the APS tragedy by calling it a sacrifice. It was not a sacrifice. No parents choose to send their children to school so they can make a sacrifice. Don’t tell the parents of the victims to be proud of the ‘sacrifice’ their child made. It wasn’t a sacrifice, it was a carnage. Stop handing out medals to the ‘proud’ parents. No parent feels pride in their child getting murdered at school. It wasn’t a sacrifice, it was much more than that.”

Screenshot 2015-12-22 12.51.19Lastly, there was of course, the hate against Malala which can best be described as rabid since not even the 16th of December, and the respect it warrants for the day, was spared, but actually disgustingly used in a way that is insulting to the 144 too, to sling mud against her.

It is pity that had Malala never survived after being shot, she would have been venerated by everyone. Her fault is to have survived and most of all, be globally admired for her courage and determination. Yet it is incredible how a child, a teenager can evoke such hate and outrage without having done anything to tarnish Pakistan; but those who shot at her and their ilk have not been able to evoke even a fraction of that anger and infuriation.

It is an absolute shame how 16th December was observed this year; through a conversion of commemoration to a spectacle that was made about everything but the lives lost, the inconsolable loss inflicted on Pakistan and the families, and the solemn, sober and honest reflection, mourning and remembrance the day demanded.

To the 144, we failed you again.

-Hafsa Khawaja

They Were Not Numbers


*First published by Hum-Aahang. On seven months since Peshawar:

Majid Maqsood is a 16-year old student who has just passed his matriculation with 80% marks and is headed towards college. He loves music, football, writing and composing songs, and rapping. Incredibly polite and rather mature, he is brilliant young boy, but most importantly, a brave one.

Majid is a survivor of the Peshawar Attack.

When the attack began, Majid was in the auditorium with students of the 8th, 9th and 10th grade for a medical lecture. Soon they heard the sound of firing as three terrorists entered shooting, at the sight of which he sat down to take cover; the best he could do to hide. They went firing from chair to chair, now remembering which Majid is surprised that he managed to survive. He recalls that in those eight to ten minutes of firing, more than a hundred students were killed.

Ten minutes.

A hundred children.

Ten children killed in every minute. Ten families shattered forever, in sixty seconds.

Ten minutes. A hundred children. Each with a name, a face, a family, a future.

They were not numbers.

“They were the future of this country; someone was a brilliant doctor, one an army officer, one an engineer, one an actor, one a musician , one a politician – everyone was pursuing his dream and working hard,” he recalls. “Each one was kind, intelligent and smart”.

He remembers the last time he played football with Mubeen Shah, but in particular, he remembers his close friend Usman Abbasi. “We used to play together, sit and talk, go out. He was a really mature guy and more intelligent than me. He was a sharp but he had different dreams and goals too.”

He wants people to not just remember Peshawar [attack] as Peshawar and all that is conventionally associated with the city, saying those who were killed were “were not only Pathans or from Peshawar, it was an army school so students from all over the country were studying. Even I am not a Pathan. On the 16th, the dead bodies went to almost every part of Pakistan.”

The dead bodies.

Dead. For once they lived; they breathed, they played, they hoped, they dreamed.

They were not numbers.

I asked Majid if he felt people had forgotten the attack, and he was quick in expressing his sense of the briefness of outrage after Peshawar, the short-lived grief and the hollow promises, “After the 16th [of December] I learnt a lot, that there’s no one for you, no one cares about anyone.”

But as a survivor, despite the scars of trauma and sorrow, he believes he has emerged stronger than before, “After losing my friends and teachers, now I am afraid of losing others. All I went through is beyond describing; all those dead bodies of friends, lashes of blood, shouts and screams, but that day really made me strong because now I am no longer afraid of such cowardice. That day revealed the value of a single life to me.” He now wants to do a tribute song for the APS attack victims.

No 16 year-old who loves music or writes songs, should ever be thinking of channelling the expressive power of these passions into a tribute for his fallen friends, peers and teachers.

No 16 year old, and no child, should ever be required to be this brave.

Yet Majid’s maturity only strikes with the harsh acquaintance survivors and victims of the APS attack had to make with the hideous realities of life; of blood, death, and loss. A reality birthed by consummate barbarity.

But he continues to have lofty ideas and plans, “I am focused on my own work, and I have many aims and dreams in life but not just for me but for my country, its people, everyone.”

Majid is not one boy; he is one of many, many who were usurped forever from us.

They were not numbers.

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They were made of blood and flesh. They had hopes, fears, zeal and dreams. In them were poets, painters, singers, soldiers, artists, sportsmen, philanthropists, doctors, and leaders. They were tomorrow’s Faiz, Manto, Wasim-Waqar, Gulgee, Jahangir Khan, Moin Akhtar, Ahmed Shah Bokhari, Nur Khan, Adeeb Rizvi, Abdus Salam and Alvin Cornelius. They were to scale the mountains and to soar into the skies. They were to imagine, to create, to heal. They were to pave the path for a better, peaceful, a just tomorrow. They were the promise of a tomorrow.

Seven months on, Majid is right to assert that, “Time heals but we [the survivors] don’t want this.”

Let us allow this wound to deepen. Let us stare into this abyss of loss. Let us never let the pain of Peshawar subside.

Let us realize that December 16th 2014 made us forever poorer.

Let us never forget, for they were not numbers.

– Hafsa Khawaja

The Night is Dark


*Originally published in The News. Unedited version below:

Five Hazaras were gunned down in Quetta on 7th June. Numbering 500, the bereaved families and members of the Hazara community later protested on the streets with coffins of the deceased. In vain.

Aftab in his youth

Aftab in his youth

Aftab Bahadar was hanged on 10th June. Sentenced in 1992 for a murder along with Ghulam Mustafa, the plumber for whom he worked, he had been painfully waiting on the death row since 22 years. However, both Ghulam and the eyewitness who testified against Aftab only recently repudiated the claim that Aftab was complicit in the crime. According to Guardian and human rights organization Reprieve, Aftab said that when he was arrested the police asked for a 50,000 rupee bribe and said they would let him go if he paid. He couldn’t.

What lies between these deaths is hollowness, a hollowness of promises and vows that continues to jar louder each day since 16th December 2014.

With a seriously flawed judicial system and reportedly the world’s largest number of inmates on death row, believed to be over 8000, the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan was controversial from the start. Yet all reason was jettisoned in an attempt to subdue and satiate the seething fury and mourning after the Peshawar Attack. The decision was oblivious to logic in disregarding the fact that the very desire of terrorists resides in death and the anticipated ascension to heaven; and that an ideology as toxic, bloodthirsty and pervasive as that of extremism cannot be bound, let alone defeated, by the mere physical elimination of its members. Nonetheless, the restoration of the death penalty was made to appear as a seemingly bold and big step against terrorists; symbolic of the state’s newfound deadly and steely resolve against terrorism. However, the reinstatement of the death penalty was but a grand eyewash and façade used to deflect from taking real action on the fronts that demanded immense political will, honesty, courage and tenacity. A reality starkly reflected between the unabated killings in Quetta and the hanging of Aftab Bahadur at Kot Lakhpat.

The comprehensive National Action Plan that emerged in January as the government’s guide to countering terrorism and extremism seems to have been an act of plain political grandstanding since it remains far from any noticeable implementation.

A critical statement on the state of madrassah education by Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed was enough to evoke a spate of hate and attacks against him, prompting fears for his safety. Pervez Hoodbhoy succinctly spoke of the controversy’s implications in his Dawn article ‘The Pervaiz Rasheed Affair’“Not a single voice in government defended the information minister. By refusing to own the remarks of its own information minister the government has signalled its retreat on a critical front — madressah reform.”  Such are the hazards and hurdles associated with the problem of extremism in Pakistan that a mere statement can shackle the government from action. As for the minorities Shikarpur, Youhanabad and Quetta suffice to mention. They continue to be hounded while militant outfits such as LeJ and SSP continue to run amok with their lust for blood.

On the other hand, decisions taken in wake of the Peshawar attack such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s permission to allow teachers weapons inside schools resonate with the coarse nature of political imagination in the country. The prevalence of such poor governance that determines this slipshod management of alarming issues and knee-jerk reactions to them has only recently taken the life of a 12-year old pupil in Swat who was accidentally shot dead by the teacher while he was cleaning his pistol.

Despite the monstrosity that bloodily usurped the lives of 141 children, the government’s reaction has been marked by the customary national cycle of temporary outrage, condemnation, protest, forget and repeat. The recent killings of the Hazara in Quetta and the execution of Aftab Bahadur serve to illustrate the lack of any decisive, solid or substantial government and state action against terrorists and extremists, and the superficiality of the steps taken, such as the restoration of the death penalty, in curbing the cancer.

Little has changed six months since the Peshawar Attack, most of all the captivity of Pakistan and its collective consciousness by political, ideological, social and moral paralysis.

At such a moment in time, one must listen to a dead man speaking from his grave; Aftab Bahadaur’s words from his last letter (translated and published in The Guardian a day before his execution):

“While the death penalty moratorium was ended on the pretext of killing terrorists, most of the people here in Kot Lakhpat are charged with regular crimes. Quite how killing them is going to stop the sectarian violence in this country, I cannot say. I hope I do not die on Wednesday, but I have no source of money…I have not given up hope, though the night is very dark.”

The night ended for Aftab as his last, but for Pakistan, indeed the night remains very dark.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

~ Tyranny of Everlasting Sorrow


On 16/12/14, to which it has been six months yet nothing has changed but the deepening of 141 wounds inflicted upon every single Pakistani till the end of time.

On the mother in a bloodied and tattered green and white.

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Oh beloved mother,

Bloodied and bruised,     

From the tyranny of misfortune,

Your children wished to nurse you tomorrow, 

Yet what trampled you forever, prevailed yet again;

The tyranny of misfortune triumphed,

Into the tyranny of everlasting sorrow. 

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Hollow Healing


*Originally published in The News.

Newspapers recently reported that a group of students and teachers who survived the Peshawar massacre had been sent on a trip to China ‘aimed at healing the mental scars of their ordeal’; and that the bereaved parents of the 130+ children killed would be sent on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Although officials maintain that the trip was borne out of suggestions and consultations done with psychiatrists regarding the process of healing, reality offers a far difficult road to recovery for Pakistan.

With 50,000 massacred – yes massacred, not sacrificed; let us not romanticise the bloodletting that consumes Pakistan; for a sacrifice is willing and conscious, but a massacre is plain butchery – the sigh between mourning countless tragedies and the breaths heaved between cries is the only peace the nation can prise.

The Shikarpur slaughter that took away 60+ lives has revealed the empty change the Peshawar tragedy spurred in Pakistan in the form of standard hollow condemnations, promises and eyewash.

Palliative measures such as the lifting of the moratorium on death penalty and hangings of convicted terrorists may satiate national vengeance, but do not and should not dampen the need for national justice; for which a solid anti and counter-terrorism policy is essential.

Furthermore, there has naturally been no shortage of the absurd since the KPK government’s decision to allow teachers weapons inside schools stands glaring. As shocking is the decision, it is also a tragic testament to the state’s loss of its monopoly on violence, cruelly emphasised by terrorists, and its reaction to it which seems to border on surrender and acceptance. Such an acquiescent attitude clearly signifies the state’s indifference and inability to protect the lives of its citizens and guarantee their liberty, safety and security. And from the KPK government’s decision, it appears that the solution to this loss of state monopoly has been found in compounding the problem by doling out more and more shares of the monopoly to segments of the violence-ridden society.

More recently, arrests were made of the members of the civil society, which included the dauntless Jibran Nasir, protested in Karachi by holding a sit-in against the Shikarpur imambargah bombing and the ‘outlawed’ ASWJ. The protesters’ demands included naming all banned organisations on media; closing the offices of all the banned organisations, removal of their flags, erasing their wall chalking; taking action against Aurangzeb Farooqi, ending his police protocol; and providing treatment to patients who need care in Shikarpur, Sukkur, Larkana hospitals in Karachi and Hyderabad. Abbas Nasir, while reflecting on the hopelessness prevalent in Pakistan, penned in Dawn:

“The party in power at the centre never staked a claim to any progressive mantle. But the party in power in Sindh claims to be the keeper of the legacy of pro-people, even secular, politics in the country. Look at how it has capitulated to the religious ultra-right.”

The arrests of the protesters served, yet again, as shameful reminder of the state and government being held hostage to non-state actors and organizations such as the ASWJ and SSP; committing complicity in the crimes perpetrated by these individuals and organizations by way of pandering to them and putting up frequent shows of spinelessness when it comes to them.

The persecution and troubles tormenting religious minorities such as the Shias in Pakistan are very much a part of the problem of terrorism and extremism; dealing with which cannot be discounted if Pakistan is to overcome this crisis. The blood that was shed in Shikarpur was in the name of the same ideology that shed blood in Peshawar. Therefore, to ignore or separate the sectarian angle from terrorism and extremism in Pakistan would be to have a blurry and weak vision of the danger the country faces.

Buried under palliative measures, national amnesia, short-lived bouts of outrage; and the empty promises and deliverance that have become the crowning glory of the PML-N government, which seems to be competing against the records of cluelessness and incompetence set by the previous PPP government, are the concrete steps that remain far from being taken in Pakistan’s fight against terror. Concrete steps that disturb the long-cherished equilibrium and existence of policies and trends in Pakistan including the establishment’s notoriously duplicitous policies, the ties of patronage and alliance Pakistan’s political parties pride themselves on with sectarian outfits; and the cowardice that crowds the corridors of powers in Pakistan from taking on extremism and terrorism with sincerity and tenacity.

The trip to China may temporarily divert the children’s attention, but the usurpation of their childhood, that no child should ever have to bear, is consummate and irreversible.

Comparing the response and reaction in Pakistan after the Peshawar Tragedy to the reaction in France and Jordan after the Charlie Hebdo killings and Muath Al-Kasasbeh’s barbaric murder by ISIS of a nationwide outpouring of solidarity and grief coupled with government resolve, the Pakistan Votes page on social media commented with a quote from Waseem Altaf:

“A fractured polity, polarized political entities and a divided crowd of people, with a security establishment which wants exemptions for certain groups (read proxies) and a spineless leadership is what we have to fight the menace of terrorism.”

Sending the children on trips will not suffice, providing them a future better than their past will. And for that, a lot more needs to be done. Until then, all is hollow healing.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

The Wedding, the Media and Us


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog.  Unedited version below:


Tu ghanti big ban di, poora London thumakda
Oh jaddo nachche pehn di, poora London thumakda..

Kabhi kabhi mere dil me khayal aata hai, kee jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye….

Bollywood classics and the latest romantic songs rung loudly against the images of Imran and Reham Khan as a sense of festivity occupied most channels yesterday owing to the couple finally tying the knot. As lowkey and simple was the marriage ceremony, it managed to kick up an even bigger storm in Pakistan.

Jon Boone of the Guardian noted and wrote:

“For Pakistan’s news channels it was the equivalent of a starting pistol fired on a sudden royal wedding, but with no footage to satisfy the audience.

They did their best, overlaying with fireworks the few available stills of the couple while traditional wedding music played over video of impromptu celebrations thrown by Khan’s supporters around the country.”

Features on the new Mrs. Khan and her biographical information ran as tickers on several channels along with footages and pictures, astrologers were called in to foretell the future of the marriage; Imran and Reham’s faces were morphed onto pictures of gaudily dressed bride and groom, relatives of the couple were contacted and of course, social media also ran amok.

From following Imran Khan sisters and issuing news of their absence at the Nikkah, which journalist Shiraz Hassan aptly called ‘Phuphu Journalism’ on Twitter; to inviting astrologers to argue over the strength of the new union between the two individuals, going as far to predict when a khushkhabri will come; Pakistan’s media once again succumbed to the temptations of trashy sensationalism. And once again, it has thrown light on the long way it has to go before being a beacon of real, responsible and mature journalism.

As much as the crazed response to Imran Khan’s marriage and judgmental comments on Reham Khan are deplored, they are but nothing new in a culture in which privacy is an alien concept and prying is a popular practice and norm. Unfortunately in Pakistan, where many hold the audacity to foresee God’s will and declare people bound for hell, anyone’s business is everyone’s business. It is therefore little wonder and slightly understandable that Imran Khan’s marriage was made subject of such a reaction and response.

However, it has still been shocking.

For a nation that saw the coldblooded, barbaric murder of 140 children less than a month ago, a mood as jolly and celebratory as that espoused by the media and the obsession sparked within the people was nothing less than abhorrent. Yet it signaled the quick shifting of priorities, focus and heart in Pakistan. Pakistan seems to have internalized and entrenched the norm of apathy in the form of temporary outrage, temporary outpouring of grief and temporary empathy which are proudly shrouded in the glossy garb of ‘resilience’. Any hope that the Peshawar Tragedy would strike and shake the lifeless body of emotion, reaction and empathy in Pakistan with horror and fury into galvanization dims in the face of this reality. Our apathy has become complicity in the bloodletting.

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In view of which, maybe it is too much to expect Pakistan, institutions and people in it to put up a show of sobriety and solemnity; to, for once, hold a monstrosity alive in head and heart and drive a stake through the monster once and for all.

It is often here said that USA had one 9/11 but Pakistan has one every day; yet such a spectre as was witnessed after Imran and Reham Khan’s wedding would never have been witnessed in America less than a month after 9/11. They never forgot, and we already have, as always.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja