Teary-eyed relatives of children massacred in a Taliban assault on an army-run school here paraded the city today carrying photos of victims as Pakistan marked the first anniversary of its worst terror attack with Premier Nawaz Sharif vowing revenge “for every drop of blood”.
Sharif, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf chief Imran Khan and several top leaders and security officials attended a ceremony here to remember the victims of the brazen attack on the Army Public School in which Taliban gunmen in army uniforms killed over 150 people, including 136 students, on December 16 last year.
Relatives of the attack victims participated in a parade here, holding pictures of their loved ones, while rallies and demonstrations were held in other parts of the country to pay tribute to the victims of the assault.
Vowing revenge, Prime Minister Sharif said the blood of the “martyrs” will not go waste. “We will take revenge for every drop of your blood.”
Sharif, while addressing the ceremony to observe the first anniversary of the attacks and remember the victims, said the operation against militants will continue until the threat of militancy is eliminated.
In the aftermath of the Peshawar attack, the government responded by broadening the ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ military operation which was launched in June last year.
The attack prompted the government to take several measures, including lifting a moratorium on the death penalty and formulating the National Action Plan against terrorism.
Pakistan earlier this month hanged four men linked to the Peshawar attack.
Sharif said the operation has broken the back of terrorists and the day was not far when terrorism will be completely eliminated.
“The operation will continue and we will defeat terrorism soon; we will defeat the enemies of education and children and give a peaceful Pakistan to our new generation,” Sharif said.
The Prime Minister said like all others he too had “come with the feelings of grief and sorrow”. The attack unified the divided nation because “everybody felt the pain of attack”, he said.
Sharif also said that it “was exactly after this attack that I gave up the idea of seeking peace with Taliban”.
Sharif also announced that December 16 will be observed as the Day of National Resolve to Promote Education.
The attack shocked the country scarred by nearly a decade of insurgency. Students and parents still complain of ongoing trauma for which many are still receiving psychological help.
“Everyone is traumatised inside the school,” said Mehran Khan, a 14-year-old student at the school. “We are all thinking that there will be another attack.
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Kazim Hussain, a nutritionist and businessman whose son was shot twice but survived, can still experience the horror of searching for his son in the 30 to 35 beds that were randomly strewn across the emergency ward of a hospital on that fateful day.
“I wish no-one ever has to face a scene like that,” he told BBC.
Waheed Anjum, 18, was shot three times during the attack – once in each arm and once in the chest.
“I can’t move my arms properly. I can’t lift weights,” he said.
The attack, which mostly claimed the lives of school children, has been termed a “mini-9/11” for the country.
Terming the assault as “an incident that shook the nation”, Sharif said, “We have to eradicate the darkness of obscurantism and lay the foundation of Pakistan, depicting on love, affection and tolerance.”
He paid tributes to the armed forces for waging a campaign against terrorism under the leadership of army chief General Raheel.
He said the people are also fighting shoulder to shoulder with the armed forces against terrorism and are rendering tremendous sacrifices.
The Prime Minister said the government is determined to hand over a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan in line with the dreams of ‘Quaid-i-Azam’ Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Earlier, General Raheel welcomed parents of the victims at the gate of Army Public School in Peshawar.
All federal educational institutions observed Martyrs of Army Public School Day and a public holiday was declared in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Various organisations held functions including rallies, seminars and symposia to pay homage to the victims of the terror attack.
The Prime Minter has also approved the proposal to rename 122 schools and colleges of the Islamabad Capital Territory after martyrs of Army Public School attack. The government has also announced to rename 10 schools in Punjab and five in the tribal region in the memory of the martyred students.
The mood at the Army Public School was somber as the event revived the horrific memories of the fateful day. Some of parents were seen crying during the ceremony as it brought back memories of their slain children.
The security was on high alert in the country with special arrangements made here to maintain peace. Hundreds of soldiers were deployed around the Army Public School.
Prime Minister Sharif and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Rashad Mahmood distributed medals to the families of the victims along with rights to plots of land.
After the attack, all schools were ordered to rapidly build walls and extra defences. The authorities at the Peshawar army school carried out massive renovations in an attempt to remove the memory of the attack.
The army decided to intensify Zarb-e-Azb. Last week, the army said 3,400 militants have been killed in the operation.
But critics have voiced concerns over a failure to tackle the long-term causes of the violence.