APS Tragedy: Failures And Lessons Unlearned 

The APS attack in Pakistan remains a painful scar on the nation's collective memory, and the government's failures in bringing the perpetrators to justice and implementing meaningful reforms have only deepened the wounds.

APS Tragedy: Failures And Lessons Unlearned 

Every December, our collective memory is marked by poignant reminders of historical tragedies that have left lasting scars on the national consciousness. Initially, it was the heartbreaking disintegration of East Pakistan, and for the past nine years, we have been haunted by the indelible memory of the Army Public School tragedy, which claimed the lives of 132 innocent children. This annual revisitation of sorrow not only reopens the wounds of the nation but also exacerbates the profound grief experienced by parents who endured the unimaginable loss of their precious children in the tragic incident.

On December 16, 2014, the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, found itself at the heart of an appalling terrorist onslaught that resulted in the tragic loss of 132 innocent children and 16 dedicated staff members. This deeply distressing incident reverberated not only within the nation but also across the globe, catalyzing a unified outcry for justice and a critical reexamination of Pakistan's counter-terrorism methodologies.

In the immediacy of the crisis, the government responded swiftly, rallying the full support of the nation to initiate extensive operations in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Ex-FATA). The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which claimed responsibility for the APS attack, found itself uprooted during these decisive actions. However, despite the initial resolve to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward any extremist and violent groups, subsequent governments and the military establishment pivoted toward a different approach.

Rather than maintaining an unwavering stance against all forms of extremism, our successive administrations and military leadership, in a curious turn of events, continued to support the Afghan Taliban. This strategic shift was driven by the aspiration for a more amicable government in Afghanistan, overlooking the inherent contradiction in simultaneously combating domestic threats while nurturing ties with elements that could potentially perpetuate instability in the region. This policy divergence raised concerns about the consistency and coherence of Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts, leaving the nation grappling with the complexities of a dual approach.

The persistence of inconsistent policies has been a source of deep concern, particularly when terrorists responsible for the tragic loss of our children were once again engaged in negotiations. Adding further anguish, Ihsanullah Ihsan, the former spokesperson of the TTP who claimed responsibility for the APS attack, was inexplicably brought into the country as a state guest. This decision, rather than reflecting a firm stance against terrorism, seemed to pour salt into the wounds of parents who had already endured the profound pain of losing their children in the APS attack.

The extent of the state's capitulation became even more disconcerting when it reached a level where a shameless anchor was not only facilitated to interview Ihsanullah Ihsan but was also provided a platform on a national news channel. This move, instead of seeking justice for the victims and their families, appeared to be an insensitive spectacle, further deepening the wounds of those who had already suffered immeasurable loss.

The insensitivity reached a distressing point when the grieving parents, seeking solace and justice, found themselves mocked and harassed by the government. Rather than providing the reassurance and support that these families desperately needed, their voices were met with disdain. This callous response not only exacerbated the pain of those who had already suffered but also undermined the trust that the citizens placed in their government to safeguard their well-being and seek justice in times of distress.

The government, and notably the higher courts, have regrettably fallen short in addressing the grievances of the aggrieved parents. While the Supreme Court has demonstrated its capacity to hear cases of national significance, such as those involving political figures like Bhutto, it is equally imperative that it lends its ear to the plea of the parents seeking justice for the children lost on December 16.

The time has come for accountability, where those responsible for formulating policies that treated terrorism as a foreign policy tool, whether they be civilians or individuals from other sectors, need to be held accountable. Just as high-profile cases are given due attention, the case of the December 16 children demands a similar level of scrutiny and commitment from the highest judicial echelons.

It is crucial to shed light on those who shaped policies that inadvertently or otherwise utilized terrorism as a tool. Naming and shaming these individuals, irrespective of their status, is a necessary step toward transparency and justice. Making them stand in the dock will not only bring closure to the parents who suffered the loss of their children on December 16 but will also serve as a symbolic act of accountability for the countless civilians and members of law enforcement agencies who lost their lives due to policies that inadvertently fueled terrorism.

In the pursuit of justice, it is paramount to identify and prosecute those who played a role, directly or indirectly, in the tragic events of December 16 and numerous other instances that resulted in the loss of innocent lives. Only through a resolute commitment to accountability can the nation hope to rectify past wrongs and ensure a future where the lives of civilians and law enforcement agencies are safeguarded from the devastating impact of misguided policies.

The APS school terrorist attack in Pakistan remains a painful scar on the nation's collective memory, and the government's failures in bringing the perpetrators to justice and implementing meaningful reforms have only deepened the wounds. This tragedy remains painfully relevant even after nine years. The relentless occurrence of terrorist attacks and the continued loss of lives serve as a stark reminder that had we persisted in policies aimed at eradicating terrorists unequivocally, without wavering or extending selective support to certain terrorist groups, we might not find ourselves in the present situation where the lives of our law enforcement members are endangered on a daily basis.

The persistent threat of terrorism and the ongoing loss of precious lives underscore the critical importance of adopting unwavering and comprehensive counter-terrorism measures. The hindsight provided by the passage of time makes it clear that a consistent and resolute approach, rather than policy fluctuations and selective support, is imperative to ensure the safety and security of our law enforcement personnel and the broader citizenry.

The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.