Three years after the Army Public School Peshawar attack that claimed life of 144 students, the world might have moved on but not the families and victims of the massacre.
Labelled as the bloodiest attack in the country’s history, it is hard to imagine the struggle of the victims despite moving three years down the memory.
On the night of 15th December 2014, Ahmad Nawaz and his younger brother Haris Nawaz went to bed together, hardly realizing that it would be the last time both of them are sleeping together in a room.
Haris was reluctant to go to school next day but agreed upon his dad, Mohammad Nawaz’s insistence, an agreement that was to haunt Mohammad for years to come.
Haris kept whining all the way to school about how he could have stayed at home and slept.
Ahmed Nawaz, Mohammad Nawaz’s eldest son, aged fifteen at the time, was in the main auditorium of the school, attending a first-aid training session in which they were being taught about how to deal with a calamity in case one happens. It was 10 am and no one had any idea of what may precede.
Mohammad Nawaz was headed toward his car workshop around 10:30 am when he received a phone call informing him about the attack on the school that his two sons had gone to. Not caring much, he continued to go about his daily business, trying to recover from the death of his close relative.
An hour later, he received another phone call which told him about the rising number of casualties being reported from the attack.
Pakistan marks the third anniversary of militant raid on Army Public School
Two of his sons had gone to school that day. He didn’t want to contemplate the options that the situation was presenting to him but pretty soon he was rushing behind the ambulances that were taking injured and dead people from Army Public School to various hospitals in the city.
When the ambulances stopped at one of the hospitals, he started frantically searching for his missing sons.
His phone rang and this time it was his eldest son, Ahmed Nawaz talking to him in a stable voice and telling him of his whereabouts.
Six hours had passed and still no clue was to be found of his second son, Haris Nawaz whom Mohammad had forcefully sent to school in the morning.
His son who was known for having a heart of gold, who would go out of the way to help others and would get stressed when he would see the plight of Muslims abroad, was nowhere to be found.
Mohammad received another call around 4 pm. This time it was his brother asking him whether his younger son wore a watch to school that day.
Surprised, Nawaz checked with his wife who said he didn’t but younger son, Umar Nawaz informed them that he had taken his black watch and worn it to school that day.
The wrist watch became the source through which Haris Nawaz’s mutilated dead body was recognized by his immediate family.
The wrist watch was still clinging on to his chubby wrist when his family found him, as his face was unrecognizable from being blown up with a Kalashnikov.
Hospitals were echoing with crying and screaming mothers, fathers, and relatives of the children whose dead bodies were being brought in by the ambulances.
Body parts belonging to different bodies were scattered everywhere, heads were squished from being blown up by Kalashnikovs.
On December 16, 2014, it was 10 am in the morning and Ahmad and his school mates were gathered in the auditorium where they were being taught about first-aid training.
The first gun shots were heard from near the main hall in the front. Everybody got confused but the training officers assured the students to not worry and continued with the training.
Few minutes later, the door was knocked open by black turban wearing militants who shouted Allah-o-Akbar and opened fire on the hall full of students aged 13 to 16. The otherwise quiet hall turned into a room echoing with gun fires, screams of children, flying furniture and dead bodies falling to the floor.
Ahmad crouched lowest in his seat and tried to make sense of his surroundings. He assumed the situation was part of the first-aid training but the assumption was short-lived when he saw dead bodies falling and blood pouring all around him. Ahmad hid under his chair along with his other friends but their secret was short-lived as the terrorists discovered their hiding place and shouted to each other, “These scums are hiding under their seats. Kill each one of them.”
Ahmad said his last prayers and got ready to embrace death. A man wearing black turban neared the row of chairs under which Ahmad and his friends were hiding and started shooting at the exposed heads and bodies of the children.
Ahmad’s friend was hiding under the chair beside him. The terrorist approached him and fired shots aimed at his head.
Blood, flesh and gunpowder came flying on Ahmad’s face. Now it was Ahmad’s turn to leave the world but as luck had it, Ahmad’s head was hidden under the chair so he received shots in his left arm as the terrorist hurriedly walked by trying to kill ‘every hiding scum’.
The blood pouring from Ahmad’s hand covered his head in a puddle of blood. As soon as the terrorists left, Ahmad along with a few other injured students, who were alive, got up and tried to hide in the dressing room beside the stage.
Ahmad dropped himself at the door of the dressing room as he couldn’t walk any further. The room was full of children and a teacher who were moaning under the excruciating pain of injuries. Just when they thought that the terrorists would not return, they actually did.
This time they not only fired at the injured students but set the little room on fire too. Ahmad who was lying on the floor near the room stayed very still, making no noise and pretending to be dead. The terrorists stepped on him and walked out of the hall.
Ahmad had survived for the second time and was hoping to get rescued before a third encounter and his prayers got answered as he heard the rescue team approaching and hoisted himself up with the remaining energy in his body and reached Lady Reading Hospital in an ambulance full of dead bodies.
A year later admitted in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, Ahmad would wake up at night and tell his parents to close all doors and check the cupboards because ‘black turban wearing men are hiding in it with guns
Ahmad had his first longest surgery to save his arm that lasted for sixteen hours in which the veins of his injured arm were stretched and sewn together to enable it to work normally in future.
Laying on his hospital bed under agonizing pain and trying to come to terms with the loss of a younger brother and pain of an operated arm, Ahmad discovered through Television that about 800 children in UK have left for Syria, Libya, and Iraq to join the militants.
This came as disturbing news to the young lad who would still wake up from dreams shouting and crying and asking ‘the men in black to leave him alone.
It was Ahmad’s moment of realisation as he told his father about how he wishes to spread awareness and tell students in UK about how he has been victim of these militants and how they are not connected to Islam in any way. His dad profusely encouraged him.
Soon afterwards, Ahmad was on his way to physical and psychological recovery with the help of a supporting community at his school, family and friends.
Taking inspiration from his traumatic experience, Ahmad took up the campaign of educating UK students about the terrorist militants who were responsible for taking lives of 144 students in the APS school attack.
With the help of Anne Frank Organization, in September 2015 Ahmad started a campaign on education to reach and aware young students in UK about the curse of militants that is, Taliban.
Ahmad shared his story wherever he went and became a source of inspiration for young school children. Ahmad was called-in by British Prime Minister Theresa May, Speaker of House of Lords Mrs. D’Souza and various other ministers and officials in the House of Commons and House of Lords to encourage and acknowledge his bravery and spirit to make the world a better place.
Three years to the horrific event, Ahmad now stands tall and determined as ever to lead the world toward literacy, peace, and acceptance. He is serving as the youth ambassador of World Merit Organisation, and the Anne Frank Organisation. He has been presented the Award of Bravery and Resilience by Government of Pakistan, and UK and Europe young person of the year award.
Having given speeches as key note speaker at United Nations and attended Estoril conference of the Nobel Prize laureates’ fame, Ahmad is on a mission to make the world a peaceful and safe place for future generations so no other child has to watch their friends and teacher get shot and burned alive to death or wake up at night screaming from nightmares of their murderer’s faces