I remember sitting in the snow all night. We were being bombed. Usually after a few hours it would stop. But not this time. I remember the faces of my kidnappers; how they kept saying, “Ya Rabi, Allah hu Akbar,” as the bombs fell. I remember wondering how someone who celebrated the massacre of innocent children could have the spine to take God’s name. But I would remember being tortured and how they would say Allah hu Akbar every time they hit me. They said it gave them strength, so I would say it right back, and louder because it gave me the strength to take any and everything they threw at me.
When the bombs started falling closer to us, I told my kidnappers, “Inshallah, today there are is no escaping. Inshallah, today you will be put to trial.” The same evening, I was sitting in my corner when my guard Sohail ran in, ecstatic. My Uzbek was weak but I could pick up that there had been an attack. Then, Muhammad Ali, the leader of the group, turned around and told me in Urdu, “Alhumdulillah we have avenged our women and children.”
As they took the radio out and started listening to the news, the horrors of what they were celebrating started to dawn upon me. Almost 150 children murdered in cold blood in broad day light. I couldn’t understand what was going on. “Army Public School,” they kept yelling, while hugging each other. “We have hit the enemy at the core,” they said. I had had enough. It was three-and-a-half years into my kidnapping so my fear of fear itself was really just a joke. “You are sick! These are children”, I shouted,” The Holy Quran says never touch women and children literally till they are about to kill you! Have you no respect for the word of God?” Trust me, asking them if they had any morals was stupid. I had screamed that in darkness upon deaf ears millions of times. I told them believe in karma. Believe that when you take something that you have no right over will be destroyed, if not in this life then the next. I told them that neither the Prophet (pbuh) nor his companions ever touched a child — unless it was to give knowledge and love. What they had done was heinous. “We will all die,” I told them. That’s when they said that they had not done it. An Ayat from the Quran and suddenly morality kicked in! They said it was Jundullah (which happened to be the name of their media cell). “Get lost!” I said as I sat back in my corner. I had no tears left but I knew tonight would be a tough night.
After every attack in Pakistan, I felt as if the bombs and bud duas (curses) all fell on me. I survived that night. And many nights after that till one day, a few months later, I saw this picture of my wife, Maheen, with some APS children. I think by this time, just her and my cousin Sharmeen had me as their profile pictures on social media. It had been months since I had had any contact or information. Seeing this picture, I finally found the strength to cry. Finally, I cried not out of pain and loneliness but the fact that there was still someone I could connect to. My wife had written about how being with the children and their families was the closest she had felt to me. I smiled because it was the furthest I had ever felt from her. I thought about those kids and their families and how there really was no justice. How can you give justice to a child who has lost his parent? And how do you console parents who have had their children stolen from them? You can’t. We could not defend our children that day.
The planner of this attack many many months later was in jail with me. I asked him how he justified it and he said that they were going to grow up and become army officers. “Mashallah, brothers”, I said. “We have a man who can see the future!” I told him that perhaps out of the 150, one would have been an imam. Maybe one would have been a doctor who worked pro bono in war-torn areas and treated your grandchildren? Were those two lives not important? Was the life of any Muslim child not important? What were you fighting for? I thought it was for women and children and the cruelty of the great western powers! What exactly is the difference between them and you?
I swear to you, he had boasted (about the attacked) in jail and I know he wasn’t lying because he had two other people with him to back his story about how he had planned the attack. He looked at me and said that the army had done it themselves and that they (militant groups) always took credit for these things but that it was an internal plot. All the other people started to laugh at him (all militants from various Pakistani and Afghan groups taken prisoners by the Taliban for joining the IS). I didn’t laugh. I saw how weak the devil really was. Spineless. I have seen the maddest men of our time. Men who say they are mujahideen, selfless in sacrifice. They were liars, traitors, cowards, thieves and murderers. That night I asked God to forgive me for fighting to stay alive in the company of men like these; for depending on such men to spare or even save my life. I also asked God to make me humble as a man and to embed the memory of that night in my soul so that I would never forget. That is what I ask, never forget. #16December, 2014.
The writer is the director of First Capital Securities Corporation and Chairman of Pace Barqa. He is the son of slain Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer.