Pakistan yesterday woke up to days of mourning after Taliban militants killed 132 students at a school in the city of Peshawar in a grisly attack which shocked the nation and put pressure on the government to do more to tackle the insurgency.
Pakistanis waited to see what their government — long accused of not being tough enough on the Islamists — and the army would do to stem spiraling violence in a nation which has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Seeking to appear decisive, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced he had lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in response to the massacre, in which students were gunned down and some of the female teachers were burned alive.
The focus was on Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Afghanistan where the two sides, their relationship strained after decades of mistrust, were due to discuss how to crack down together on militants hiding on their common border.
People around Pakistan lit candles and staged vigils as parents buried their children during mass funerals in and around Peshawar, city on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal belt.
Pakistanis may be used to almost daily attacks on security forces, but an outright assault on children stunned the country, prompting commentators to call for a tough military response.
In all, 148 people were killed in the attack on the military-run Army Public School and 121 students and three staff members were wounded.
The sprawling grounds of the school were all but deserted yesterday, with a handful of snipers manning the roofs of its pink brick-and-stone buildings. Army vehicles and soldiers wearing face masks and carrying automatic rifles were deployed by the entrance.
The school was a scene of heart-wrenching devastation as media were allowed in for the first time. Floors were slick with blood and walls pockmarked with bullet holes. Classrooms were filled with abandoned school bags, cellphones and broken chairs.
One wall was smashed where a suicide bomber blew himself up, blood splattered across it. His body parts were piled nearby on a white cloth. The air was thick with the smell of explosives and flesh.
The military recovered about 100 bodies from the auditorium alone, military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said.
The body of the school principal, Tahira Qazi, was found among the debris from the rampage overnight on Tuesday. Her death raised further the earlier reported death toll of 147.
Qazi, who was inside her office when the militants made their way into the administration building 20m from the auditorium, had run and locked herself into the bathroom, but the attackers threw a grenade inside, through a vent, and killed her, Bajwa said.
A day after the attack, Peshawar appeared subdued and many people were still in shock. More details of the well-organized attack emerged as witnesses came forward with accounts.
“The attackers came around 10:30am on a pick-up van,” said Issam Uddin, a 25-year-old school bus driver. “They drove it around the back of the school and set it on fire to block the way. Then they went to Gate 1 and killed a soldier, a gatekeeper and a gardener. Firing began and the first suicide attack took place.”
Nawaz Sharif has announced three days of mourning, but people’s anxiety focused on what the authorities can do to protect them.
The prime minister came to power last year promising to negotiate peace with the Taliban — but those efforts failed this year, weakening his position and prompting the army to launch an air-and-ground operation against insurgents along the Afghan border.
The military staged more air strikes there late on Tuesday in response to the school attack, security sources said, but it was unclear what the target was.
The Pakistani Taliban, who are fighting to impose strict Islamic rule in Pakistan, are holed up in mountains straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Taliban said the attack was revenge for a military offensive against their safe havens in the northwest, along the border with Afghanistan, which began in June.
Analysts said the school siege showed that even diminished, the militant group still could inflict horrific carnage.
Additional reporting by AP
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory