Osama Bin Javaid's Blog

Wash my blood stained bag, mama

Posted in Uncategorized by osamabinjavaid on December 23, 2014

“Please don’t switch the light on, my brother has just fallen asleep” Waqar Amin whispered to us as we tiptoed into orthopedic ward number 7 where many of the young boys with bone-wounds were being kept.

It was nearly two in the morning when I reached Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital after a school came under attack on Tuesday. Waqar told us that two of his brothers went to the Army Public School and both of them had been shot – one in the waist and the other in the head. Waqar’s a police constable and his family sent the boys to the military run school for better education. Despite attacks on schools and civilians no one in Pakistan expected children would be massacred in the heart of one of the most secure areas in the city of Peshawar.

Waqar says he received a call from his brother asking him to come to the school as ‘terrorists’ have entered the premises, he was scared and there was heavy firing in the background. Then the line disconnected and Waqar feared the worst had happened. He rushed to the school where a few military guards were standing helplessly before help arrived. They saw children lying on the ground in the distance but no one could do anything for them as bullets whizzed past them when they tried to get close. “Then the phone rang after I had called it a hundred times” said Waqar “my brother told me that he’s been shot and everyone around him was dead except for one of his friends. His friend was scared too and then my brother said I have to hang up someone is coming”. It was one of the worst places to be, Waqar was standing outside the school knowing full well that his brother is in imminent danger inside and he could do nothing – Waqar welled up as he described what went on. “Then the phone rang again, my brother said they were checking if anyone was playing dead by putting the hot barrels of their guns on their necks. Anyone who made a noise was shot. My brother turned his phone to silent and played dead too. There was so much blood coming out of his bullet wound that they didn’t bother to check if he was alive. This time he was really scared. He said don’t come to get me or they will kill you too. They just killed my friend.” Waqar spoke to his brother a few times after that in brief whispers as they feared the attackers would return. Heavy firing continued with intermittent blasts. Both brothers feared each blast and each volley of bullets. Several hours went by as the cat and mouse game continued between the attackers and the military. Finally the army said the school was clear. Waqar pleaded with the guards to allow him in but they said it was still too risky. Waqar then borrowed an ambulance volunteer’s hat to gain access to the school. He says they waded through several pools of blood. It was gruesome; bodies were scattered everywhere, freshly spilt blood of young boys and girls who should’ve been out in the playground. Waqar then saw his brother being helped by a soldier,¬† limping and bleeding…his face looked very pale. But he was alive.

In the cold corridor of the hospital, people were sleeping on the uncomfortable chairs, perhaps exhausted physically and mentally. Peshawar is a conservative city and everyone we spoke to said that humans are incapable of committing such barbarism and expressed disbelief that people who claim to be close to Islam be capable of such depravity. The doctor too sounded defeated. He told me that they were doing all they could for the wounded but for far too many they could do nothing.¬† Ever in his life he said he’d seen this many young deaths. He qualified that statement by aging “I have worked in Lady Reading hospital for years and being in Peshawar we get victims of terror attacks on a daily basis”. It was nearly 3am so we headed to the hotel.

The unbelievable brutality of Tuesday morphed into the agony of Wednesday at some point. Small coffins were delivered to many cities of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 142 funerals were taking place. In Mansehra 6 year old Khaula was laid to rest. She had left to take admission in army public school. She had prepared for the competitive entry test and everyone was excited for her. I was told her mother was inconsolable. Back in Peshawar among dozens of other families, Dr Shabbir Awan buried his teenage nephew Abdullah.

He too had an agonizing tale. But despite his composure he was angry. ” if they don’t have the resources to protect us, we accept it. But they too shouldn’t be secured with tax payers money buying them long motorcades and bomb-proof cars.” Shabbir told us as he wanted to convey his message to the government, “If the govt can’t protect the children if they can’t make the army stand infront of the schools, there should be no army in front of the corps commander house, at the PM house, there should be no security for them. They should be like us”.

It was early afternoon and the military took journalists to Army public school. When you enter the school there is a certain smell of death. The blood stained floors and charred rooms are signs of the massacre which happened there. Classrooms are riddled with bullets.. Books and shoes scattered after the mayhem. There are so many pools of blood. Outside someone had collected body parts, a picture no one can be prepared for regardless of their years of experience and training. The children were taking the exam in one of the main halls and there was an event taking place in the auditorium. Some children saw their principal being set on fire after she was shot. Some saw the last breaths of their closest friends. It looked like an abattoir not a school.

In the political corridors, the tragedy jolted the government. The prime minister and the army chief, two of Pakistan’s most powerful men, were in Peshawar and the bitterly divided politicians had all huddled together. Sensing that mere words won’t work, everyone in charge seemed wanting to prove that they were hurting too. The PM lifted the moratorium on death penalty for terrorism convicts and formed a national counter terrorism task force to devise an action plan within a week. Opposition politician Imran Khan ended his prolonged sit-in and planned anti-government protests. And the army chief flew to Kabul with the intelligence chief to shore up support from across the border as they intend to hunt down the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban believed to be based in Afghanistan. But Mulla Fazlullah’s men of the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan seem unfazed of the building consensus against them. A TTP release glorified the attackers and they sent me pictures of dead children who they say have been killed by the Pakistani army in military operations against them in the tribal areas. For them, the slaughter of children who included some from military families, is a way to inflict pain on the enemy in revenge. “It’s been a tough news story to cover as a Journalist and as a parent” a colleague confessed to me as she took long drags of her cigarette. “I don’t think I have ever cried this much while gathering news. I cried when I spoke to the families and I cried when I spoke to my newsroom” she told me that she kept thinking of her girls who she didn’t meet as she rushed out when the news of the school attack broke. She had said goodbye to them in the morning in another city but they were also wearing a school uniform the last time she saw them.

I just spoke to a grandfather who used to wait in the lawn by the front gate reading the paper and drinking tea as his grand kids would come home and kiss him hello. They would then run to their mother who’d been waiting to hear about their day, laugh at their silliness, be angry at their mischief, yell at them for not washing their hands and tuck them in every night. He lost his teenage grandson and says it’s an irreparable loss. To him the attackers have taken away bits of Pakistan’s future.

A friend has spoken to his son in a military school in another city. The nine year old boy says he isn’t scared but he’s been thinking of the last moments of the kids who died. He asked his dad would they have seen their dreams flash in front of their eyes and pop like balloons? Would they have been thinking of their ambitions? What if they fought with their mom and dad that day? How would they apologize? I asked him will he pull him out of the school and he says no.

As I board the plane to leave a resilient city, I’m reading this poetry in the local paper

Wash my bag mama – author unknown

Please don’t be cross- my bag’s got stains of blood All my books are red They’re lost and have become pictures of the past What happened to me how I long to tell you I travelled from your lap To a sea of knowledge in my school Explosions replaced the ringing of the bell Bullets were raining down from all directions That short moment of agony became so long In the chaos I saw that man A savage beast carrying a gun The messenger of hate in the cloak of religion He declared war as he entered our room of unarmed boys Waved his gun and lined all of us up And painted the walls with our blood Be proud of me mama I took the bullet in the head Did not waver did not falter did not fear

Please don’t be cross

The forehead you used to kiss goodbye

Has a hole and is covered in blood

I remember your words when I left in the morning Don’t forget to finish you lunch son Little did you know it was my last breakfast My creator chose my time was up Now I’m with my friends and eat with them Please don’t worry for me Please don’t forget me Please don’t be cross – my bag’s got stains of blood

I just called Waqar Amin. His brother Mian Amir Ali who was shot in the waist has underwent more surgery and his brother¬† Mian Ishaq Amir who was shot in the head just moved his body today – he’s not in a comma anymore. Waqar asked me to pray for their recovery.