‘How can they kill our kids? Because we let them’

“How can a human being execute children?” we asked.

They can, they have, they will do so again. And still, nobody here says their name. Then again, so much of what happened in Peshawar on Tuesday goes against the very moral fabric of basic humanity. You do not kill the young, you do not slaughter the helpless.

We cannot, any of us, imagine the horror of innocent schoolchildren being forced to see their teacher burnt alive, blood pouring from her wounds. I simply can’t fathom how those cowards could shoot 132 children in the head, at point blank range, one by one. Children. I can’t stop thinking about those tiny terrified children sprawled on the cold floor, eyes shut, fingers in their ears, the boom of the gunshots getting closer and closer. In another room, one of the terrorists blew himself up in a room with 60 children. Some of the parents couldn’t recognise their child’s body, so powerful were the blasts that killed them.

A 16-year-old boy, Shahrukh Khan, was shot in both legs. He was one of the lucky ones. He played dead while the attackers shot rounds into his classmates’ skulls. He survived by stuffing his mouth with his school tie so that he wouldn’t scream. Others were able to play dead because of the amount of blood on their clothes. In one of the TV reports from the hospital where surviving victims were taken, you could hear a boy, no more than 14, screaming in the background: “Take me home, take me home. They’ll come back to kill me. They’re coming back.” He may well be right. They will be back. There was no objective in the Peshawar attack other than to kill children.

Pakistan is mourning. There has been a collective outpouring of national grief; we have declared holidays, set up funds and hashtagged our feelings. The day it happened, people posted their shock on social media with sad lines like,

“Not even children are safe?”, “Today is Pakistan’s 9/11”, “The country will now stand united” and “We will not be defeated”.

I desperately want to believe those things are true. But I don’t. People have to vent their anger, shock and disgust, which is understandable. But in answer to many people’s questions: No, it doesn’t shock me that the Taliban would kill 132 schoolchildren. Less than a week after Malala Yousafzai devoted her Nobel Prize speech to talking about this very issue, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Malala too wore a uniform, she too was shot in the head.

The Taliban’s war on children, on education, on women, on minorities, on the very fabric of tolerance, should come as no surprise. The worst kinds of narrow-minded, toxic and self-destructive people called Malala a “western stooge” because she showed them a side of our reality they simply didn’t want to accept. Now we have 132 Malalas and counting. Except, these children didn’t live. They are dead, lifeless and lying in tiny coffins. Much like all the other children who were murdered in the more than 1,000 schools that the Taliban have attacked in Pakistan alone. Much like the other children who will be targeted again

I stayed away from our news channels on Tuesday night. I just didn’t want to see another apologist, another rancid personality spin a yarn about how America, the drones and Western imperialism are the reason these children are dead. They are not. These children are dead because of a war on Pakistan that comes not from the US, but from places close to and within us. Places that we are too terrified or cowardly to stand up to. What’s more, these children are not martyrs. Comforting as it is for many to say so, the title diminishes them. These children were murdered, not martyred. These were not religious warriors on a battlefield, they were not soldiers of religion fighting a war. These were children trying to go to school. Don’t turn them into soldiers because they were killed in a war.

Predictably, people immediately spread the news that the attackers were speaking Arabic and Uzbeki, in an effort to make these cowards seem alien to our country (invariably most of these people support Imran Khan, that cowardly apologist). They are not. To buy into that stupid, shortsighted, delusional idea is to have lost the battle already.

And yet, nobody wants to take the Taliban’s name still, despite the group having taken public credit for it. I am repulsed, as a Pakistani and a thinking being, that Imran Khan has stood on containers for half-a-year protesting the biggest ill of this country — corruption, according to him, and the fact that he didn’t get elected — but still refused to talk about terrorism or to condemn the Taliban publicly. How is it that he spent years asking us to negotiate with them and yet never, not once, calls for their eradication from this country despite other events like these?

This is not the time to “come together” so we can “mourn communally”. We’ve been mourning, huddled in a terrified corner, for over a decade now. This is not the time to mourn; this is the time to get angry. This is the time to clearly and forcefully name your enemy, and hold them accountable for their crimes against humanity. Anything less, and you’re a part of the problem.

There is no solace now, no negotiation. There never really was. There was only fear, hubris, selfishness and short-sightedness. The Taliban do not require “office space” to go with their guns, they are not “misguided” in their goals. They will not stop until they have destroyed the country, if not more. I honestly believe that anyone who apologises for them, who obscures the names of religious killers under vague terms like “security threats” and “militants”, is as much a part of the problem as the killers. There is no more room for ambivalence.

But in the midst of this crisis, the world rallied. Almost immediately, Indians online started the hashtag #IndiawithPakistan to show solidarity, as neighbours and humans, with the country during the tragedy. Thank you, for your tears and your prayers. They mean a lot to us.

I hope that sometime soon we can all look back on this as the starting point of a galvanising movement that eventually rid the region of this evil scourge. I doubt it. Mainly because the answer to “How can a human being execute children?” is, sadly, “Because we let them.”