Pakistan mourns dead after school slaughter

Rebecca Santana
Associated Press

Peshawar, Pakistan – — As they buried their children Wednesday, the families spoke of their dreams. One boy had just gotten high marks on his midterm and hoped to become a pilot. A 13-year-old wanted to become a doctor. Another kid just loved playing video games with his cousins.

At cemeteries across the Pakistani city of Peshawar, families lowered the rough wooden coffins of young boys and their teachers into the cold ground and gathered under funeral tents or at home, trying to comprehend the militant attack a day earlier on a school that killed 148 people, almost all of them young students.

The Pakistani government and military vowed a stepped up campaign aimed at rooting out militant strongholds in the country’s tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan. In a sign of how deeply the attack shook Pakistan, the head of the military flew to Kabul and sought help from the Afghan government — which with Islamabad has long had a tense relationship — against militant commanders behind the attack, a Pakistani military official told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press..

In downtown Peshawar, the family of Shyer Khan, a 14-year-old student killed on Tuesday, gathered to comfort his father, who was too overwhelmed by grief to talk.

Shyer’s older brother, Muneeb, was in the auditorium when gunmen burst through the doors Tuesday morning, took the stage and began shooting randomly. He fell to the floor and pretended to be dead.

“There was so much bloodshed,” Muneeb said softly. “I closed my eyes and lay on the floor for an hour.”

When the militants moved on to other parts of the school, he escaped through a door. His younger brother, however, was in a nearby classroom and was killed when the militants burst in and opened fire. At the gathering in the Khans’ home, his family spoke of how Shyer was a fan of video games like “Call of Duty” and teasing his sisters.

In Tuesday’s attack on the military-run school, the militants first set fire to a car in a nearby neighborhood, likely as a diversion, residents said. Seven gunmen then scaled the school’s brick fence. They headed into the building and up the stairs to the auditorium, where many students were gathered.

They broke open the doors, took to the stage and started indiscriminately firing, said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa.

Pakistan has often been accused by Afghanistan of tolerating or protecting Afghan Taliban or other militants on its soil as a way to pursue its interests in its neighbor, while only trying to crack down on militants who attack Pakistani targets, like the Pakistani Taliban.

But in the wake of Tuesday’s bloodshed, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used is strongest language yet vowing there will be no discrimination between “good or bad Taliban.”

“We will continue this war until even a single terrorist is not left on our soil,” he said.