7 years after the horrific APS attack, actions of one young hero remain etched in history

Dec 16, 2021:  As the nation mourns the young martyrs of the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan’s history, the story of a young hero martyred in the APS attack remains fixed in the national conscience.

One of the younger students present in the auditorium of the school when the attackers opened fire, Sher Shah Khattak embraced martyrdom during the attack on Army Public School (APS), but he preferred death to save his injured colleagues on the fateful day of December 16, 2014.

Sher Shah was the elder son of one Tufail Khattak, who remained a journalist in the past and is now serving in the Cherat Cement Factory as manager. One thing that motivated Tufail Khattak and his family to honour Sher Shah’s martyrdom was his extraordinary bravery in the face of the cowardly terrorism.

One hundred and forty-seven people, including 132 school children, were martyred in the APS tragedy called Pakistan’s 9/11. Seven years have passed but the pain of the parents is still fresh and they are waiting for a fair trial and punishment of the culprits. A group of six armed terrorists stormed an Army-run school in the heart of Peshawar cantonment, killing 147 people, including 132 schoolchildren.

It was a traumatic day for the whole country, especially for the parents who sent their children to a well-protected school and then in the evening received their bullet riddled bodies. The school administration had gathered most of the students in the school auditorium when the terrorists stormed it.

Even though to this day, nobody knowns exactly what was experienced by Sher Shah and his fellow students during the terrorist attack on the school. The testimony of Col Dr Shaukat Ali Yousafzai reveals an act of true bravery that will mark the martyrdom of Sher Shah as even more exemplary than previously imagined.

Col Shaukat Ali Yousafzai who was then an ENT specialist and held an administrative position in the Combined Military Hospital (CMH), Peshawar, recalls the day Shah was brought in to the trauma centre, “Basically, I am an ENT specialist but held an administrative position as well. If you can see that child (pointing towards Sher Shah’s picture), he received four bullets on his chest but when brought to us at the reception in the CMH, he told us, sir please prefer the two other injured students next to me. I couldn’t see any tears in his eyes,” Col Shaukat Ali Yousafzai recalled the incident while speaking to a show on ATV.

“And all the doctors (on duty), all the specialists in CMH, almost one and half hundred, are witness to the fact that the amount of exemplary bravery of this student (Sher Shah) that we saw that day. I have served everywhere and handled casualties in Siachen, the Kargil war and the Line of Control in Kashmir, but never ever in my life, I have seen the type of bravery and courage that this boy (Sher Shah) had,” Col Shaukat Ali Yousafzai said.

Sher Shah had initially managed to escape from the auditorium after the shooting spree and desperately tried to search for his elder brother, Ahmed Shah, all the while worrying he may already be too late to save the latter.

He returned and went back to the same auditorium where the terrorists were spraying the innocent students with bullets. As revealed by the doctors in CMH Peshawar, Sher Shah had received four bullets on his chest. His parents had named him Sher, a lion, and Shah, a king.

Shah’s father, Tufail Khattak realised that instead of mourning his son’s loss, he should be proud of the bravery and courage that he showed during the tragic incident.

“I feel proud that sacrifices of our dearest children had given a right direction to the nation and Pakistan launched a much-delayed military action against the terrorists. We can forget the loss of our children for the safety of our people and security of our country if we are assured that no other parents would pass through the same tragedy that we suffered,” he says.

In remembering his brother, Ahmad Shah said, “The relationship between siblings is unique and most genuine. Their love and care for each other are immeasurable. Brothers play many roles in our lives, from the hide-and-seek partner to our adviser. I cannot describe in words how important they are.”

As the families torn by the horrific events of this day seven years ago struggle to get their lives back to a semblance of normalcy, the system has failed to deliver justice to them. The parents are still complaining that they had not been heard, even though the government formed a fact-finding judicial commission over the APS incident.

A few months before the attack on APS, the state had on June 15, 2014 started Zarb-e-Azb military operation against the terrorists in North Waziristan, where militants from all over the world had gathered. The military offensive uprooted the militant groups and many of them went across the border to Afghanistan and started terrorist activities in Pakistan.

The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) through their spokesman Mohammad Khurasani had claimed responsibility for the APS attack.

The sheer violence and the cowardly nature of the attack targeting innocent children marks the attack as being the only one that was condemned by Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda, and TTP-Jamaatul Ahrar. Ehsanullah Ehsan was then spokesman of TTP-JA when the terrorists attacked APS and he on behalf of his faction had condemned the brutal killing of schoolchildren.

Following the brutal attack, the civil and military leadership conceived the 20-point National Action Plan in January 2015 to curb terrorism. To which end, the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted so that convicted terrorists could be executed and military courts were set up.

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