Orignally Written by: Hunniya Waseem
Dear Bilal Khan,
I read your letter somewhere yesterday. My dear child,
Since yesterday I have not stopped crying. Yes! I have tried to get through my day, doing my chores, cooking, washing, cleaning, paying bills but not for a moment have I been able to put the tragedy of today aside. It is because Bilal, darling, its true adults do cry too, we also gets our hearts broken, we get hurt and then we cry bucket loads. And the 16th was one of the most tragic days in the history of our country and every adult I know has been crying , because our hearts have been broken beyond repair. I cannot even begin to imagine the grief and anguish your mother must be feeling right now. Will she ever recover from the trauma of losing you? Your clothes, your books, your toys which will even now be scattered in her living room and will probably remain like that for days as she will wait and wait , looking at the gate , hoping that by some miracle you will appear. She will be yearning to kiss you again, to hold your body against her in a hug, to never ever let you go away from her sight again, today is the first day of the rest of her life which she will only spend in your memory, in a shell of a body whose heart has been plucked away prematurely. They say that if your child dies, you bury him in your heart and he only dies the day you die.
I first found out about the attack this yesterday as I checked my facebook while still in bed. I was still bleary eyed when I read the first post, and then it got worse and worse, waves of shock and terror followed each other.
I have read that you were herded along with your class fellows in the auditorium and then the attackers asked ,“ Who amongst you are the children of army men?”, and none of you even thought of lying. Proud to be the son of a solider you stepped forward and said “ I am, my father is a major in the army.” and that was the last thing you ever said, he killed you then with a single bullet in your head. And that is why I am crying so much today Bilal, because long, long ago, I was a little girl studying in the same school, wearing the same uniform and also the daughter of an army officer. The only difference is that I was born in a different time, two decades before you but in a totally different era. I still remember the excitement of getting into an army truck which used to pick us up from our neat house in the cantonment. The crisp chill of a winter morning and the way our mothers would bundle us up warmly on countless bygone December mornings. The pride we took in our white uniforms, green blazers and polished black shoes: today I saw children injured and dead in that same uniform, nay murdered in their uniforms, in their classes .It must have been the end of the school term and the vacation would just be a few days away and you must have been so excited thinking about your coming holidays. They were good schools, these Army Public schools and Colleges, they have made me what I am today.
You must be thinking that adults always have solutions and answers and perhaps I will have an idea what happened yesterday and why it happened. But dear Bilal, we are all baffled , confused today, our core values shattered, we stand more bug-eyed than our children. The only thing I can say that something is very rotten in the state of Pakistan, something has gone very wrong in our country but how to fix it, I don’t have a single idea. That things can go so wrong, so quickly, we as a nation never predicted it. It was only 16 years back in 1999 when I was freely roaming the bazaars of Peshawar, trying out woollen caps and traditional jewellery. However, 10 years later when I was invited to go to Lady Reading Hospital in 2009 (the same hospital in which you were pronounced dead) to visit their emergency department and suggest design changes, my mother threw a proper tantrum that it was too unsafe. In only ten years, Peshawar had turned into a violent city of bombings and terrorist attacks which was not safe to step in. I naively asked my dad , if a military vehicle or escort will be safer and he laughed gruffly, “ You will never come back alive if you go into a military vehicle “. I made other arrangements but the trip never happened due to other reasons.
I had started studying terrorism and the medical response to terrorist attacks for my masters degree by the time. I remember , the horror with which I analysed the data from the Parade Lane bombing and the name of people whom I had known in better times I had known appeared again and again. I tired counting the total number of civilians who were killed, the pattern of targeted locations and nothing ever made sense. I submitted my thesis and armed with a master in Disaster Medicine I made every effort to get involved in the disaster and emergency response in Pakistan but no venue ever materialized. I was met with nepotism, incompetence and a complete denial whichever way I turned.
And then , something else happened, I became a mother myself and that changed me, for you see Bilal, not every mother is as brave as yours. It is indeed a brave woman who follows her husband into a war torn city like Peshawar, it’s a brave wife who sends her husband to fight in Operation Zarb-e-Azab every day and it was a very brave mother who send you to school that morning. I lost my nerve when I got pregnant. My years of dealing with bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, gun shots as an emergency physician and then writing up my thesis for my masters left me in no doubt of what we were dealing with. The day I felt my son’s first kick in my belly was the same day, a seven year old boy was killed along with his mother in a suicide attack on a policeman’s house in Karachi. I had lived near that house just a year back. I then decided that I will take my child away. I am very sorry and very guilty but I could not live there any more. I know it’s our belief that whatever is written will happen and I still believe it, but I also believed that we had turned into a nation of monsters, selfish, short-sighted, trigger happy people who failed to see the actual problems. When I was your age, Bilal, we did not know the difference between shias and sunnis, we were never told to dislike ahmadis or call them non-muslims and to be honest to this day I am not sure what’s the difference between Deobandis and Barelvis. We are now so happy calling each other kafirs or non-muslims, that we have stopped being muslims ourselves, nay we have become inhuman ourselves and that is why beasts are coming and killing us and our children. It was not always like that, when I was your age , we were all Pakistanis and we were all muslims and we all thought we would live happily ever after. Who knows who the the first stone ? Who knows who created Taliban ? There are no answers, just a lot of soul-searching questions.
Sorry Bilal ! I have tried to save my child by fleeing but not everyone can leave. I got tired and I left. I got tired of false promises of men, yes even men with big guns who promised to protect us and failed again and again. I got tired of people never issuing fatwas against Taliban and openly condemning them for their acts. I got tired of sitting in meetings in which “ no lessons were ever learnt”, where no operational debrief could ever take place because everyone was so busy lauding themselves and their agencies that they lost insight of what happened. I got tired of ambulance crews fighting with each other and ambulances of different agencies openly threatening each other. I got tired of what Pakistan and Pakistanis had become.
And even though I have left, I still sit abroad and cry for what has become of my country. For you see, I carry Pakistan in my heart today, a very special part of my heart and I like to remember Pakistan as it was in my idyllic childhood. A green , green land with fruit trees, rushing streams, flowing rivers and stark mountains, the land which is now tainted in blood.
I cry today because dear Bilal, my generation has failed yours, we could not even give our children a childhood. And therefore, we will keep on crying till eternity. We lost our tomorrow for our today and therefore we must cry.
Love and Prayers for all the children and parents of Peshawar
Mother of Sher Khan.
A cover photo of a student, found on facebook, who got killed in the terrible school attack.