One Month After School Attack, Pakistan Remembers Victims

Jan 16, 2015
Originally published on January 16, 2015 6:32 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In Pakistan, one month ago today, the Taliban attacked an army-run school in the city of Peshawar - 150 people were killed, the vast majority of them children.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

BLOCK: Today, Pakistanis remembered the victims with demonstrations and vigils. The school that was attacked reopened earlier this week and NPR's Philip Reeves joins us from the capital Islamabad to talk more. Philip, we were just hearing that sound of a demonstration. Tell us more about how this day was marked in Pakistan.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, there were vigils like that in Islamabad across the country. Talking to people at that particular vigil that you just heard -people were saying they're just fed up after eight years of conflict in which tens of thousands of people have been killed. They feel that it's time to, you know, crush violent Islamist groups once and for all. And there were ceremonies at the school itself where the massacre occurred. So all in all, it was a day of high emotion.

BLOCK: When this attack happened a month ago, Philip, it was assumed that this would be a turning point for Pakistan - that it would fundamentally change the country. Has that turned out to be true?

REEVES: Well, there's no doubt the country was engulfed by a wave of disgust and anger. Some people have for ages been unhappy about the killing of civilians including children by US drones and Pakistan's military offensive in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. But the sheer scale of the massacre by the Pakistani Taliban at this army school in Peshawar has led people to set that apart as a crime of, you know, particularly horrific proportions. And I think that's why it's changed the political environment here. And the change is being reflected in a batch of counterterrorism measures passed by the government, which have been in some cases controversial.

BLOCK: What are some of those counterterrorism measures?

REEVES: Well, for the last several years, there's been a moratorium on capital punishment - that's now lifted. At least 18 people have been hanged since the Peshawar attack. The authorities also say they're cracking down on the dissemination of militant ideology. For instance, by confiscating loudspeakers from certain mosques and also printing presses. But the most controversial and important measure is the introduction of military courts to handle terrorism related cases for the next two years.

BLOCK: Controversial - so there has been push back on that question?

REEVES: Yes. I mean, it's been justified by the authorities on the grounds - the judges and prosecutors and witnesses are intimidated and too scared to rule or take part in terrorism related cases. And the courts are anyway dysfunctional and there's a huge backlog and so. Nonetheless, there is a lot of debate about replacing that system with military courts. Pakistanis, you know, are very aware that for the half of this country's history, the nation's been ruled by the military, and after the ousting of the last military ruler - Pervez Musharraf - people began to hope that civilian government was here to stay - imbedding in. But allowing the military to run these courts is fueling concerns that once again, behind the scenes the Army - which has always remained very influential - is stealthily assuming control of key leaders of power.

BLOCK: And Philip, the school where so many died one month ago has been as we said reopened and, I gather, with new layers of security.

REEVES: Security is extremely tight around that school. But also other schools - the government has actually ordered that schools should have eight-foot walls with razor wire on top and security cameras. So the experience for a kid going to school is going to be a very different one from now on.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Philip Reeves speaking with us from Islamabad, Pakistan. Philip, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.