Youngsters in Peshawar and across Pakistan returned to their classrooms on Monday for the first time since militants attacked a school in the volatile northwestern city in December, slaughtering 150 people, almost all of them students.
Amid heightened security in Peshawar, the head of the army himself, General Raheel Sharif, was on hand to welcome pupils back
Pakistan is no stranger to militant violence, but the cold-blooded massacre of so many, so young, has left it deeply scarred.
“I am in the second year at the Army Public School,” said Syed Abid Hussain, who lost his mother, a teacher, in the December 16 attack.
“My mother was killed…but I am not afraid and I will get an education.”
“We are not afraid of them or their attacks and we will go to school and get an education which is our fundamental right,” said fellow Peshawar student Mohammad Ali.
Most schools nationwide closed for an extended winter break after the attack in which the Taliban broke into the Army Public School frequented mainly by children from military families and methodically killed 134 students.
Some parents, especially those grieving their children, stayed away from the meeting with the army chief on Monday, saying it was too painful for them to go back to the school.
“Yes I was invited to the function and meeting with the army chief. I couldn’t dare to go to the school where my sweet son was ruthlessly killed,” said one father.
“And what would I get from meeting the army chief when they couldn’t even save my young son and children of many other parents?
“It feels like my son died once again today. When I saw other children going to schools it reminded me of my son. I went to his room and helplessly sat in front of his school bags and school dress.”
Pakistan and Afghanistan have now agreed to work closer together to tackle the militant threat.