Faiza Malik along with children participate in candlelight vigil in memory of Army Public School Peshawar massacre’s victims on its 3rd anniversary, outside the Lahore Press Club on Saturday. Image Credit: Online

Islamabad: Three years on, the painful memories of the day of 16 December still haunt Pakistanis. It was on December 16, 2014, that a horrific terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar killed 141 people, including 132 schoolchildren — an attack that shook Pakistan to the core.

The third anniversary of the deadly attack in the Pakistani city of Peshawar that claimed the lives of over 140 people was observed across the country on Saturday with prayers, memorials and candlelight vigils.

The main observance was held at Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS) where the parents of all the victims and Pakistan army officers attended the ceremony. Portraits of the victims were put on display at the school and along the roads of Peshawar to pay tribute to the slain children and their teachers. A memorial of APS martyrs was also inaugurated by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

On the third anniversary of APS tragedy, President Mamnoon Hussain prayed for the martyrs of APS and said: “It was not only a national tragedy, but it was a day for the nation to reiterate the strong resolve against extremism and terrorism.”

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi called the attack a black day in the country’s history. “The Pakistani nation has made unprecedented sacrifices in war against terrorism — more than any other nation in the world” he maintained.

Mr. Abbasi added that the tragedy has led to national unity and a firm resolve to launch decisive action against terrorists. “Our forces broke the terrorists’ back and destroyed their hideouts across the country,” Abbasi said.

The tragic incident that shook the country led to the formation of National Action Plan to stem extremism and terrorism from the country. The attack galvanised public opinion against militants, led to the creation of military courts to try ‘hardcore’ terrorists and intensive operation against militants. All six militants who were involved in the attack have since been executed, according to Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistan Army’s media wing. Four were hanged in December 2015 while two were executed in May 2017.

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Saturday said that sacrifice of the APS martyrs has not gone in vain and the country’s improving peace is owed to them. “The great sacrifice of our innocent beloved children and their brave families remains unforgettable. It symbolises our undeterred resolve in love of our motherland” the Army Chief said.

Honouring the memory of the children of Army Public School, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s opposition leader and a former cricket star, said: “Today as we remember with sorrow the devastating terrorist attack on APS Peshawar that martyred our precious innocent children and their teachers, we must ensure this can never happen again so future generations can be nurtured safely to follow their dreams.”

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari paid glowing tribute to the martyrs and the grieving families. In his tweet, Bilawal however, criticised the government’s failure to conduct a judicial inquiry into the incident and implementation of National Action Plan.

To remember the APS martyrs, citizens of Islamabad came together and held a candlelight vigil to show that hate cannot win against peace and love.

“I consider myself a very strong person but when I remember this day, I cannot help but feel the sheer pain in my heart as if they were my sons and daughters who embraced martyrdom at the hands of heartless devils” shared Shehzad Mir, a citizen of Islamabad.

Saeed Ahmed Khan, who organised the vigil along with some concerned citizens, told Gulf News: “This gathering is the proof that Pakistanis stand united against terrorism and we dream of a peaceful future.”