They were kids outside a school, running through the muddy roads. We walked for a bit and from a store one of the boys took out a candy and offered it to me. Then we took out lots of candies and shared them with other kids. There was much laughter and gaiety. I had written then that I was afraid of what might happen to them. Or what they might become.
Today, those kids in Peshawar are in my thoughts again. Because, six Taliban terrorists, murderers, barbarians, suicide bombers, soulless, gutless beasts, entered a school in Peshawar and shot dead kids like the ones I had met. The last reports mention 160 killed, 132 of them children. The reason: Revenge. They wanted revenge for their children being killed. Even if one tries hard to look at such twisted thinking, did the parents of these kids kill them? What does such vengeance achieve? Do the children know they are being used?
Would that infant nestled in the crook of my arm at a home in that city have grown up and attended that school? I wince. I avert my eyes as I look at frightened faces. But I know these faces will become 'adjectivised' and 'symbolised' and, in the process, dehumanised.
Children, teachers, parents don't know what happened. Or why. They will not have ready answers. How can they? So, why should they be asked, probed, prodded? How is a mother or father to tell you how they feel about their dead kid? How is a child, injured and bleeding, to explain how the gun was aimed at the students who were shot straight in the head? And when they tell you about the teacher set on fire, what do you tell them? How will such details add to the information when the TTP has already claimed responsibility for the attack?
I won't hold on to the sentimentalism for long here, for I've seen a lot of public sentiment ultimately become predatory. Social concern has been reduced to scoring points — by almost everybody.
Even at this time, some Pakistanis are more agitated about calling out Taliban apologists than pushing for action against terrorism. The anger is understandable, except that not many of them would step out or know the terrain they hold forth on. Pakistanis do not visit Peshawar or the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkwa as a normal thing to do. It is the alien and alienated land.
The Taliban grew in these parts and drew blood here, too. It was only when they began to make inroads into the metro hubs that the government woke up. People woke up.
And then they shot at a girl.
This attack on the school has also led to the predictable let's-hang-on-to-our-icons reactions. People are talking about how Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize and then this had to happen. It is so jejune; this is all they could think about. Had they forgotten that she too was shot at before she brought them the Nobel, their prized possession?
One expects some modicum of respect, if not sympathy, for the grief-stricken.
How are rightwing Indians responding? Does brutality of this kind deserve to be torn into by ideological scavengers? Everything from the Partition being right to how this was just desserts for Pakistani atrocities during the Bangladesh War (today India celebrates Vijay Diwas for our role in 'liberating' that country), to how the Taliban are yapping at India's doorstep to how this is a result of Pakistani army and government fighting in India to "Why are Muslims like that?", all of these are being pecked at.
They make fun of the #illridewithyou initiative (after yesterday's Sydney hostage crisis where locals offered to travel with Muslims who might fear a backlash). They ask, "What, no 'I'll ride with you' in Peshawar?"
Portions from the Quran are quoted. Yes, minutes after feeling sorry for the children this is all that they can think about. Just suppose that quote is there, did the Taliban or any terrorist specifically mention it as the inspiration? If there are passages against non-believers, can't these people see who was killed? Muslims, not 'kafirs'.
Children inherit faith. They also trust everything. To be betrayed.
Do not call them shaheeds, martyrs, you unthinking ones. They did not die for any cause, and it is disgusting that you imagine that cause is civil society - you. They did not want to die. Some hid and played dead so that they could live. They were betrayed. You are betraying them again.
All the terrorists have been shot dead; one blew himself up.