Reconstruction of a Nation: Resilience in the Face of Terror
by Aneeza Pervez
Research Associate – Department of Psychology, Government College University Lahore, Pakistan
The resounding echo of gunshots created a symphony of chaos on the cold and dreary December morning. A nation stood still in their steps while a cold deeper than dropping temperatures penetrated their bodies, wreaking havoc in their hearts and minds. December 16, 2014 is a day Pakistanis are unlikely to forget. The brutality and viciousness of humans reached unknown peaks as six heavily armed gunmen entered and attacked the students of Army Public School Peshawar.
The country held its breath as news of the attack and its components reached the ears of the public. As the toll of the martyred and injured rose, the hopes of a staggering nation fell. The over 150 victims ranged from nursery children all the way to high schoolers and staff members. The gruesome manner of the attack and the dauntless bravery displayed by the victims were unheard of in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, this horrendous scenario was one of many Pakistan has been facing since 2007. According to the Global Terrorism Database developed and updated by researchers at the University of Maryland, US, beginning in 2007 until 2016 a total of 870 terrorist attacks have been aimed at educational institutions in Pakistan. These attacks have resulted in the death of over 400 students and staff members with over 800 injuries.
Due to escalating threats and fear amongst people, in the summer of 2016 the Government of Punjab shut down all educational institutions for a period of 3 months. Students were prohibited from entering the premises, whilst teachers and researchers were asked to report as per schedule. Every institute in Punjab, whether it was public or private, was instructed to vamp their security by elongating school and university walls and installing emergency sirens around the campus.
I can still remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was sitting in my office working on the upcoming issue of the Pakistan Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology when I heard the screeching and terrifying sound of the emergency siren going off. I have never felt such fear in my life. For the first time ever, I found myself in a state of complete panic. In the sixty seconds it took for the department’s clerical staff to come and inform us of the drill, my mind had come up with a million scenarios. From visualizing an agonizing death to summing up the space in my office to seek shelter in, my mind was in complete chaos.
Despite the scare, despite the fear and despite the continuing reports of terrorist activities in Pakistan, I found myself in the following days getting up at 6 am every day to perform my job as a researcher and educationist. It was not just me. The University had over 100 staff members coming in everyday, risking their wellbeing in the hope of helping our country prosper. Regardless of the occurrence of these horrid attacks, the people of Pakistan, especially educationists and students, have remained steadfast in their pursuit of knowledge.
The image of Pakistan a foreign individual holds is that Pakistan is a country riddled with lies, corruption and terrorism. Quite recently the country was blamed for fostering and promoting terrorism. What I would like to convey in my post is that irrespective of the power-hungry agendas of politicians, the people of Pakistan have paid a great price in the war against terrorism. We have lost family members and loved ones, and have been scared emotionally and physically. However, we still stand strong in our commitment to promote the betterment of a global world.
The average Pakistani’s resilience and strength against these negative forces can be seen in the achievement of people such as Dr Anam Najam, Rafia Qaseem Baig, sisters Naila Alam and Yasmeen Durrani, , and Ali Moeen Nawazish. Despite the adversities and negative press Pakistan seems to have faced, the country has excelled in the fields of technology, education, social welfare, etc.
We have people like Aitezaz Ahsan (a school boy who sacrificed his life to help his peers live), Muhammad Wali Khan, (a survivor of the Army Public School Attack in Peshawar), and Malala Yousaf Zai, (a Nobel peace prize winner and survivor of a terrorist attack), to help us realize that no matter how great pain and fear are, we will rise above them. We will not only survive, but live a life dedicated to wellbeing and betterment of those around us.
On a lighter note, if you ever find yourself visiting the country, let me warn you, the hospitality of the Pakistani people is second to none. Not only will we embrace you as our own, we will treat you like royalty!
Note from Rachel MacNair: I can confirm the last paragraph from personal experience. See my story on my visit.