Takeaways from visit to Pakistan high commission Abuja
Last Monday, 22 December 2014, the #BringBackOurGirls movement did a solidarity march to the High Commission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Abuja, to commiserate with the good people and government of Pakistan over the terrorist attack on a school in the city of Peshawar, on 16 December, where scores were killed, mostly schoolchildren.
The logic was that there is wisdom in mourning with those who mourn, and grieving with those grieving; most especially when one is in the same state themselves. That Monday was exactly 252 days since 276 schoolgirls of Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno state had been abducted by Boko Haram (BH) terrorists; and 237 days of daily #BringBackOurGirls advocacy for their rescue; along with others abducted before and after them, and an end of terrorist insurgency in Nigeria. That same day was also exactly 35 days after their 7-day mourning of 49 schoolboys murdered by the terrorists via a suicide bomb on Monday 10 November, in their school, Government Comprehensive Senior Science Secondary School, Potiskum, in Yobe state.
2014 has generally being a tough year for schoolchildren, particularly in Nigeria’s northeast, whose only “crime” has been their wanting to be educated. Earlier in the year, on Tuesday 25 February, BH terrorists attacked and murdered 59 schoolboys in their school, Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, in Yobe; and also burnt their dormitories and other buildings.
Yet another attack on a school, murdering especially innocent schoolchildren this December was a bit too much to bear. Thus the solidarity march, which was intended to demonstrate that we are most importantly all humans, first. It is our collective duty to defend the sanctity and dignity of human life, and of our freedoms and liberty as humans. Terrorist attack on one is terrorist attack on all. It was to demonstrate that all humans, irrespective of geographic boundaries and whatnot, have one common bond of a shared humanity. It was intended to show empathy, love and care, and to calm the bleeding hearts of the Pakistani and assure them that they’re not alone in this very trying time; having been through what they’re going through.
Peshawar school attack
On the morning of 16 December, at about 10am, 7 suicide bombers, members of the terrorist Tehriki-i-Taliban (TTP) disguised as operatives of the paramilitary Frontier Force, wielding automatic weapons, scaled the fence of Army Public School, in the Pakistani city of of Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (or state). They ran across the school shooting indiscriminately. There headed to the school auditorium where a large number of students were writing exams. There they murdered more students, including those who were escaping through the 2 exits at the other side of the auditorium.
However, within minutes, teams of the Pakistani army special forces, the Special Services Group (SSG) stormed the school premises and immediately engaged the terrorists. First, they intercepted and cut off the terrorists’ telecommunication with their guides, and prevented them from killing more people. The terrorists then ran to the school’s admin block where they took hostages. One of them was killed and couldn’t make it to the building. In the process, the army helicopter was hovering over the school, while at thesame time teams of the army’s emergency trauma, medical and military police corps were immediately rushed in, along with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police (KP), who worked in synergy to close any escape routes for the terrorists, and attended to victims.
Whilst inside the admin block with hostages, SSG snipers pin-pointed and killed 3 Talibans, taking accurate aims from windows and air vents. The remaining 3 were killed as the SSG commandos stormed the building and rescued the hostages. They then embarked on a search and clearance operation to defuse all improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by the terrorists and those in the suicide vests they were wearing.
Later that evening, about 9 hours after the Islamists attacked the school, the Pakistani chief military spokesman, Major-General Asim Bajwa briefed at a news conference that a total of 145 had lost their lives. This comprised 132 schoolchildren aged mostly 12-16 years; 10 school staffers, including the principal; and 3 SSG commandos. 118 students; 3 staff; and 7 soldiers, including 2 officers were wounded. That 1 099 staff and students were present on campus, at the time; they rescued 960 hostages. He then informed that the military operation was over. Normality had been restored, SSG troops were withdrawn, and the school was handed back to its administration.
That morning, the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, calling it a national tragedy, and announced a 3-day mourning period during which the national flag flew at half mast. He cancelled all meetings and informed that he was on his way to Peshawar. “I can’t stay back in Islamabad. This is is a national tragedy unleashed by savages”, he said in a statement. “These are my children. This is my loss. This is the nation’s loss. I am leaving for Peshawar now, and I will supervise this operation myself.”
That very same day 16th, air raids began on all known terrorist hideouts in Pakistan. By the next day, the air strikes intensified and the Talibans had to flee Pakistan to the mountains in neighbouring Afghanistan. Even the fleeing terrorists were being killed, such that they couldn’t carry along the dead bodies of killed members.
The next day 17 December, PM Sharif called a meeting of all political parties to agree, and forge a united front. While Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, accompanied by the director-general of the Inter-Service Intelligence, Lieutenant-General Rizwan Akhtar, went to Kabul to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and General John F. Campbell, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. General Raheel Sharif’s message was brief, simple and straightforward: Hand over TTP leadership to Pakistan, and eliminate all TTP hideouts in Afghanistan or Pakistan would go for a “hot pursuit”. He made it clear that the Pakistani military could eliminate TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan, but was only exercising restraint out of respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. PM Sharif also issued a separate statement to the Afghan president who had reached out to commiserate with him, in thesame vein, stressing: Wipe out the Taliban or Pakistan will.
That same day, 17 December, he initiated, concluded paper work and abolished the moratorium that had been on death penalty for terror-related cases. 2 days later, 2 high-profile terrorists who had been convicted were executed by hanging.
What was intended as a solidarity visit of empathy to commiserate with the mourning Peshawar families and good people of Pakistan turned out to be a learning opportunity. At 3pm, the Pakistani high commissioner to Nigeria, Lieutenant-General Muhammad Ashraf, received the 5-person delegation that went inside high commission building whilst the others waited outside with their solidarity banners and the Nigerian flag. After hearing them out and receiving the condolence/solidarity letter on behalf of the people and government of Pakistan; and thanking them, he relaxed back to reveal how Pakistan handled the incidence, and gave some takeaways:
1. The Pakistani government acted promptly and decisively. The SSG, he said, arrived at the school in 10 minutes, even though they weren’t prior-aware of this attack.
2. Citizens responded, protesting to condemn the attack on the school, and urging the government to end TTP terror once and for all. The government he said, noted the citizens’ concerns and acted accordingly. (Note: Prior to this, the Talibans were so powerful, that judges feared passing stern judgements against those prosecuted, for fear of reprisal. There used to be jailbreaks to free Talibans imprisoned or held in custody. Pakistanis were fed up of living in terror.)
3. Pakistan’s government’s body language, words and actions were deliberately aimed at sending a clear message to the terrorists and all those who would stand in her way of decimating them; and/or those who were indecisive on the matter. She wanted it clear that this attack was the end of the Talibans in Pakistan! That there cannot be 2 governments in Pakistan. (Note: The high commissioner’s tone and body language confirmed this as he spoke. He didn’t mince words. “We killed them”, the said repeatedly. Even though a diplomat, he used “kill” instead of some euphemisms that convey the same message.)
4. The Peshawar attack, which was the deadliest in Pakistani history served in unifying all of Pakistan, and Pakistani across all divides.
5. The military can end terrorism, anywhere. The military is the military anywhere. (Note: He said that he is an army general with vast experience of military practice across the world, including Nigeria, and knows exactly what he is saying.)
6. Pakistan is willing to help Nigeria end BH insurgency, drawing from their experience and track record. He revealed that Swat Valley where Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest ever Nobel laureate is from (in the same Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) has been completely rid of Talibans. Children are back in school, life is normal, as if it has always been that way.
Hearing this, a distraught Fatima Abbakaka let off some steam and muttered “I wish I were from Pakistan”. Ms Abbakaka’s hometown of Bama in Borno is presently under the firm control of BH terrorists. Hers is among the 20 of 27 local government areas in Borno under BH undisputed control. Her family members had first been extra-judicially murdered by Nigerian troops who would simply open fire on harmless, defenceless citizens when they first went there on a mission ostensibly to fight BH. This was at a time when BH hadn’t yet started attacking civilians. Later, more relations have been murdered by BH when they did. Presently, she has family scattered in various IDP camps in Borno and refugee camps in Cameroon living under sub-human conditions. Some are still missing. Her nieces and nephews have been out of school for up to 2 years. Yet, all she like all those affected hear are jeers and snide remarks from fellow Nigerians. Outright lies, inconsistencies, and many times insulting utterances by government officials, and presidential aides/spokesmen, regarding ending the insurgency and life returning to normal in Nigeria’s northeast. (Note: Kindly refer to “Chronicles of false narratives and inconsistencies by the Nigerian government over the rescue of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls” on www.bringbackourgirls.ng for more on this).
Even though Oby Ezekwesili who led the solidarity march knowing full well Ms Abbakaka’s perspective, objected. This phenomenal lady who inspires by the sheer strength of her character, and the power of a personal example, still unfazed charged the marchers who at this time looked forlorn, having learnt of Pakistan’s example, to never ever allow anything affect their hope and undying optimism for a great Nigeria they all would be proud of. She averred that this is only a phase in Nigeria’s evolution, and repeating what she said is her mother’s favourite quote, “this too shall pass” she assured. Continued effort is what will build the “new Nigeria”, she said. With this reassurance, renewed zeal, and passion the march recessed.
This explains why instead of having fun with family and friends on Christmas day, the movement was on the streets of Abuja calling attention to the missing 219 Chibok schoolgirls, along with the other hundreds in BH captivity, and the thousands displaced and missing. Reminding all people of conscience and goodwill that all is not normal, and not to live in denial of these facts. Why the trio of Dahlton Ogieva, Nana Ibrahim and Toyin Adeleye instead of having their fun after a hectic year, were at the Calabar Carnival with this same message. Likewise, Victor Ibrahim Garba, as he was traversing the country along with his with team of speed bikers on their charity ride.
Today is Tuesday 30 December 2014. Day 260 of the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls. Day 245 of consistent, daily advocacy for their rescue and an end to terrorist oppression in Nigeria. And, Day 219 since the Nigerian government first said they know where the Chibok schoolgirls are.
Sesugh Akume (@sesugh_akume on Twitter) wrote from Abuja.