Children targeted in another year of living dangerously for Pakistan (IANS Special: 2014 in Retrospect)

Islamabad/New Delhi, Dec 30 (IANS) From a teenaged schoolboy who gave his life to stop a suicide bomber to the dozens of young boys and girls gunned down in their Peshawar school – children increasingly became terror targets in Pakistan, which continued to reel under attacks, political turmoil and natural catastrophes in 2014.

But one youth who made news for the right reasons was feisty teenager Malala Yousufzai, who became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (awarded jointly with Indian rights activist Kailash Satyarthi).
Terrorism continued to wreak havoc right from the year’s first day. Everyone was a target – pilgrims in Quetta, pro-government tribal elders in Khyber Agency, soldiers in Bannu, the general headquarters in Rawalpindi, polio vaccination teams in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a court in Islamabad, the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, the flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah and finally Peshawar’s Army Public School. A prominent victim was Karachi’s counter-terrorism chief Chaudhry Aslam Khan, killed in a blast Jan 10.
But in a case of rare bravery, 14-year-old Aitzaz Hasan – late for school in Khyber-Pakhtunwa’s Hangu – Jan 9 sacrificed his own life to stop a suicide bomber at the gate, saving hundreds of his schoolmates inside.
The June 8 Karachi airport attack led to operation “Zarb-e-Azb” in North Waziristan against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terrorist groups. The TTP retaliated with the Nov 2 Wagah bombing, leaving at least 60 dead, and the Dec 16 Peshawar school massacre which left 141 dead, including 132 children aged 8 to 18, and thousands of students acutely traumatised. Termed “Pakistan’s 9/11”, it was the country’s worst-ever terror attack , surpassing the 2007 Karachi attack on Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade when 139 were killed.
“Peshawar (attack) was a watershed. It will show Pakistanis what terrorists are capable of and people outside what we have to face,” a Pakistani diplomat in New Delhi told IANS.
The political scene was turbulent too. An operation June 17 to clear barricades near the Lahore house of cleric-cum-politician Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri led to pitched battles between his followers and police, leaving at least 14 dead. Media capturing the clashes live also recorded a handlebar-moustached-goon, allegedly connected to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, smashing windshields of parked vehicles. Gullu Butt, arrested and sentenced to 11 years jail, had his moment of notoriety becoming a byword for a political vandal – and getting his own videogame.
Cricketer-turned-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan continued to demand the prime minister’s resignation due to the alleged electoral fraud in the 2013 general election, and began on Aug 14 the “Azaadi March” from Lahore to Islamabad. In the national capital, the protest, where PAT’s own Inquilab March converged, took a violent streak and saw pitched battles with security forces, while media got caught in the crossfire. PTI’s sit-in, where the calls for “Go Nawaz Go” slowly got fainter, was called off Dec 17 after the Peshawar attack.
Diplomatically, the year was mixed. Relations with its western neighbour promised to improve with the comparatively friendlier figure of Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai winning the Afghan presidential polls, but with its sprawling eastern neighbour remained tense after Narendra Modi’s election victory and frequent skirmishes on the Line of Control.
There were signs of a thaw with Sharif taking up Modi’s invitation for his swearing-in but foreign secretary-level talks were called off by India after the Pakistan envoy met leaders of the separatist Hurriyat. Bail to Mumbai attack alleged plotter Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was another irritant.
Nature also unleashed its fury with floods in September leaving over 200 dead in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
But Pakistanis demonstrate a unique resilience in all the danger. TV programmes like the Aftab Iqbal-helmed “Khabar Naak” and “Hasb-e-Haal” show the people’s capacity to laugh at their times and circumstances while also holding insightful discussions about the way ahead as 2015 approaches.