ISLAMABAD: The findings of a judicial commission tasked with probing the attack on Army Public School, Peshawar in December 2014 — which killed some 150 people, mostly children — have exposed local facilitation to the militants and the lax security measures in place to safeguard the institution which was on a threat alert since August that year.
The revelations were made in the 525-page exposé — containing recorded statements of 132 people, including parents of the killed school children and police and army officials — made public on Friday on the directive of the Supreme Court (SC).
The one-person commission, headed by Justice Ishtiaq Ibrahim Khan of Peshawar High Court (PHC), was formed in October 2018 on the directives of then chief justice Saqib Nisar after parents of deceased children demanded the authorities form a high-level inquiry panel to investigate the massacre.
The findings were submitted to the apex court in July this year but were not made public.
According to the spokesman for the commission, Imranullah Khan, the probe body had recorded the statements of 140 people and of them, 31 were police and army officials and the rest were witnesses, including injured students and parents of the children killed in the attack.
The report made public today provides an insight into the security lapses and local facilitation to militants that apparently led to the horrific attack.
The report, in its conclusion, noted that terrorism perpetrated by the country’s enemies had reached its peak in the year 2013-14, but said, “this [still] doesn’t obligate us to hold that our sensitive installation(s) and soft target(s) could be forsaken as a prey to the terrorists’ attack.”
It said the entry of terrorists from across the Afghan border into the school’s perimeter after “befooling the security apparatus” was mainly due to the porous nature of the border and the “unrestrained movement” of Afghan refugees across the frontier.
The report termed as “unpardonable” the assistance provided to the militants by the residents of the school’s locality, saying it was “palpable”.
“When one’s own blood and flesh commit treachery and betrayal, the result would always be devastating,” it stated, adding that no agency, no matter how capable or equipped, could effortlessly counter an attack “when infidels are within the inside”.
According to the report, on the morning of Dec 16, 2014, the APS premises was left unattended after an MVT (security patrolling team) moved towards the smoke rising from a vehicle set on fire by the terrorists as part of their plan to create a distraction.
Using this edge, the militants entered the school from the backside. Although another MVT responded to the attack, it wasn’t able to buy the needed time for the Quick Response Force (QRF) and Rapid Response Force (RRF) to overwhelm the terrorists before they could “cause the catastrophe”, the report said.
It observed the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) had issued a generic threat alert about terrorists seeking to target army families and academic institutions as retribution for the successful military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber-I against militants.
Following this, although the armed forces successfully operated against terrorists’ niches, “the incident of APS plagued their success stories which deserved deification”, the report added.
Detailing the “fiasco” in the school’s security apparatus, the inquiry commission said the number of static guards, which comprised the first tier of security, was “incomparable” to the looming threat. The guards’ improper position and accentuated main gates and front area compromised the school’s security from the back, from where the terrorists managed to enter “with no retaliation”.
“Equally incomprehensible is the inertia on part of the Askari Guards as well as the deputed static guards to the initial heavy firing and blasts by terrorists,” the report read. “Had they shown a little response and could engage the militants at the very beginning of the attack, the impact of the incident might have been lesser.”
However, it noted that the terrorists’ movement towards the adjacent toddlers’ block of the school was restricted by soldiers of MVT-2 and QRF on their arrival.
According to the report, the unit regulating MVT-1 has been handed down punishment by a “court of inquiry”.
SC SEEKS ACTION ‘AT THE TOP’:
During a hearing of the case on Friday, the attorney general while submitting a reply on the inquiry commission’s report on behalf of the government informed the SC that “every possible action” was being taken against the persons involved in the carnage.
Chief Justice Ahmed regretted that traditionally lower-ranked officials were held responsible for such incidents and “nothing is asked of the people at the top”.
“This tradition should stop,” he said, adding that the government should take action to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The top judge observed that the militants were able to achieve the objective they had set out for, saying “security institutions should have been aware of this conspiracy.”
“The people are not safe even in this much security.”
The parents of the deceased children said the incident was not terrorism but “targeted killing”. Seeking action against those responsible, they said they did not want any other parents to go through the pain they endured.
The court ordered that a copy of the inquiry commission’s report and of the government’s response be provided to the parents of the APS victims. It also appointed lawyer Amanullah Kanrani as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case.
The hearing of the case was adjourned for a month.
The parents, who approached Justice Nisar had wondered why were proper security measures not adopted after the NACTA informed provincial and federal authorities on August 28, 2014, that the banned militant outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) would carry out attacks against the APS and other military-run educational institutions.
The panel became functional on October 19, 2018.
The commission was initially given six-week time by the apex court to conduct the inquiry during which it had completed recording statements of the parents, injured students and officials of police and counter-terrorism department.
The court granted more time to the commission for the probe as several important statements were to be recorded.
TTP commander Umer Mansoor alias Umer Narae had claimed responsibility for the gruesome attack. The US government and the Pakistan Army later confirmed that Umar was killed in a US drone strike in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan on July 9, 2016.