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Healing trauma through sports

The entire basketball team of Army Public School was martyred in the Peshawar attack

Healing trauma through sports

It is a tragedy of epic proportions. And it was a calculated assault. The attack on Army Public School in Peshawar was aimed at destroying the collective morale of our nation, not just at killing innocent children.

The March 3 attack on Islamabad’s Sessions Court took place within 24 hours of Pakistan’s historic win against archrivals India in Asia Cricket Cup. On 13th December, Pakistan hockey team woke up and trounced the hosts India in front of a jam packed Bhuwaneswar stadium. Within three days, on December 16, the terrorists attacked the ill-fated children of the school. On both the occasions sport had brought jubilation for the nation, but the happiness was short-lived as terrorists driven by secret hands came out of nowhere and targeted the frailest of our society.

I had almost made up my mind to discontinue writing, as any intellectual effort fell on the deaf ears. But what happened in Peshawar on the 16th of December moved me to at least pick up my pen and make an effort to help the traumatised.

Munawar Husain, the senior chemistry teacher and sport assistant of Army Public School, Peshawar, was one of the witnesses present inside the school hall where terrorists carried out the carnage.

Munawar testified that the terrorists, carrying blue tooth devices and automatic weapons, opened indiscriminate fire on innocent children.

The entire basketball team of Army Public School was martyred in the attack.

Munawar, with eyes full of tears, not only described the details of the massacre but also described the reactions of the students. There were two distinct types of reactions shown by the students irrespective of their age groups. One were those who were completely traumatised and perplexed by the situation. The others were relatively calm and kept their cool in that devastating situation.

Shayyan, Taimur, Asfand, Mubeen Shah, Umar Hayat were not just fine students but outstanding players of football, cricket, badminton and basketball. They all and so many others were lovely human beings with sound qualities of head and heart, said Munawar.

I also met Saqib Ali, who lost his 15-year-old brother Mubeen Ali. Mubeen, who was a position holder throughout his education career, was a crowd puller because of his loveable attitude. Mubeen adored sports, said Saqib. He had vast knowledge of sport rules and could create sport activity at restricted spaces with limited resources.

Saqib was of the opinion that sport is one of the best tools to pull the remaining students out of trauma.

Saqib said that the attackers aimed to discourage promotion of education in KP and to create doubts in the minds of parents and school administration about the safety of their siblings.

Saqib suggested that the school should seek the services of sport psychologists for proper rehabilitation of remaining students.

He also suggested promoting combat sports in schools and colleges as part of education.

As Munawar and Saqib were narrating the firsthand accounts, I was thinking about the spineless policy makers of my country who have brought us to this stage of helplessness.

I thought of the great Pierre de Coubertin who after the French defeat in Franco Prussian war of 1870 concluded that the major reason for France’s defeat at the hands of the Germans was a lack of vigor among the French youth.

He believed that athletics could be used to strengthen peace or prepare for war and that the victory of any nation was often due to its athletic virility.


Coubertin, the father of modern Olympics, was convinced that it was not the strong British army but sport-centred English public school system of late 19th century which was the rock upon which the vast and majestic British Empire rested.

It is imperative that the school administration adopt sport education as part of students’ development. Had our policy makers made sports a mandatory part of all education, including madressah education, things would not have been so bad.

While these 150 young martyrs rest in heavens, I am sure that angels would have kept them very happy by playing with these innocent souls, but what about our policy makers who themselves are the product of cognitive learning, unable to think and act beyond reason.

We who dreamed of making Pakistan a citadel of Islam are now bogged down in converting our education institutions into fortresses.

We are already very late and only reacting to the situation being exploited by terrorists. We certainly need to address this malice with iron hands but we should not forget addressing the root cause of this mindlessness.

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