Pakistani children yesterday returned to the school where Taliban gunmen killed 150 of their classmates and teachers.
Their green blazers, Superman lunchboxes and hands clutched tightly to their parents were symbols of perseverance despite the horrors they had endured.
Pakistan has been reeling from the December 16 terrorist attack in Peshawar – one of the worst the country has experienced.
The violence carried out by seven Taliban militants has put a spotlight on whether the country can end the stubborn insurgency that kills and maims thousands every year.
The violence also horrified parents across the nation and prompted officials to implement tighter security at schools.
For parents like Abid Ali Shah, getting ready for school was horrifically painful.
His wife was a teacher at the school and was killed in the violence. Both of his sons attended the school. The youngest was shot in the head but survived after the militants thought he was dead.
Yesterday the brothers were late for school as they struggled with preparations previously done by Mr Shah’s wife. “A hollowness in my life is getting greater. I am missing my wife,” Mr Shah said.
His older son, Sitwat Ali, said he had managed to control his emotions. It was not until he saw his brother break down in tears that he did as well.
A ceremony was held at the school, but classes are not due to start until later this week.
Security was tight, part of a countrywide effort to boost safety measures at schools in the wake of the attack. Media and vehicles were kept hundreds of yards away from the school. The chief of Pakistan’s army, General Raheel Sharif, was on hand inside to greet students, a military spokesman said.
For many, attending school was an act of defiance and proof that they would not be cowed in the face of Taliban threats to attack again.
Andleeb Aftab, a teacher at the Army Public School, lost her son, Huzaifa, in the attack. She arrived yesterday wearing a black dress and black head scarf. “I have come here because the other kids are also my kids,” she said.
“I will complete the dreams of my son, the dreams I had about my son, by teaching other students. I have chosen to get back to school instead of sitting at home and keep mourning.”
Meanwhile Afghan officials have confirmed for the first time that Islamic State is active in the south, recruiting fighters, flying black flags and, according to some sources, even battling Taliban militants.
The sources, including an Afghan general and a provincial governor, said a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf was actively recruiting fighters for the group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.
Gen Mahmood Khan, the deputy commander of the army’s 215 Corps, said that within the past week residents of a number of districts in Helmand have said that Rauf’s representatives are fanning out across the province to recruit people.
Rauf was a corps commander during the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan, according to Amir Mohammad Akundzada, the governor of Nimroz province, who said he is related to Rauf but has not seen him for almost 20 years.
Both Gen Khan and Mr Akundzada said Rauf was arrested after the fall of the Taliban in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and was detained for years at Guantanamo Bay.