PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Parents of children killed in the 2014 attack on a Peshawar school gathered Friday to mark its second anniversary. The attack had killed 154 people, mostly schoolchildren.
The main ceremony took place at Peshawar's Army Public School, where the country's army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said the attack on innocent children was one "on humanity" and one of the most painful and unforgettable moments in the country's history.
"We will never forget our children and the thousands of others who sacrificed in our fight against terrorism," he said, adding that he kept photos of some of the child victims on his desk to remind himself of his task to combat terrorism.
In a statement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also expressed his sympathies with the victims' families, saying the entire nation felt and shared the pain of the tragedy and stood by the mourning families.
Sharif said Pakistan had responded to the attack by intensifying action against militants. Some from the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility and, according to the government and army, most of those linked to it have either been captured or killed over the past two years.
Earlier, local news channels showed parents visiting the victims' graves.
Standing over the grave of his grandson, Huzaifa Aftab Abdul Wahid told local Geo News TV: "I had dreamed of garlanding him at his marriage, but, alas, I'm garlanding his grave."
A nurse at the scene said that mothers still sought her to ask what words their children had uttered last.
Among those killed by the Taliban was the school's principal Tahira Qazi. The new principal, Naghma Habib, said she was amazed when parents flocked to the school to enroll their children there despite the attack.
"I am sure our schoolchildren will take revenge (on the Taliban) by joining the army," she said.
Friday's memorial services came as a scathing court report blasted Pakistan's government for failing to curb Islamic militancy and extremism in the country. The report released by a Supreme Court commission investigated a Taliban attack in August that killed over 70 people.
The 86-page report, based on recorded statements from 45 officials, said the Interior Ministry and the national counter-terrorism department had "categorically failed" to counter militancy and extremism. Its impact wasn't immediately clear.
The report highlighted deficiencies in the work processes of various law enforcement and intelligence agencies, raising questions about why banned militant groups were allowed to operate publicly and hold rallies. About one such recent public gathering by a sectarian group in Islamabad, the interior ministry said permission was neither sought nor granted. The investigating commission, however, said that in such cases: "The functionaries of the state would look the other way."
Pakistan has long been plagued by Islamic militancy, which has killed tens of thousands of people.
Also on Friday, police shot and killed a suicide bomber in Hyderabad, just hours before Gen. Bajwa signed off on death sentences for 13 militants.
Shahzad reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.