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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Set on a Journey of Undefeated Dreams – Interview with APS Survivor

Waleed is a survivor of the Army Public School attack on December 16, 2014, by terrorists, whose only aim was to create carnage. He walks us through the day that changed his life forever.

Waleed Khan was on the auditorium stage when the terrorists started the indiscriminate shooting. Waleed Khan was only 13 years old when he was shot 8 times and has had to undergo numerous plastic and reconstruction surgeries in Pakistan and in the UK. One-hundred and forty-eight people, mostly students, were martyred and 150 others were injured in the heinous Army Public School (APS) attack on December 16, 2014.

GVS: It’s been 4 years since the traumatizing APS attack. Are the memories of that day starting to go blurry?

Waleed Khan: That day, December 16, 2014, was one of the darkest days in the history of Pakistan and in my life. It is an unforgettable day for me and everyone else. I lost all my friends, my teachers, my innocence and my childhood.

I cannot even explain how it has changed my life obviously in a negative way, but there are some positives that I have tried to embrace. It is something that will stay with me through the entirety of my life. I don’t think it matters whether it is 4 years or 40 years, memories of that day will haunt me.

GVS: Do you ever think of what could have been done differently during the attack?

Waleed Khan: We are taught that whatever happens is predestined and we cannot challenge these things. But yes, sometimes I do think about what could have happened differently. I wish my friends would not have died, I wish we could have been able to run away from there.

Our teachers could have told us on that day to just run through the doors. But at that time, in that situation, if you put yourself in their shoes, you realize that all of them did the right thing. Because no one had any idea about what was going to happen, and what they did, the teachers, the military, everybody was just trying to save our lives.


When I think about it, as a human being, I cannot imagine that such people (terrorists) exist – that anyone can coldly kill children. The terrorists suddenly started firing and killing innocent children, that had done no harm to them, that had nothing to do with war. We were just there for education.

And they targeted us – we didn’t have any fault – and it was quite devastating. So as a human being, yes, I do think about my lost friends, and maybe how I could have saved them. I always say, that I wish I could take all their bullets on my body, just to save them. But what happened, we cannot change it, it’s all in the past.

When I was shot, I remember crying because of my pain, but the more unbearable pain at that time was caused by seeing my dead friend in front of me. And the only thing that was going on in my mind, while I was praying to God was not for my own life, but I was praying “Please God save the young children, they are too young to even run away”. They were such small kids, from kindergarten and playground…

Read more: Peshawar High Court halts construction of APS monument

GVS: There must have been many bright minds who lost their lives that day.

Waleed Khan: Each and every one of them was a bright star. They had a bright future ahead. And that is why we were targeted. All 132 of them, would have become amazing human beings. They were all studying in one of the best institutes of Pakistan.

It is not easy to get into that school, you need to be very smart to get in. They all were the best in their own ways whatever their ability. And unfortunately, we lost them all and we can never replace them.

They were the future of Pakistan and they left behind a huge mark on the rest of us. We as the future generation have to follow their legacy and fulfill their dreams. It is the mission of my life now to fulfill their dreams and try my best. This is the positive approach I can take from this tragedy.

GVS: What is it like now, when you meet the families of those young martyrs?

Waleed Khan: In the starting days, it was really hard for me to meet their families, because the first thing they would always ask me was, ‘where are they (their children)?’ I always remained speechless.

But when I see them now, how they are coping and I see their resilience, it always inspires me and gives me patience and a lot of strength. The families of these martyrs are heroes. My heroes. I look up to them each time I feel down and that helps me regain my strength and this is exactly what keeps me going.

Read more: Chief Justice constitutes another judicial commission, this time for APS victims

GVS: How did you make your way out on the afternoon of December 16, 2014?

Waleed Khan: I remember every part of that day. I was acutely conscious throughout until I reached the operation theatre. We were in the first aid lecture in the auditorium, I was standing on the stage. And suddenly, the terrorists entered the auditorium and started firing.

One of them aimed his gun towards me, and shot me in the face. I cried out in pain and fell down on the floor. I couldn’t believe my eyes and kept thinking everything is going to end now. I was constantly asking myself just one question “is this a dream? Am I dreaming?” and I kept telling myself to please wake up, it’s a dream. But it wasn’t.

All those memories I had with all my friends, were replaying in my head. What about all those promises I made my mom, about what I would do for her when I grew up, what now? It seemed so impossible, how could I die so soon? While all these things were running in my head, one of the terrorists noticed me again, and so he shot me again and again, 6 times on the face, once on the leg, and once on my hand.

The most unbearable pain, and I couldn’t stop crying, for myself, for my friends and for not being able to help them. I still tried to get up, and help one of them, but my injuries didn’t allow me to do so. My face was exposed, jaw broken, teeth broken, my leg was injured and I was fully covered in blood.

The entire auditorium was blood splattered. When the terrorists left the auditorium, thinking they had shot everyone, the ones who survived ran outside towards the school wing. I was begging for help, but everyone was so traumatized and all were running to save themselves. Only a few minutes earlier, we were all laughing and telling jokes.

The pain of my face was so much, that I didn’t realize anything else. I couldn’t even hold my face, because my hands would go inside my face.

I still remember that the doctor who came to give us the first aid lecture; he taught us the ‘first aid ABC’ which was different from normal ABC. He gave us all the definitions, and then he asked “what does A stand for?’ and one of my friends who was the naughtiest kid in school called out “Apple”. And everybody started to laugh. This was a few minutes before he got martyred.

Within minutes, laughter and cheers turned into cries for help. No one could believe what had just happened. As I said, when I was lying on the floor, and there was no one to help me, at that time I think for five minutes I told myself that I am going to die. And you know the most difficult thing in life is to accept that you are dying.

I was thinking about my mom, my family, and my friends. I was praying to Allah that please for the last time, just before I close my eyes, I want to see my mother one last time. I just want to hug her. I was also constantly reciting Qalma-e-shahadat. And then suddenly, I thought to myself ‘I am not going to give up so easily’. And so, I tried to get up, without thinking about the gunshot wound in my leg.


The pain in my face was so much, that everything else was nothing in comparison. I couldn’t even hold my face, because my hands would go inside my face. But I tried to stand up with the help of some chairs, and when I did I was surprised at myself. I took my first step, I didn’t realize that I was shot in the leg and so I fell down again on the floor.

I was trying, again and again, to stand up, but then I gave up and started crawling. Somehow, I don’t know how, but I managed to get out of that auditorium. But when I got out, it didn’t end there. I had to go a long way. I still had another approximately 70-80 meters to cover, and at that moment those felt like 1000 miles.

When I was going towards the school wing, there are a few staircases on the way. I tried to take support from the railing, to drag myself up the stairs, I fell down repeatedly on the stairs. Lying there in front of the library, I still remember, I was looking at the trees outside the school, while there was shooting and bomb blasts going on in the school.

The birds were flying away from those trees, and I was lying on my left side thinking to myself that I wish I was one of those birds. I do not understand, what gave me the strength in that moment, but I wasn’t giving up. I was usually such a sensitive maybe you could say a timid kid in school, but in that moment I was doing all that.

There are 22 million children out of schoolds in Pakistan, which is the biggest number in the entire world. We need to work on that. We need to give education to ur girls, and same goes for the boys. 

Again, there were some pillars using them as support I stood up again and started walking or crawling every time I fell. At one point, I took the help of a student beside me to stand up, and he turned around and saw me and he pushed me away, probably because he was just alarmed.

At that time all the students of APS who were coming from behind me, were running over me, no one noticed that I was alive and lying on the floor, everybody was too traumatized. Because of that, my hands got badly injured and my right hand’s wrist broke. Again, I was left alone there, but luckily there was a year 7 classroom close by, and I tried to crawl towards it. And somehow I managed to get to it.

By the time I was there, I had lost all my strength. I could no longer even move my fingers. I was feeling unconscious, so I just laid down in front of the door. But the one thing that I really thank God for is that all that time, my senses were working because of which I was using my mind to do what was best possible.

My eyes were getting heavy, and that is when I finally realized that I had been shot in the leg, because my leg started to hurt. And when I looked at it there was big hole, which I could see through. That is when I realized that if I go unconscious, anyone who comes to rescue us, would think I am dead. I was almost half-dead already. So to prevent unconsciousness, I started to punch myself in the injured leg, which caused more pain.

But it also kept me conscious. And I kept doing that. I think after 10-15 minutes, Pakistan military came in, and rescued all the students of APS who were in the student wing. They then took me to Combined Military Hospital (CMH). By then, I had lost so much of blood, that I couldn’t even move my fingers. I felt paralyzed.

The doctors thought I was dead. It was an emergency situation. Other causalities were coming in, and they were making quick decisions and trying to help maximum number of APS students. They put my body with all the other dead bodies. I was trying to tell them, I was half-conscious and I could overhear them talking, but I couldn’t move. So, I started to breathe heavily (taking long breaths), which caused blood bubbles to come out of my mouth.

Fortunately, one of the nurses saw me and called the doctors, and so the doctors finally saw that I was alive, and rushed me into the operation theatre. I do not have any memory of the next 8 days, as I went into a coma. The doctors told my family to have no false hope. My survival chances were 1% in 100. The doctors also gave my family a 48 hours ultimatum to take me off the ventilator.

My family was prepping themselves for bad news; my mother was the only person not accepting it. She was unconscious for six days because the doctors gave her sleeping pills to sedate her because she couldn’t see me in that situation. On the eighth day, when I opened my eyes, I saw my mother sitting in front of me. I wanted to hug her, but I couldn’t because of all the pipes and bandages.

I could not speak, I used my hands and made signs to communicate. At first, when my mother saw me, she tried to divert my attention by saying that I had an accident on a bike causing all the injuries, but I shook my head and made a symbol of a gun from my hand to indicate that I remembered I was shot.

My mother said, ‘he remembers’. When my family first saw me, they didn’t recognize me because I was in such bad shape. My father recognized me from my shirt. For many days, other members of my family didn’t believe it was truly me. So, when I woke up, they called out by my nickname ‘Huraira’ and I nodded, and so that is how they were sure, it was truly me.

Read more: Can Pakistan avoid another APS Peshawar massacre?

GVS: Do you believe terrorists have a religion?

Waleed Khan: No religion. Because every religion I have read into so far teaches you about humanity. I think terrorism is religion itself. Terrorists live in their own world of illusions. They have their own ideology, which has to do with hurting humanity. They are falsely using the name of Islam. Islam does not teach terrorism.

The Islam I have learnt growing up from my family and teachers teaches humanity and peace and is a beautiful religion. My mother always used to narrate surah al maidah (The Table Spread), in which it is written “killing one person is as grievous as killing the whole human race”. These terrorists are just using the name of religion to manipulate young people, to deprive them from education. They have nothing to do with religion or humanity.

GVS: The media said many times that the figure of 132 martyrs was an understatement. Do you believe that to be true?

Waleed Khan: According to me, the figures that the military gave were quite exact. Because such a thing cannot be hidden. If the figures had been misquoted for the number of causalities, people would have spoken up against it by now. It was such a big incident, and the whole world, all media kept an eye on it, so such a thing could not have happened.

GVS: Madam Tahira Qazi shines the brightest amongst heroes. Tell us what she was like as an administrator and a human being?

Waleed Khan: I think she was a great human being, and was like a mother to all of us. Not only Madam Qazi, but all the other teachers, who got martyred were so brave. These women were strong and resilient, standing up for their kids and the country on that day. Madam Qazi, was a great administrator and a teacher.

She ran that school amazingly. I did meet her, on quite a few occasions because I was a proctor at the school wing. We used to have meetings with her, and I do miss her a lot. She was a mentor to all of us, and has set up a great legacy for all the women and young girls of Pakistan.

Read more: December 16th – A Day of Double Tragedy..!

GVS: What more do you think Pakistan needs to do to avoid tragedies like APS in the future?

Waleed Khan: I think the best antidote to terrorism is education. We need to provide standard and quality education to children. There are 22 million children not in school in Pakistan, which is the biggest number in the entire world. We need to work on that. We need to give education to our girls and boys.

They all need to have equal rights. Their characters need to be built in a way that they do not get manipulated by these terrorists. As I always say, “with guns and bombs we can only kill terrorists, but with education, we can kill terrorism”.

GVS: Do you think Pakistan does enough to commemorate this?

Waleed Khan: In my opinion, Pakistan has done it quite well. The way the people showed their love for us, prayed for us and supported us after the incident, it was overwhelming. They treated us like their own children. I was speechless when I saw all the love people had for the APS students. And even today, where ever I go, they treat me with respect and show empathy for me.

In Pakistan, although the military has done a great job in eradicating terrorism, we as a nation has been facing terrorism for a long time and are still facing it. It’s more of a daily occurrence for us. Although APS was a very different kind of terrorist attack which horrified the nation. I think we as a nation coped with it quite well and paid our gratitude where due.