The Peshawar School Massacre, One Year On
Slaughter Of The Innocents


Terror struck in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, when militants stormed an Army-run school popular with military families based in the northwestern Pakistani city. The outcome of the attack -- 147 dead, most of them schoolchildren -- showed the world how far the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan would go to beat back an ongoing government offensive. Residents of the regional capital, however, were already well aware that they lived on the front lines of a bloody war.

The Fall Of Swat

When the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) gained control of Swat in 2009, just two years after the militant group and government forces had reached an uneasy peace in the western district, it came as a shock to Islamabad.
Pakistan's government awoke to the grim reality that a formidable militant threat was in control just two hours' drive from the capital. It had to find a way to cope with hundreds of thousands of families displaced by a failed military campaign. And the fall of the picturesque district in Khyber Pahkhtunkhwa Province represented much more than the loss of a popular tourist destination -- it threatened a cradle of Pashtun history and culture.

TTP On The Move

These were challenging times for the Pakistani authorities. From Swat, the TTP was positioned to advance on restive areas to the north. To the west, the militants were gaining strength in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. And Peshawar, the regional capital and largest city in Khyber Pahkhtunkhwa Province, was coming under intense pressure.
Whether out of fear or because of party interests, lawmakers across the political spectrum were silent as the military campaign foundered and the TTP encroached.

Operation Rah-e-Rastn

When the TTP advanced south from Swat to the bordering Buner district, however, it was a step too far. The Pakistan military responded with "Operation Rah-e-Rast" -- a massive undertaking that put 20,000 troops on the ground, backed by artillery and air support.
Within a few months, the area was declared clear of militants, but TTP chief Fazlullah and some of his key aides managed to evade capture. In an effort to finish the TTP off once and for all, several operations were subsequently conducted in the neighboring Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with mixed results.

North Waziristan

While a controversial U.S. drone campaign focused on taking out select targets, the Pakistani government and military exhibited reluctance to launch a promised operation in North Waziristan, the last strong militant hideout in FATA.
The TTP's strategy of targeting major population centers put strains on the newly elected government in 2013, increasing calls on lawmakers to make a clear decision on how to tackle the militant threat. When crucial security installations in Karachi and Peshawar were attacked in 2014, the decision was made.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb

In an attempt to forge a peace in the spring of 2014, the government had held several rounds of talks with the TTP. But the strategy's failure, evidenced by the attacks in Karachi and Peshawar, gave Pakistan's military leadership no choice but to launch yet another massive military campaign -- Operation Zarb-e-Azb. This time the objective was North Waziristan, and even before the military advance began on June 15, 2014, thousands of families fled their homes and embarked on new lives as displaced persons.

Counter Move

Six months later, as the military was counting its numerous successes against militants in North Waziristan, the TTP would counter with a game-changing operation of its own.


It was early on a Tuesday morning, and students and teachers were going about their daily routines. Many assembled in the school auditorium, in the center of the multi-building campus, where students were to undergo first-aid training. When armed militants burst in to the room, they showed no mercy.



Amid the carnage of what would become Pakistan's deadliest-ever terrorist attack, tales of survival emerged. Hundreds escaped or were rescued when security forces stormed the campus. Those who perished live on in the memories of their loved ones.

"I started from the first dead body, lifting the sheet on each of them."
Tehseenullah Durrani / father of two victims
Falak Naz Durrani / mother of two victims
Umme Ammara Durrani / student, sister of two victims
Ali Kahn, 15 / student, shot three times
Azhar Mahmood, 16 / student, shot eight times
Zulfikar Ahmad / teacher


The attack ushered Pakistani politics into an unprecedented era of solidarity. Parties of all stripes came together, unanimously condemning the TTP and urging the country's political and military leadership to take serious steps to curb extremist groups.

All Together
All Together
The first step was for the government to call an All-Parties Conference in Islamabad under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. With Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif in attendance, the country's political leadership declared their full and unconditional support for the government and the military to go after the TTP.
No More Talking
No More Talking
When demands were made for a no-holds-barred approach to curb militancy, there were no counter calls for negotiations with the TTP. It marked a departure from the position endorsed by several parties ahead of the attacks, when Islamist and less religiously oriented parties alike opposed the use of force.
Plan Of Action
Plan Of Action
An ambitious National Action Plan was approved that allowed military courts to try civilians and ended the country's five-year moratorium on the death penalty. The plan also placed restrictions on the dissemination of material that incites hatred as well as on the registration of madrasahs. National media were also banned from covering the TTP's activities.
Increased Air Strikes
Increased Air Strikes
In accordance with the new plan, Pakistan ramped up air strikes against militant hideouts in its western tribal regions. Despite the military's regular claims of success, however, the TTP's core leadership has escaped harm.
Afghanistan In Focus
Afghanistan In Focus
In the wake of the school attack, top civilian and military officials have traveled several times to the Afghan capital in an effort to improve cooperation in the fight against militancy and to secure the support of Afghan security services. However, hopes for better bilateral cooperation faded, and within a year the two neighbors had returned to accusing each other of being behind militant activity.


The vast majority of the 147 victims were schoolchildren, the youngest aged 6. The oldest student victim, who was enrolled at a college attached to the campus, was 22. Altogether 22 staff members were slain. Three soldiers died during the rescue operation.

School Staff


Thank you to all the victims' families and others who provided material for this project.