PESHAWAR  - Children streamed back to school across Pakistan on Monday in an anxious start to a new term following last month’s massacre of 134 students at an army-run school in the volatile northwestern city of Peshawar.

Most schools across the country of 180 million had been shut until Monday for an extended winter break in the aftermath of the Dec. 16 attack when Taliban militants broke into Army Public School and methodically killed the children. Pakistan has long been used to almost daily militant attacks but a cold-blooded massacre of so many children has deeply scarred the nation, prompting criticism that the government was not doing enough to curb the insurgency.

In Peshawar, a chaotic, often violent city on the edge of Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, survivors of the attack returned to their studies amid tight security, some students still wearing bandages. In an emotionally charged and nervous atmosphere, parents, some crying, met army chief Gen Raheel Sharif who had travelled to Peshawar to address them in a private meeting.

“The army chief didn’t make a speech but individually met the parents and assured them they would eliminate the terrorists from the country,” a security official told a news agency.

Another official said eight-feet high walls were being built around public schools in Peshawar as part of enhanced security, with hundreds of residents volunteering to protect schools. But some parents, especially those grieving their children, stayed away, saying it was too painful for them to go back to the school.

“Yes I was invited to the function and meeting with the army chief. I couldn’t dare to go to the school where my sweet son was ruthlessly killed,” said one father. “And what would I get from meeting the army chief when they couldn’t even save my young son and children of many other parents?

“It feels like my son died once again today. When I saw other children going to schools it reminded me of my son. I went to his room and helplessly sat in front of his school bags and school dress.”

COAS Raheel Sharif and his wife welcomed the children returning to school and also met their parents and raised their morale.

The army chief appreciated the courage of students and their parents. Students and parents expressed their determination for promotion of education. They expressed satisfaction over the security arrangements.

Later, the army chief along with his wife joined students in the morning assembly and recited dua (prayer) and national anthem with them.

Emotional scenes were witnessed in the school as many children were crying while remembering their school mates.

The army chief said that the morale of the entire nation is high. He added that terrorism will be wiped out from the country.

DG ISPR Major General Asim Bajwa tweeted about the army chief’s visit.

Zahid Ayub, 16, who sustained minor wounds, said: “I am not scared, no force can stop me from going to attend my school, I will go and will tell the attackers, we are not afraid of you.”

For 16-year-old Shahrukh Khan, who was shot in both legs while pretending to play dead in his school’s auditorium, going back was traumatic.

“I have lost 30 of my friends, how I will sit in the empty class, how I will look to their empty benches,” he said before the school reopened.

At least 20 soldiers were seen at the main entry point of the Army Public School, with an airport-style security gate installed at the front.

Several schools and colleges however stayed shut Monday across the country primarily because of inadequate security arrangements even after the end of extended winter vacations.