Pakistani children undeterred by Taliban attacks on schools

Ashfaq Yusufzai

The rubble of a Taliban-bombed school in Mohmand Agency is shown on November 26. [Courtesy of Ashfaq Yusufzai]

The rubble of a Taliban-bombed school in Mohmand Agency is shown on November 26. [Courtesy of Ashfaq Yusufzai]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistani schoolchildren are vowing never to let the Taliban frighten them from attending school.

They are taking the courageous stance in defiance of years of school bombings and threats from the Taliban, who calculate that ignorant and illiterate populations are easier to recruit.

The totals of damaged and destroyed schools in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are staggering.

From 2009 to 2016, militants blew up 127 government-run schools in Mohmand Agency, Sattar Khan, the agency's education officer, told Pakistan Forward, adding that the Taliban failed to break local children's spirit with their mindless destruction.

Similar damage occurred in other tribal agencies -- with militants destroying 360 schools in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Khyber agencies in 2015, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Abdul Qadir Baloch, the federal minister for States and Frontier Regions, told the National Assembly in December 2015.

Children and teachers' courage

Uncowed schoolchildren are refusing to bow down to the Taliban's efforts at intimidation.

"We will never abandon education," Masood Shah, a fifth-grader in Mohmand Agency, told Pakistan Forward. "The Taliban cannot keep us from going to school."

Militants on November 26 bombed Masood's all-boys' school in Safi Tehsil, but all 70 pupils are determined to fight militancy by attending classes in the damaged building, he said.

Masood and his brothers all continue going to school in the building because letting children go uneducated is unthinkable, their father, Ghufran Ahmed, told Pakistan Forward.

"Schoolchildren and parents ... consider education the only way to defeat violence and have peace," he said.

"We aren't bothered by damage to buildings," Pervez Khan, a father of two boys attending the school, told Pakistan Forward. "There are teachers who can teach. We're happy to send our children to school."

"It is very encouraging that people are standing up to militants and have come to know the significance of education," he said.

Teachers similarly dismiss the Taliban's efforts to shatter education. "All the teachers are fearless and want to teach their pupils," Sattar Khan the Mohmand education officer said.

Busy rebuilding

Workers are busy erasing the militants' legacy of destruction.

So far in Mohmand, out of the 127 schools that militants targeted in 2009 to 2016, "the government has completed reconstruction of more than 70 of them", Sattar said. "The rest are being rebuilt."

"This school was destroyed by militants in 2009 and was reconstructed in 2012-2013 to serve the pupils who attended even when there was no building," he added, referring to the Safi Tehsil school that the Taliban bombed on November 26.

Even after the latest Taliban damage to the school, children keep attending class there, he said.

"People know that anything that militants oppose is beneficial to them," he added.

School reconstruction is going on throughout FATA, Baloch told the National Assembly last year.

Such work is vital to society, Peshawar-based security analyst and educator Khadim Hussain told Pakistan Forward. "When the people become educated, terrorism will end."

Residents of tribal areas crave education after the Taliban kept attacking their schools, he said.

Villages stand united

Thousands of FATA residents who migrated to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the worst years of terrorism are returning now to their villages to educate the children, Hussain said.

Villagers even volunteer to protect schools from militants, he said.

That wholesale destruction of schools represents a cruel disservice to the people, Attaullah Khan, a Pakistan studies instructor at the University of Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.

"The Taliban have been drawing the people's condemnation because of [the Taliban's] enmity toward children," he said. "They have a nefarious agenda to rob children of education and of preventing vaccinations [thereby exposing them to polio]."

Malakand Division, another part of Pakistan hit hard by militants, is seeing a hearty response from parents as the government works to restore education there, KP Education Minister Atif Khan told Pakistan Forward.

"We rebuilt all 250 schools [in Malakand] that militants damaged from 2007 to 2009," he said. "We have allocated additional resources to enable the children to receive quality education."

KP has begun various campaigns to encourage parents throughout the province -- especially in areas ravaged by militancy -- to send their children to school, he added.

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It is false that the schoolchildren in Peshawar are afraid of Taliban's attacks. Pashtun children play with rockets and weapons. They are not afraid of them.