It is easy to get angry at Obama – angry at why he’s crying over the recent tragic deaths of children in America but is unmoved over the deaths of those who become victims to his drone program in Pakistan. But Obama is far away and the understanding between Pakistan and USA over the drone strikes is out of our reach as well. We can protest and wave pictures of deceased children as much as we want but fact remains that all this is not enough for our military and governments to change their plans. America has enemies in Pakistan and Pakistan is allowing America to target them – why Pakistan itself isn’t doing the deed, that’s clearly a different debate. Are children dying in America’s targeted attacks? Yes they are. Do they have names or profiles or memorials? No, they are collateral damage. Enough said.
And while we are so busy getting angry at drones for killing our children, we forget, we are doing the same as well. Eight people working to immunise children against polio in Pakistan have been shot dead since the start of a UN-backed three-day nationwide vaccination campaign on Monday.
Four women were killed in less than an hour in seemingly coordinated attacks in Karachi on Tuesday, a day after a man working on a local government-World Health Organisation (WHO) project was also shot dead in the city. A sixth worker, also a woman, was killed on Tuesday in Peshawar. A woman from a polio vaccination team and a driver associated with the program were killed during an attack on the team in Charsadda today.
In result of these attacks, the WHO has directed its field staff to stop work in Pakistan until further instructions.
How can we then channel all our anger and frustration at what’s happening in Waziristan when the condition in our own neighbourhoods is just as alarming? Along with demanding an end to killings of innocent children by drone attacks, we also need to protest and act against the senseless killings of children in other parts of the country.
Workers vaccinating children against the crippling disease are being targeted and killed and instead of ensuring security and using all resources to catch these criminals, we will instead see the halt of a campaign that could have saved the lives of so many children. And mind you, children are not the only victims in this senseless war against immunization. Workers as young as 14 being killed is no less tragic either.
The government lays stress on the youth of Pakistan and how this youth has the power to change the country and lead it towards success. Why then does the government have no way to secure the lives of this youth it likes to gloat about?
Last year, militants attacked a school bus on the Kohat road in the suburbs of Peshawar. Four children and the driver of the bus were killed and 14 other children were injured. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack and said it wanted to punish families of the children for organising anti-Taliban militias. Thus, revenge was carried out by targeting innocent young children. We didn’t see anyone arrested for that attack either or the several similar ones that followed.
The Taliban's attempt to kill teenaged activist Malala Yousafzai is known worldwide as well. Who is rotting in jail for that attack?
Thousands of school children have been displaced along with their families from areas across the tribal belt where the Taliban have established sanctuaries for themselves.
Already suffering from insecurity and displacement, thousands more have been deprived of an education while militants carry out attacks on schools. Whether their agenda is against the teachings of a secular education or whether it is against the notion of girls going to school – very little has been done to halt such attacks.
According to a BBC report, a United Nations report on the issue, released in April 2012, says that at least 57 children were killed in Pakistan during 2011 alone - mainly by landmine explosions, roadside bombs, shelling and targeted attacks. This figure would be much higher if casualties from the country's unending sectarian attacks are included.
Those children who the militants do not kill by targeted attacks are being recruited as suicide bombers. The UN's 2012 report has recorded 11 incidents in Pakistan during 2011 in which teenage boys, some as young as 13, were used by armed groups to carry out suicide attacks.
Be it polio or be it education, the militants existing in Pakistan (and not arriving from elsewhere through drones) are finding numerous ways to cause misery and death to the children of Pakistan. Their warped justifications are enough for them to think they can carry out such heinous crimes against children and use them as targets and human bombs to settle scores.
In various rhetorical speeches, Pakistani leaders have stated that such attacks cannot shake the resolve of the government. What resolve? The government can’t even protect its own leaders and institutions; can we really rely on them to protect our children? Can we expect them to part with their enormous security entourages and instead lend some personnel to our educational institutions and health worker teams? Instead of hoping for them to increase the meager education budget can they instead part with some funds just to strengthen the existing institutions?
Without the security of life and basic health and education, the youth of Pakistan will have very little to contribute to the country – perhaps the government should think of that the next time it publicly voices the unrealistic expectations it harbours.
Shyema Sajjad is a former Dawn staffer.
She tweets @ShyemaSajjad
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.