Our children should fear exams, not being gunned down at school

Published January 21, 2016
Relatives and friends surround the coffin of a student who was killed in the Bacha Khan University attack. —Photo courtesy of Bilawal Arbab
Relatives and friends surround the coffin of a student who was killed in the Bacha Khan University attack. —Photo courtesy of Bilawal Arbab

Almost 28 years to the day, another terrorist attack targeting the memory of the pacifist leader of the old Frontier has left many dead.

In January 1988, 17 people died in bomb blasts at Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s (Bacha Khan) funeral in Jalalabad.

On Wednesday, 21 died in yet another terrorist attack at a University in Charsadda that was named after him.

For families in KP the nightmare continues. It was only in December 2014, when terrorists killed over 140 (mostly children) at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

Today, in the same province, another group of students lies in coffins.

Also read: Chemistry teacher defies Taliban in Bacha Khan University attack

The attack on the Bacha Khan University, however, does make one thing clear: the line between the terrorists and the rest of the society is strongly drawn in Pakistan.

On one end are the terrorists who have repeatedly attacked institutions of learning, shamelessly massacring students. On the other end are the brave citizens of Pakistan who continue sending their children to schools, wondering daily;

Will they return?

Sarhadi Gandhi

The irony though, is not lost on me — the man who preached peace all his life had been the victim of abuse when he lived, and now, his memory too, is subject to violence.

In the gun toting culture of the Wild West frontier of Pakistan, Bacha Khan stood out for his convictions. Just like Mohandas Gandhi, his contemporary, Bacha Khan resisted the British rule in the subcontinent advocating peaceful means; they called him the Sarhadi Gandhi (Gandhi of the Frontier).

When Bacha Khan died in January 1988, my family and I experienced yesterday's familiar panic. My cousins and uncles had travelled to Jalalabad to attend his funeral. It was only a day later that we learnt that they had survived the blasts - eight of the 17 who died at Bacha Khan’s funeral were from Pakistan.

Asfandayar Wali Khan, Bacha Khan’s grandson, sounded defeated in an interview after yesterday's Charsadda attack.

Since the mid-70s, he has witnessed the land of his ancestors turn into a battleground where jihadists have been waging wars, first against the Soviets, and now against school-going children.

Earlier this month, I visited my alma mater, the Engineering University in Peshawar only to realise that the mushroom growth of educational institutions in the city have paid little attention to the architectural designs that might guard against the clear and present danger of terrorist violence.

The main campus of the Engineering University is situated along with the Peshawar University in a walled campus. However, its satellite campuses in Peshawar and other towns are poorly protected in comparison.

Given the repeated attacks by the Taliban and their allies on educational institutions, a security audit of all such facilities is a priority.

Also read: After Peshawar — Reassessing the terror threat

Campuses must be ranked for their vulnerability to attacks and parents, students, faculty, and staff should be advised of their vulnerability. Most importantly, given the level of vulnerability, police or Rangers should be stationed at vulnerable institutions.

We keep going back to school

Only a day earlier, a suicide bomber killed 10 at the outskirts of Peshawar, adding to the concerns of the residents of KP, who have already been bracing against the recent elevated risk of an attack on an educational institution.

If there are ever a people committed to education, they are Pakistanis.

Let the world not judge this nation for its low literacy rate, but for the courage of its parents and students who brave bullets and bombs, and refuse to give up.

Pakistan is not the land that raised just one Malala; it is the land where thousands of young Malalas courageously walk to schools, colleges, and universities every day.

The fearless youth and the parents of KP are writing new chapters of commitment to education.

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