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Pushed into oblivion


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There is hardly anything more excruciating than glorifying war in the face of atrocities. In Pakistan, the news coverage from Swat valley remained dominated by figures, numbers of soldiers killed while successfully targeting scores of militants, while the eyewitness accounts from the streets of Mingora remained scarce.

The daily morning sightings from one of Swat’s busiest squares ‘Grain Chowk’, renamed to ‘Khooni Chowk’ or ‘bloody square’ remained largely untold, bodies hung from poles and trees; usually headless. Often the shopkeepers would find letters claiming the bodies were left as reminders for the enemy. Then there were bodies scattered on footpaths, with throats slit and left to bleed. The threats kept getting stronger, schools were given a deadline to shut down, women were threatened to remain indoors and people feared for their lives as news of a military operation loomed.

In October 2007, when the Pakistan Army launched an operation against the Taliban led forces for control over Swat, over 500,000 people were displaced. According to the official statement, over 1200 people were killed as a result of the operation, while thousands were forced to flee, a significant part of Swat was left devastated. As a result, 404 schools were destroyed, either completely flattened or damaged, during the offensive; with the majority being schools for girl.

Zubair Torwali, who heads Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT), Institute for Education and Development, Swat, was able to raise the plight of the people and mobilize people to help, but have little hope for the future. “The mainstream media only glorifies the war and it’s victories. We never hear about the plight and suffering of the people,” he said.

Zubair wrote a heart wrenching eyewitness account from Mingora, demanding the civil society to mobilise for help. “It was my attempt to call for help, and the civil society in Islamabad helped tremendously. But how much can the civil society do? We live in a security state where education can never be a priority. All the police check-posts that were destroyed have been rebuilt; there is a huge cadet college that is being constructed. But the civilian government is yet to prioritise the reconstruction of Swat’s destroyed schools.”

While some of the partially destroyed schools were rebuilt, those that were completely destroyed still await attention. A fact-finding report by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) published in July last year, found that most schools functioned in make-shift tents. Around 202 of the 226 partially damaged schools were repaired and only six of the 175 destroyed schools reconstructed. This was done with the help of the army, by funds being provided by the district governments.

Education District Officer (EDO) Swat is uncertain about the completion date of reconstruction of the 117 schools that are being undertaken by the Provincial reconstruction, rehabilitation and settlement authority (PaRRSA).

“Only 12 schools have been reconstructed so far, there are a lot of complications with PaRRSA’s way of working. I can’t be certain about the time it will take for PaRRSA to rebuild these schools. I am more hopeful about the schools being reconstructed under the army,” he said, while adding that PaRRSA was following stringent and time consuming procedures for reconstruction of schools under it’s responsibility. 

The delays seem to be caused by the monitoring criteria set up by the donor agency, USAID, from which PaRRSA received $25 million dollars in funding. One of the criteria set by USAID is soil testing of the land for reconstruction. A government official who spoke on the basis of anonymity said that strict monitoring criteria by the USAID together with the plethora of departments it has set up were the reason behind the delay.

“It is apparent that they do not trust us with their money, as if we are thieves, with a criteria so strict and a margin so low what contractor would work with them?”

While organisations under control of the government seem to be struggling to play their role in rehabilitating schools, social activists have taken up the arduous task. Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP) along with Department of International development (DFID) has been able to rebuild 40 schools; these pre-fabricated schools are furnished and have proper toilets, electricity and water connections unlike other makeshift schools that are forced to operate in tents.

Ehsan-ullah, member Board of Directors SRSP, believes that even though the pre-fabricated schools last for around 10 years, these schools would easily survive for over 30 years owing to the strict construction requirements by DFID. “Our experience of rebuilding schools destroyed in the Kashmir earthquake played a vital role in designing and rebuilding of schools in Swat. In my opinion, human rights organisations have been far more successful in helping people than government-run organisations,” he remarked.

But is rebuilding of schools the only dilemma? Zia-uddin Yusufzai, an educator, believes that the rehabilitation of Swat’s education system goes far beyond the rebuilding of schools. He remembers the time when Maulana Fazulallah’s radio sermons were aired, urging people to stop sending their girls to school.

“Even before they burned, torched and bombed schools they used radio to spread their propaganda. This started in 2003, and for four years he used his rhetoric to promote hate speech and propaganda calling for a ban on female education.”

He recalls an incident that happened in 2004, saying: “Over 200 girls in Government High School Charbagh, applied for school leaving certificates from the administration and tore them off in front of their classmates, in their minds they were convinced by the sermons from the Taliban. It was a gesture to convince other female students to drop out as well.

Everyday on the radio the Taliban would announce names of female students who had dropped out of school, congratulating them for defying western values and averting hell fire.”

Ziauddin said, while adding that defying the threats by the Taliban was only half the battles, for many are still fighting the deeply engraved rhetoric.

For seven years, the people of Swat valley have dealt with innumerable human right atrocities. Nearly every child has witnessed an act of violence; the sights and stories of war have left their mark on their fragile minds. It will take a long time and an astounding amount of dedication to help them hope for a better future in the war torn valley of Swat, they once called home.  The government and its institutions should prioritise the need for education in Swat before an entire generation is pushed into oblivion.   

Sana Saleem is a blogger at at Global Voices, Asian Correspondent, The Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Sana Saleem is the co-founder of Bolo Bhi & Stories Beyond Borders.

She's on the board of advisory for Courage Foundation, Edward Snowden's legal defence fund.

She can be found on Twitter & Facebook.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (13) Closed

sudhakar Oct 15, 2011 02:44pm
nice information .
roquefort Oct 15, 2011 07:32pm
The first idea that the child must acquire,in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil. Miss Sana you don't only know that but you have the courage to talk about it. Bravo!
tabassum Oct 15, 2011 11:48pm
education needs to be a priority of our nation in all areas of the country, sadly its not. its quite apparent by the dwindling number of book shops.
Maratha Oct 16, 2011 02:08am
My heart goes out to the communities in this war torn area ... am glad that civil society and NGOs are helping restore the schools. In this world, without proper modern education Pakistan has no chance to survive the vicious global competition.
sahani Oct 16, 2011 03:25am
When people forget their past and ancestors way of life and accept alien culture contrary to the local heriatge That nation those citizens will be always in war and no peace. Want to live go back to tradition of the nation old heritage give up alien culture imposed by invedors.
BRR Oct 16, 2011 07:55am
If the Pakistani taliban have caused so much havoc, what explains their popularity, and the lack of condemnation of main stream politicians and the army which is fighting them. Why can't people categorically reject them?
ehsan ullah khan Oct 16, 2011 09:15am
Sana's article will bring back hope to hundreds of thousands of Swati children and their families. That the Media and People of the rest of Pakistan haven't forgotten them. Apart from the 40 schools that DFID funded and which have been handed over this year to the Education Department, SRSP had renovated 6 and built 8 by May 2010. AND THIS was MONEY DONATED BY PAKISTANIS TO that organisation. As a concerned Swati and on behalf of all the people of this once ''Switzerland of the East'', i thank Sana and many like her who keep on Highlighting what we went through.
geriatrix Oct 16, 2011 09:56am
" Everyday on the radio the Taliban would announce names of female students who had dropped out of school, congratulating them for defying western values and averting hell fire.” my question : " why are non govrnment agencies allowed to have broadcasting devices like RADIOS ? "
mudassir shah Oct 16, 2011 04:18pm
there is more to the issue than meets the eye. first and foremost, we should credibly answer this simple question: how the taliban found their way to the peaceful valley? once this query is honestly answered, the whole host of problems facing Swat today will be resolved.
Farhad Yousafzai Oct 17, 2011 01:51am
Sana...As a swati I feel so indebted to you..Great piece of writing
Awais Khan Oct 17, 2011 12:00pm
The rebuilding of the conflict area in the aftermath is very important, if we want to prevent the return of these militants.
pramod kumar Oct 17, 2011 10:09pm
When it was happening from 2003 then what was government doing.
Imran Ali Sherwani Oct 18, 2011 02:55pm
As a writer u are doing great job. keep it high world deserve writers like you. God bless you