On October 12, a private van, carrying female and male students and their relatives to Parachinar from Kohat University of Science and Technology where the students appeared in viva test, was intercepted at Doranai area by some militants and threw acid on girl students and also fired shots injuring other inmates.  

The incident, first of its kind in the area, sent wave of fear and anguish among female students and their parents.  The injured girls, two of them being sisters, were shifted to the Headquarters Hospital Parachinar where they now out of danger but the doctors said the acid had disfigured their faces.

Later TTP local commander, Qari Muhavia, while taking responsibility for the attack told a foreign media outlet: “We shall never allow any Parachinar’s girl from going to university to get western education, and if we find we shall target her in a similar fashion so she might not be able to unveil her face before others.”

It is pertinent to mention that earlier both male and female students of the Government Postgraduate College Parachinar had requested the political administration as well as the controller of examinations of the Kohat University of Science and Technology (KUST) to give their viva test in their hometown to avoid militant’s attacks on the dangerous Thall-Parachinar road. They had also held peaceful protest demonstrations in front of the political administration but to no avail.

Dr Dilshad Ali, a social activist, told this reporter that students had even requested the authorities concerned to cancel affiliation of the Government Postgraduate College Parachinar with the KUST and get it affiliated with University of Peshawar where security situation is relatively better.

Some 1,000 candidates from Kurram Agency including 300 female students appeared in viva for different master level examination. They had conveyed their concerns about security issues to senior officials of the agency, he said.

“A few weeks back, militants had thrown pamphlets and threatening letters in the city warning parents against sending their daughters to educational institutions. We had informed the political administration in this regard but our concerns fell on the deaf ears as even after the incident, the government officials did not take any serious notice nor have the victims been compensated.  We also contacted rights activists working against acid throwing incidents, but without success,” Dilshad Ali regretted.

Political analysts and education experts said Taliban adopted this new method to contain the increasing interest of parents in their daughters’ education and also to scare the rest. They say the literacy rate in the Kurram Agency is comparatively better among girls.

“In September this year, when Fata Education Directorate adevertised primary teachers posts, some 4,000 female candidates from Kurram Agency showed up for the test. It shows the high education ratio and interest of girls in education.

“Also almost every year girl students from Kurram Agency fill seats reserved under Fata quota in Medical/Engineering College/Universities,” Prof Dr Ali Rizwan an education expert revealed.

Murad Ali, the father of victim sisters, has requested President Asif Ali Zardari and Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa barrister Masood Kausar to extend financial assistance so that he could provide treatment to his daughters Zainab and Palwasha.

“Though they have survived the brutal acid attack and are back home now, their treatment costs me thousands per day. I am a poor person, if I couldn’t provide treatment to them their future will be darkened,” he said.

When contacted, Prof Dr Nasir Jamal Khattak, Vice-Chancellor Kohat University of Science and Technology, told Dawn: “We regret the incident in which some of the private students travelling to Kohat for their viva were attacked. We believe in facilitating students in any possible way we can without compromising on the standard and quality of education. It is indeed very encouraging that the students of backward areas take such a keen interest in seeking education.”

He said that the message was conveyed to them by the Kurram Agency political administration but it was not possible for KUST to send local relevant teachers to Kurram Agency to take viva test. The number of students matters, if it is less than the required limit then arrangements could not be made, he added.

Dr Nasir said that providing security was not their responsibility.  Private candidates were supposed to take their interviews on the University campus and it could not be conducted at home stations.

The incident has left an indelible fear among parents. “I have decided to stop my daughter and niece from going to university in district Bannu, also I know more than a dozen people belonging to Kurram Agency who are considering the same step.   There is no other option.  Being poor we cannot afford such incidents happen to our daughters too,” Zahid Hussain a school teacher in Peshawar hailing from Zaren village, Kurram Agency, said.

Another implication of the incident is even strangest: a person from Kurram Agency said that he was reluctant to bring his 10-year old daughter to Peshawar for medical treatment for fear of militants. “Who will explain to militants that the girl is ailing and is being taken to hospital not to school or college,” Hussain Ali narrated.

Maryam and Gulabo, residents of Kerman village, class fellows of the victim girls, are still in trauma ever since they were informed about the incident.

“At least 40 girls were stopped by their parents who were studying in different private colleges and universities in Peshawar, though they were staying either in the well secured hostels or with relatives but after all they had to travel back to their homes through the unsafe Thall-Parachinar road.

“We too fear that our parents might take the decision of stopping us from further education and also we don’t think that future and lives of other girls are safe in other tribal agencies,” girl students from Kurram Agency concluded.

All names except those of KUST VC and TTP commander have been changed.