PESHAWAR: A day after seven charity workers were shot dead in Swabi, a deep sense of vulnerability and growing concerns about a renewed surge of violence set in the terror-ridden province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
Locals, who claim that a huge chunk of the female population are educated and working to support their families, feel increasingly cornered and frustrated with the deteriorating security situation after Tuesday’s attack.
Azizur Rehman, an eyewitness to the brutal attack, said two unidentified men ambushed a van taking the charity workers home. A four-year-old boy was spared when the gunmen removed him from the same vehicle before spraying it with gunfire, he added.
According to the victims’ families, the killings have sent shockwaves through their village. Hussain Wali, whose eldest daughter Raheela was killed in the attack, said his daughter had passed her matriculation examination and was deeply committed to her education.
Wali, who is a farmer with five other children, told The Express Tribune that Raheela was currently completing her Bachelors degree privately. With tears welling up his eyes, Wali wondered as to why not a single local politician or government official had come to condole with his family. “The government doesn’t realise the gravity of this situation, so why they will come,” he added.
Raheela’s uncle, Muhammad Sharif, who works at a private courier service, said he was extremely close to her niece and would consult him in every matter. Sharif went on to add that the whole village was shocked at the incident since she had never discussed any threats made to her life.
“If anyone has any personal enmity, the gunmen would not have killed them all at the same time,” said Sharif. Raheela’s father also reiterated that his family had no personal enmity with anyone.
Raheela had received several proposals in the past but she had declined all of them because she was the bread-winner for the family along with her father, Sharif said, adding that she worked hard to financially assist her family by paying for her younger siblings’ education.
Raheela earlier worked as a principal at a local school operated by Support With Working Solution (SWWS), which runs dozens of health and education projects, including polio vaccinations, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. She was currently working with the same organization as a social organiser.
A wave of fear has gripped the entire village with families scrambling to ensure the safety of their women, who are working in various NGOs. “I don’t think people will even send their girls to schools after this heinous act,” Sharif added.
Another victim’s father Fazal Dad said his daughter, Jameela, was a teacher while he himself worked as a mason in the surrounding villages.
“My back is broken and I don’t know who will financially assist me as she supported me like a son,” said Fazal, who has six children – four daughters and two sons.
Gul Kareem, an uncle of Jameela’s, said the girls killed in the “barbaric” attack were working to support their families. Kareem also complained about the government’s apathetic response to the victims’ families, saying no one had come to condole with them.
Aid groups demand protection
Meanwhile, aid groups demanded greater protection after the brutal murder, while Support With Working Solution temporarily suspended its operations in the province.
“The NGO has suspended its activities for three days to mourn the deaths. They will decide after three days whether to start work again or not,” said Abdul Rashid Khan, police chief of Swabi district.
“Police have opened investigations but we are not yet in a position to charge anyone,” Khan added.
On Wednesday, an umbrella organisation of around 200 charities in K-P held talks on how to secure more protection, said Idrees Kamal, the coordinator of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network.
“We are here to discuss the situation and to chalk out a work strategy for the future because we need better security,” Kamal said. Other charity workers said Tuesday’s attack had heightened fears.
“It has created uncertainty. We were already facing problems,” said Imran Takkar, programme manager of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.
“How can a state protect its people if it can’t protect its ministers?” Takkar said, referring to the assassination of senior minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour.
Yasrab Nazeer, provincial programme coordinator of Rahnuma which works on health projects, said, “We are really concerned about such attacks. NGO workers, particularly women workers, feel insecure. The government will have to take steps for our protection.”
Meanwhile, Imtiaz Iltaf, police chief of Peshawar, said officers were preparing a strategy to protect aid workers.
“We are in a state of war. The whole country is facing an insurgency, so we are revising the present security steps and working on a new strategy,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2013.