Whilst traveling from Islamabad to Karachi for an event commemorating literacy graduates in Thatta, I came across a news item on a school being blown up in Landi Kotal. Addressing students, I mentioned the blowing up of a school in Fata. This was not the first time such an incident took place — in fact this November alone, nine schools have been blown up!
I will mention each one of them individually so that they are not a mere statistic. On November 22, a girls’ school in Landi Kotal was hit. On November 15 and November 11, militants blew up two government schools in Mohmand Agency. A day before, two primary schools for girls in the same agency were blown up. On November 6, a high school at Sulemankhel Budh bher was blown up. And on November 5, a government girls’ school was blown up in the settled district of Bannu. Two days earlier, two more girls’ schools were blown up – again in Mohmand.
The question arises as to what the rest of Pakistan is doing about the matter. There have been no significant protests which have managed to protect these schools. In fact, ironically, 800 employees of the education department in Fata have been suspended and terminated by political agents under the Frontier Crimes Regulations for not protecting government schools against militants. Over 100 female staff members are among the punished employees.
Research on this subject motivated me to make a call to my alma mater, St Joseph’s Convent High School. I wanted to drop by to discuss the possibilities of brainstorming for solutions on how to protect girls’ schools. I happened to be at my old school on a very important day. It was the first death anniversary of Ms Shafiqa Fikree, an institution unto herself. As I sat and listened to all that was wholesome about her, and thus our upbringing at such a prestigious institution, I kept thinking of the girls in Mohmand. Later over tea, in a discussion with my teachers, I realised it was education which taught women like myself a sense of fighting for justice. And people like myself who are able to attend such schools were the lucky ones since not all children are fortunate enough to receive this kind of education.
All schools across Pakistan must be invited to participate in brainstorming a solution so that there is ownership of the problem from a wide spectrum of schools. As one of my favourite teachers from school pointed out, a start could be a silent protest in all schools; a few minutes of silence on a chosen day everywhere in Pakistan marking our condemnation of the targeting of girls’ schools.
It was about time we began fixing things that are broken. And we need to do this by adopting a bipartisan approach, by jointly raising our voices against injustices and by trying to solve these problems by joint action. Of course, hurdles will be put in our way and there will be vilification campaigns by those who do not want us to succeed. But leadership and sincerity to our Pakistaniat demand that we ignore these and march on.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2010.