Elimination of militant sanctuaries a must to keep schools safe

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The problem of destruction of schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cannot be resolved without the elimination of the militants’ safe havens in the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas, experts have said.

The provincial civil administration appears to be helpless in nabbing and putting the culprits to trial by the courts because criminals remain unscathed and police without any success in making headway in any case so far, the people belonging to different fields of life told Dawn on Monday.

“They (terrorists) are trying to push Pakistan back to the Stone Age as they are attacking our future generation, wanting to keep our children uneducated,” said Awami National Party MNA Bushra Gohar.

She said attacks on school buildings could not be stopped unless the militants’ hideouts in Fata were eliminated. “Unless a decisive action is taken against their factories in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will continue to experience the pressure,” she said. Her views were echoed as social worker Idress Kamal opined that the existing official strategy was a failure and the schools would continue to be attacked in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa till the time the militants’ dens inside Fata were destroyed.

The province, a senior provincial government official said on Friday last, saw some 800 school buildings damaged completely or partially in terrorist attacks. According to an Islamabad-based research organisation, 52 schools were destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2012, making more than four schools destroyed on average every month.

Mr Kamal said school buildings formed easy targets for the saboteurs. Their destruction, he maintained, caused fear among the civilian population, particularly, children and their parents. “It fulfills their purpose more than anything else, causing scare among the civilian population and shaking the public’s confidence in the civilian administration,” he added.

According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international think tank with offices in Sydney and New York, education institutions formed 13 percent of the targets of 910 terrorist activities carried out in Pakistan in 2011. “In Pakistan, educational institutions have been targeted almost as much as government, accounting for 13 % of all recorded attacks,” contains the IEP’s “Global Terrorism Index,” a first of its kind index, released in December last year. The index found Pakistan as the second most affected by terrorist attacks in 2011 across the world.

Ms Gohar opined that the country needed improved intelligence apparatus instead of putting the blame on the civilian administration as its failure in nabbing the culprits. “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has taken the brunt, its police have suffered loss of precious lives, and we must acknowledge that it is the only province that has introduced a counter terrorism strategy,” said Ms Gohar.

She added there was a need to have a strong intelligence system, at least, at par with the challenge, requiring a cohesive and well coordinated effort on the part of all security agencies to end militancy. “No one can do much once they (attackers/suicide bombers) reach their target (in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), we need an intelligence network strong enough to stop the attackers at the place from where they start their journey,” said Ms Gohar.

Security analyst and former secretary (security) of Fata Secretariat Brig (r) Mahmud Shah said any action against terrorists in Fata could not succeed without establishing its political ownership.

“Army conducted a successful operation in Swat because it had the public support which the civil government created by accepting its ownership,” said the retired army officer. He said the decision to conduct a military operation should come from the political leadership.

“Army restored the state’s writ in South Waziristan and retrieved Swat from Taliban,” said Mr Shah, adding that the country was facing an intense conflict in Balochistan where the state was finding it quite hard to put things under control.A social worker from Swabi district, requesting anonymity because he feels threatened from local Taliban, said the responsibility to put an end to the problem of attacks against schools did not rest entirely on the state.

“Police have lost lives, politicians have come under attack,” said the social worker, adding “it is certainly the government’s responsibility, but at the same it is our, the people’s, responsibility as well.”

He said the general public should think about its role and analyse how much help it was extending to the government in nabbing the culprits involved in destroying schools.

“What the government can do in arresting the criminals when no one comes forward to share evidence,” said the activist.