FATA families send children to schools in safer areas

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

About 200 students from FATA attend the University Public School in Peshawar, pictured here in June. [Ashfaq Yusufzai]

About 200 students from FATA attend the University Public School in Peshawar, pictured here in June. [Ashfaq Yusufzai]

PESHAWAR -- In defiance of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)'s war against education, hundreds of families in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have decided to send their children to schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The families are relocating themselves or sending away their children because they prize education so greatly.

"Taliban militants have forced parents to send their children away to get an education," Ahmed Khan, a resident of North Waziristan Agency, told Central Asia Online, referring to the TTP's past intimidation of teachers and children and bombings of schools.

"We are facing many difficulties, but we have to send our children to schools to be able to counter the Taliban's agenda of sending the people back to the Stone Age," he said.

During FATA's long struggle with militancy, residents have come to understand that they can end violence by educating the next generation, he said.

"The residents of FATA have come to know that anything opposed by Taliban militants benefits them," Khan said. "The Taliban oppose vaccinations and schools [as a way to] expose [citizens] to sicknesses and ignorance."

Although peace is returning to the area, residents are afraid to risk their children's future, Muhammad Sharif, a medical technician in Bajaur Agency, told Central Asia Online.

FATA parents with the means have sent their children to Peshawar and elsewhere, he said.

"People don't want their children to grow up as monsters," he said.

Two years ago, Sharif sent his sons, who were 9 and 11 at the time, to University Public School in Peshawar.

"The environment wasn't appropriate for study in the presence of the Taliban," he said. "I took the hard decision to enrol my children in far-away schools."

Countering violence through education

In the past eight years, the TTP bombed or set fire to more than 800 schools in FATA and KP, Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar-based security analyst, said.

"The Taliban's campaign against schools has awakened the parents," he told Central Asia Online.

"It is very encouraging that the people are sending their children to schools in other cities," he said.

"Education is the only way to defeat violence and establish peace," he said.

A long list of parents have made the decision that Sharif in Bajaur Agency made.

They include Safiullah Khan of Mohmand Agency.

"The Taliban's enmity toward education made the significance of schools obvious to parents," he told Central Asia Online. "In response, many of them have become insistent on educating their children in a good environment."

His two children are homesick, having attended school in Charsadda District, KP, for two years, he said. However, the sacrifice is worth it, he added.

"We are happy that they are on a mission," he said.

Schoolchildren are unafraid

Aslam Shah, a seventh-grader in Allied Public School (APS) in Peshawar, said that the TTP destroyed his hometown school in South Waziristan two years ago.

"My parents came to my rescue and sent me to Peshawar," he told Central Asia Online, adding that about 10 children from his area attend APS.

"We are undeterred by the hard times we face," he said. "We hope that it will bear fruit."

Shah said he is grateful to his parents for sending him to Peshawar.

"It is the best strategy for sending the Taliban a message that parents and schoolchildren cannot be kept away from schools," he said.

Umra Bibi, 9, attends the University Model School in Peshawar. The TTP destroyed her school in Bajaur Agency.

"I am happy here," she said. "I am thankful to my parents for sending me here."

Her parents visit every month, she said, adding that she misses her mother at night.

She remains undeterred. "I will become a teacher to educate girls in our own area," she said.

Rebuilding local schools

Workers have rebuilt about half of the schools that the TTP damaged or destroyed in FATA, Shafique Ahmed, deputy director of the FATA Education Directorate, said.

"It is very important to rebuild local schools," he told Central Asia Online. "We know that only 5% of parents can afford to send their children to Peshawar."

The TTP's war on education has proven a blessing in disguise for FATA children, Obaidullah Khan, a lecturer at the University of Peshawar, told Central Asia Online.

"Most parents who were previously reluctant to send their children to school at all are readily sending them off to far-away areas," he said. "It is a welcome development for both parents and children."

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