By Zia Ur Rehman

June 26, 2013

KARACHI – Education has been under attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) for years as Taliban militants have destroyed schools and killed teachers. But the trend now appears to be spreading, police and civil society activists say.

“It seems their campaign of violence against education has moved from the tribal areas to Karachi,” Wali Muhammad, a school principal in the Baldia Town area, said.

Karachi civil society activists May 14 console relatives of Abdul Waheed – head of the NGO Bright Educational Society and owner of a co-educational school in the Qasba Colony area – who was fatally shot by three militants in front of his school May 13. [Zia Ur Rehman]
In their effort to discourage education and to keep girls confined to their homes, militants have bombed more than 1,000 schools in KP and FATA since 2007, according to the Pakistan Security Report 2012, an annual publication by the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).

In recent months, however, Karachi has witnessed attacks on its schools and education advocates – a trend that is new to the city.

In response, the provincial government has ordered law enforcement agencies to better protect schools, Sindh Information Minister Sharjell Memon said, adding that the culprits will be caught and held accountable.

Militants want to deprive people of education

Others discussed the implications of such attacks.

“The attacks we are seeing today in Karachi clearly use the same tactics Taliban militants used in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA,” said Aftab Ali, a Karachi-based educator.

Targeting schools is a continuation of Taliban militants’ hatred of education, Ali told Central Asia Online, adding that the insurgents don’t want people to be able to think for themselves.

“The new trend of attacking schools and teachers in Karachi is very disturbing,” Muhammad, a leader of the Karachi school owners’ association, told Central Asia Online.

Religious scholars say the Taliban’s anti-education stance is not justified.

“Girl’ education is considered un-Islamic by illiterate Taliban militants,” Mufti Mustafa Noorani, a Karachi-based religious scholar, said. “But the fact is that Islamic teaching advised the people to send their children, especially girls, to school for getting an education.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the National Organisation for Working Communities and several other civil society groups condemned the attacks on the education system, saying the strategy will have deleterious effects on the next generation of Pakistanis and its ability to earn a living.

Attacks on schools and educators in Karachi

Some of the recent attacks involving the Karachi education system include the following:

Unknown militants in the Karimabad area May 30 fatally shot educator Syed Azfar Rizvi, head of the Dhaka Group of Educational Institutions and honorary secretary of Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu Pakistan, an NGO that promotes the Urdu language.

On the same day, Rehana Rehman, the owner of a private school in the Iqbal Market area of Orangi Town, was shot in the leg, the Express Tribune reported.

Unknown militants hurled a hand grenade through a classroom window in Orangi Town, injuring three children, on May 24.

Three militants May 13 shot and killed Abdul Waheed, head of the NGO Bright Educational Society and owner of a co-educational school in the Qasba Colony area, in front of his school. His daughter and brother were injured.

In March, a terrorists invading a school in the Ittehad Town area killed Abdul Rasheed – educator and supporter of girls’ education in Pashtun-dominated areas of the city – along with a 10-year girl student during an annual awards ceremony.

Several other children, including Rasheed’s daughter, were injured in the gun and grenade attack.

And unknown culprits March 13 killed social activist Parveen Rehman in the Mangophir Road area.

TTP militants oppose girls’ education

Extremists killed Waheed and Rasheed because of their efforts to educate girls in the Pashtun-populated and impoverished areas of Qasba Colony and Ittehad Town in Karachi, their colleagues told Central Asia Online.

“Waheed … was well-known in Karachi for his education and humanitarian work. He also assisted … Parveen Rehman on the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP),” Afzal Shah, a social activist in the Qasba Colony area, said.

Waheed bettered the lives of hundreds of children by introducing modern education in madrassas, Shah said.

“Some [people] are against teaching girls; they want to snatch the pen from our females,” he said.

Rasheed started teaching school with only a mat and a shelter in Ittehad Town. His son Maaz Khan is now carrying on his work.

“My father had a passion to spread education among our people,” Maaz said. “He used to go door to door and ask the poor families of the area to send their children – especially girls – to the school.”

Nobody has taken responsibility for killing either Waheed or Rasheed, but police and local residents suspect Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants of being behind their killing.

Waheed notified police that he had received threatening phone calls just a few weeks before his murder, Pirabad Police Station House Officer (SHO) Abdul Moeed said, and police were investigating.

Rasheed, affiliated with the liberal Awami National Party (ANP), also received regular threats from the TTP, ANP leaders confirmed.