By Mirza Khurram Shahzad
It’s as though an earthquake had occurred. The red bricks of the Government Girls Primary School Masho Khawarr building seem to be clinging to each other for support. A slight push would flatten it. And it’s just six months old.
The villagers are greeted by shattered windows and scattered plaster. All four steel windows on the back wall of a classroom have been loosened at their hinges. The ones in front are similarly distorted, while the door doesn’t exist any longer. Inside, a two-foot crater explains what happened a few days ago.
A 6×4 hole in the wall speaks of the impact that shredded the door. A poplar tree lies uprooted in the courtyard.
Until midnight, April 30, this was a new school building, waiting for teachers to start classes in this remote village of Shabqadar tehsil in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some time after 12.30am, the villagers heard a huge explosion. The next morning, they saw cracks in the building’s walls. Inside, an explosive device had devastated the structure.
A week earlier, they had held talks with the district administration to get staff for the school. They had been told it was not a priority.
“The deputy commissioner (DC) told us the administration doesn’t have the funds to recruit staff,” says Farman Ullah, whose utmost desire is to see this school in front of his house start functioning and eventually be upgraded to the secondary level. “The DC didn’t even agree to give this school a watchman,” he shakes his head. “He told us that only an MPA can help in getting funds and staff for this school.”
Militants lying low in the mountains of the Mohmand tribal area just a few kilometres away evidently decided to nip any form of enlightenment in the bud.
“This area is suffering because of its location,” local journalist Najeeb-ur-Rehman Khan tells me. “The Taliban used to patrol here and in the Shabqadar bazaar a year ago. They remain in the mountains and don’t come here during the day now. But they carry out such activities from time to time at night to establish their presence.”
According to Najeeb, there are 25 villages in this area which have been declared disputed. “The tribal area administration in Mohmand Agency claims that they fall under its jurisdiction while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government says the provincial government is in charge. Meanwhile, nobody takes care of development and the people suffer.”
The administration does appear helpless, unable as it has been to protect 13 other schools that have been blown up by the militants in the district.
“Seven boys schools and as many girls schools have been blown up so far,” says Siraj Khan, the district education officer in Charsadda. “Militants attack at night, what can we do?”
Overall, 828 schools have been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2008. The girls of Masho Khawarr, who wanted to study at this school, demand explanations.
“I go to school in Shabqadar,” says six-year-old Saba who suffers during the summer and the winter when she has to cover the long distance. “That is far. I want to study here.” Her younger sister, four-year-old Bakhtawar who is roaming about inside the damaged school, also wished to study in this school.
“At least 200 girls of this village are of school-going age,” says Farman. “But they don’t have a school to go to.”
The bomb has exploded, the school building destroyed, and the militants have disappeared. The administration remains clueless. There are no signs of any attempts to restore the structure, bring teachers and start classes.