In Orangi, terror looms over schools

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Attacks and threats by criminal groups forcing students to drop out

Karachi

They had a simple dream: impart education to children in an underprivileged Pakhtun neighbourhood. That was in 1994, when the three friends Waheed, Latif and Amjad had graduated from the Karachi University.

Nineteen years later, Waheed has been murdered, Latif survived an assassination attempt but lost his leg, and Amjad has gone into hiding.

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In Qasba Colony, where the friends lived, they taught children free of charge. Their passion helped them construct a school.

From a single room in 1994, it expanded into a large 20-room building where 800 students of the locality were taught in two shifts.

But this year, the Naunehal Academy, as the school was later named, has suffered consecutive setbacks, reducing the number of its student to a sorry 200.

In May, Waheed, its young, boisterous principal was shot dead. Following his death the school was shut down for a few months. Latif and Amjad relocated. So did, Waheed’s family: a widow, a 10-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.

On August 15, it reopened amid threats. Three days later, when students were inside their classes, a home-made bomb exploded outside.

Two days passed on in peace, and then in the middle of the night the school was sprayed with bullets.

“The terrorists succeeded in spreading panic in the community. Scared for their lives, the students stopped coming to school,” said Latif, who has left Qasba Colony for a safer place.

“We also received an extortion slip for Rs500,000. It was signed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan,” he added.

Some days ago, Latif had received a phone call. The caller had said, “We will tear down your house in Qasba if you don’t stop what you are doing.”

Latif said he told them to do whatever they wanted with his house. “It has been empty since Waheed’s death. People make a house… without people a house is worthless.”

The school is running amid security threats. During school hours, policemen in vans patrol the area. In addition, private security guards have also been hired. “They are costing us Rs40,000 every month.”

Amjad and Latif believe that the community, especially the militants in the area, have mistaken them for foreign agents.

They say it was partly because journalists, both from the local and foreign media, frequently visited the school.

But more importantly, the problem started after a polio centre was set up in the school in collaboration with the Rotary Club. “The CIA-funded hepatitis campaign to search for Osama bin Laden is often mistaken as a polio campaign in Pakhtun localities. Perhaps it was that very thing,” said Amjad.

But the plan is to gradually regain the community’s trust. Work only for education and not advocate for any controversial figures.

“It was education that we wanted to impart in our Pakhtun locality. We drifted from our focus,” lamented Amjad.

Latif said it was imperative that the children in the locality received education. “Because if books don’t answer their problems, eventually guns will.”

Growing threat

DSP Faisal Noor, who looks after Orangi Town, accepts there are growing incidents of violence against schools – extortionists to blame for many of the cases. “We can’t single out a single group because several criminals are hiding in this area.”

Schools are increasingly being targeted in Orangi Town. The list includes the Rakhshanda Public School, running for 25 years, which was hit by gunfire in September. The Nation Secondary School came under attack in March. Some men had entered the building on results’ day and opened fire, killing a student and the principal and injuring 12 others.

The Shaheen Public School has also been receiving threats from extortionists.

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