Terrorism has badly hit Pakistan in recent months; nevertheless, the educational institutions became a target of this frenzy, evoking fear and uncertainty among students, teachers and their families, quite recently. Moreover, though the troublemakers’ strategy of targeting educational institutions and sending fear signals is tantamount to targeting the ‘future’ and ‘hope’ of this nation of over 160 millions, the youth, despite fearing about ‘what can happen next’, have largely refused to give in.
Different educational institutions in Pakistan were closed for indefinite period in the mid of October following terrorism threats, especially to the schools run by defense-related organizations. Armed forces run various chains of educational institutions for the wards of their employees, from nursery to university level, which also admit children of civilian parents.
The worst fears however proved true on 20 October when two suicide bombers hit International Islamic University in the capital city Islamabad, killing over a dozen including 10 students. IIU ranks among largest national universities with around 20000 students from over 40 countries pursuing their studies.
“I thought the doomsday has approached,” Sidra, a seventh semester student of a graduate study program at the IIU told while recollecting her memories of the nightmarish day. All what Sidra can recall and tell about what happened on that fateful day in her alma mater includes stories of fear, anxiety and worries about the future. “Some girls thought perhaps they won’t ever be able to come back and finish their studies”.
The attack sent shivers down the spine of students, teachers and parents across the country. More schools were closed, security beefed up, and uncertainty widespread. All this proved to be a fertile ground for rumors’ growth. Discussions at homes, through text messages on cell phones, on social networking sites, and blogs and in person had varying colors, ranging from the condemnation of Taliban for the shameful act to the alleged connivance of spy agencies of India, Israel and the USA for sponsoring and staging disruptive activities to destabilize Pakistan.
A distinguished facet of this phase, however, was ‘keeping the hope alive’ by the youth who deluged their friends and acquaintances with text messages, a very popular means of communication in Pakistan, requesting prayers, expressing hope and pledging to defeat terrorism. Students also expressed their resolve through participating in talk shows on FM radio channels and conducting seminars.
Now when educational activities have resumed in different institutions after reopening under security checks, CCTV cameras’ vigilance, and through concrete barricades, rumors and hope are flourishing again – the latter better than the former, though.
Islamians, the way the IIU students like to be called, sound determined to ‘fight back’ and bring normalcy to their university. “No one should think that we have become frightened, IIU is our second home and we shall protect it like the brave Pervez Masih did”, said one Asadullah, an undergraduate student at IIU.
Pervez, a Christian by faith, has become the hero of Islamians. Pervez who got a sweeper’s job hardly a month before the attack saved the lives of dozens of girls by intercepting the suicide bomber near the entrance of the packed cafeteria. He died to give life to many. “Every student is putting share in a donation fund for sweeper uncle’, said Sidra. Gratefulness reflected her words and voice when she talked about the martyred hero.
Parents of the students, however, do complain about the ineptness of the government in handling the recent challenge to the educational community of the nation. ‘The government is not doing as much as it should have been’, said Ahsan, an IT professional and father of three. He thinks closing up the schools and confining the children to homes would only serve the purpose of troublemakers who want to spread fear and uncertainty.
Now that is something which Ms Robina Mahmood, a senior clinical psychologist at Mayo Hospital in Punjab’s Capital Lahore, is also concerned about. “Terrorism threats to schools cause uncertainty and induce anxiety and depression which may develop into phobias and compromise on children’s performance”. Ms Mahmood says we would be “total losers” if this continues and advocates serious intervention by the government to provide security and keep the educational institutions open.
Asima Khan, another psychotherapist at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences Islamabad who has got specialized training in treating psychological problems of children and adolescents and Trauma Psychotherapy also thinks, “confinement is no solution”. Ms Khan stresses for serious efforts to tackle the problem that can “affect our youth, and future”.