Though Bara is a town in Khyber Agency, it is quite close to Peshawar and those who can afford to send their children to schools and colleges in Peshawar tend to prefer that. Quite a lot of them used to commute daily between their homes in Bara and schools & colleges in Peshawar.
Bara is under siege; army and paramilitary forces have launched an operation against the infamous Mangal Bagh and his banned Lashkar-e-Islam in the area. All roads are blocked and no means of transportation are available. Those who are stuck in the area find it very hard to get out. Among those trapped in the town amidst army offensive are children who were appearing for their high school board examination this year.
Earlier this month a few students managed to come to Peshawar for their matriculation exams, braving both the curfew and bullets being sprayed from all sides. The students from Bara started their papers an hour later than their local peers. It was a miracle that they managed to make it to the examination hall at all, but when they requested their invigilators for extra time to make up for their late arrival because of curfew and cross firing they were denied. Luckily a reporter was present and pleaded their case and they were given some extra time.
This incident reveals two hard hitting realities of our society. First is that we do not listen to our children. They were the ones who first suffered the trauma of living under the influence of a terrorist like Mangal Bagh, then an army operation in their area and the death of their loved ones as a result of the cross fire between the armed forces and the militants. They experienced the tragedy first hand but the teacher did not pay any heed to their pleas. It took an adult, in this case the journalist who intervened on behalf of those children, to get through to the teacher to make him understand their plight.
Second is that the teacher who should’ve been more considerate and sympathetic towards those children has perhaps lost his compassion because he gets to hear such stories or even more terrible ones every day which has toughened his outlook.
Horrific as it may sound these children were not the worst sufferers of the conflict, there are thousands who are living as IDPs in various parts of the province and their access to education is limited at best in camps for IDPs.
It is not just the children living in areas under the army operation or in the IDP camps that suffer. Even the host communities in the areas where the IDP camps are set up suffer because a lot of times these camps are set up in public schools or near public schools and their teachers are engaged in the camp work. In the areas which were previously under militants or army operation, the schools are open but many are damaged and some are without teachers who have permanently fled the area.
The worst victims of the armed conflict are the children and the most damaging impact is on education infrastructure. The roads and bridges can be rebuilt but the time and opportunities for the children in conflict zones are lost forever. It has not only hindered the economic growth of the area for now, it reinforces future poverty of such children and holds back their progress as individuals, as a community and inevitably as a country.
First published in Express Tribune, this is the unedited version