The recent conditions of the country and the blast in the â€œIslamic universityâ€ in Islamabad as well as the direct threats to different schools have forced education to come to a standstill here in Karachi. At present after holding meetings with the parent bodies the schools have decided to remain closed for a few days and make security arrangements after which they will open up again. In fact by the time you are reading this barring something horrible and unforeseen, things should have gone back to the routine, but will it ever be the same for our kids again?
First of all closure and then opening up does not have that much of an effect on student psyche, what has a profound impact though is studying behind 10 foot walls, barricades and barbed wire. That feeling of the school turning from a focal point of â€œfunâ€ to â€œthat creepy place with guard dogsâ€ is not something we should take lightly. Our wards will now always associate life in Pakistan with before and after that blast when they grow up. It is what we call a watershed moment in our history.
People at best tend to be dismissive and ignorant until the effects fall on their way of life and so it was in this case as well. When first womenâ€™s and then other schools were shut down in SWAT and Malakand did any of us urbanites blink an eye? No we were too busy deciding the theme of our next birthday bash or whatever was more important then â€œthat war up northâ€ The same people however are now holding PTA meetings by the minute and thinking of opening up alternate schools in their homes so as to continue on without a hitch. Which are good ideas but then again only a temporary solution. Other people are considering sending their wards abroad or moving abroad themselves. Obviously people with resources to do that will always find that option attractive but we must remember that the outside world is really not that welcoming for our kind anymore, even with a different colored passport.
Basically all the free economies are tanking big time, which means recession and high unemployment, the U.S being the worst with its unemployment figure now at 10.2% the highest in 26 years. So this is hardly the time for a Pakistani to move and find a heap of gold at the end of the emigration rainbow. Secondly moving the kids to a different country may give us peace of mind for the moment, but it will certainly ruin the kidâ€™s lives for the long term. They will lose not just their friends but the social structure they have been brought up in, unless at an infant stage and will be disconnected from whatâ€™s going on around them for sure. This can also help them in being easy prey for school bullies and even for abusers on premises. Hardly a situation any of us would welcome.
So what is it that we should do? Well first of all we should come to the realization that the war for Pakistan will now be fought out with the militants on our very streets. Supporting the army is not just good enough anymore, we are all part of this war now with our families whether we like it or not so the best thing to do is to get involved. How to do that can result in a varied set of solutions but I think the following steps will suffice.
a) Organize neighborhood watch committees. Rather than just relying on security guards and chowkidar the time has come for us to all keep an eye peeled for suspicious persons moving around. I am not advocating taking the law into our own hands but we can at least remain vigilant and check people loitering around our communities, if they have a reason for being there thatâ€™s fine but if not we can walk away and report the matter to the correct authorities. This must take place because Karachiâ€™s police force is around 23000 by last count, so they are vastly outnumbered and its time the citizens pitched in.
b) We must also stop sending our kids to the schools with drivers and maids and even alone in vans, I know it may seem implausible but one parent must accompany these kids to school and back no matter what, small kids in groups are easy targets for people in the open and they must have proper escorts. What better escorts then the parents? We can perhaps manage to do this on a weekly volunteer basis. This will also reduce the threat from unwanted elements slipping inside the schools or till the school gate in the guise of escorts or drivers.
c) Besides the barbed wire and the guards we must also engage the property brokers around our residential communities and perhaps keep a list on what is available for rent and who is moving in. I am not suggesting discrimination here but normally all over the world when renting a house the broker is required to obtain a certain set of documents which are often ignored when the lure of chunks of cash comes into play in Pakistan. This has to stop because we are putting our own lives at threat and thus the residents must point out these things. We can also enforce these rules by taking the CPLC into the process of renting a space ala a no objection certificate from the community being the first requirement and so on.
d) Last but not the least we must talk to our wards and let them know what is going on. Not talking and leaving things ambiguous can lead to schoolyard gossip which is usually an exaggerated version of reality. Gory details are not necessary but the kids should have a firm grasp on what is threatening them and why, so that god forbid if the unforeseen happens they are mentally prepared for it and do not freeze but follow the drills being taught now in most institutions.
Fleeing the coop might seem inviting, but remember this country is still what we make of it. It is time we started taking onus for things and staring the forces of darkness in the eye or else they will never stop, Pakistan may just be the beginning, the same threat can spread to where we choose to move very quickly.
As published in “The Friday Times” on 20th Nov 2009