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Pakistani militants use bombs that resemble toys to target children, officials say.
By Zahir Shah
NOWSHERA, Pakistan – The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has decided to educate children about the dangers of toy-like bombs after militants allegedly targeted them recently with bombs disguised as candy, toys and even a string of ball-shaped explosives tied to a cricket bat.
The February 5 discovery of the string of bombs tied to the cricket bat in Akora Khattak, Nowshera District, reminded educators and parents of the militants' desire to harm children.
"The bombs were in the shape of cricket balls and tied up to the handle of the cricket bat and placed near the school to attract children," Rajab Ali, station house officer, told Central Asia Online then. "But locals informed the police in time, and the bombs were defused."
Last May, a bomb placed inside a make-up box and covered with candy and money apparently targeted female students of a nearby Hamza Town school, drawing attention and outrage.
Describing another incident, Peshawar resident Sabz Ali Gul – a father of two – recalled his son's near tragedy.
"Last year, my 5-year-old son brought home a duck-like toy," he told Central Asia Online. "It was ticking. Sensing something wrong, I threw it into a nearby sewage canal and it exploded."
Gul never leaves his children alone now, he said, adding that he advises them to leave stray toy-like objects and candy boxes alone.
"We have to ward off this threat immediately," Peshawar schoolteacher Muhammad Iqbal said of bombs meant to attract children.
"A campaign in the mass media would go a long way in countering this new militant technique to cause chaos in our educational system," he said.
Civil society reacts
Civil society is reacting with outrage over such tactics by the militants.
"The plan to target the youngsters is really a cowardly act; the whole civil society condemns it," Qamar Naseem, programme co-ordinator of the Blue Veins, a Peshawar-based civil society organisation, said.
"I believe the militants wanted to terrorise people, especially children," he said. "But the enlightened people have realised how to deal with these elements. They had always considered women and children soft targets, so these elements had no qualms about attacking humanity."
"I feel there is a dire need to work out some kind of informative material, educating small schoolchildren about the toy bombs and the techniques being used by the terrorists to terrorise the school kids," he said. "I suggest developing and displaying some learning material in schools or on banners affixed on busy roads."
"First the militants attacked the schools to terrorise parents and kids and to force them to quit," Qamar said. "Now they've started plan B, terrorising children with toy-like bombs. Their goal is very simple, to deprive the future generation of education."
Awareness campaign and defiance
Such a campaign has begun.
"We've started an awareness campaign in the schools," said Ijaz Ur Rehman, general secretary of the All Teachers Association in Nowshera. "Teachers are telling children how to avoid these toy-like bombs that could come in any shape, in the form of balls, cricket bats, geometry boxes, schoolbags, pencil cases, etc."
Authorities trained the teachers first, who in turn teach children during assemblies and in class to tell teachers about stray objects they find lying near schools, he said.
"The parents are worried about this new trend of targeting children with toy bombs, but the school administration and the teachers are playing their part to stop such acts of violence," Ijaz said. "We won't allow the terrorists to deprive our youth of education."
Militants want to paralyse the country's education system, he said. First they blew up schools in KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and now they've begun terrorising the youth, he said.
Militants want to keep the people ignorant in the name of religion, he said. "We're ready to take on the challenge."
"I appreciate the awareness campaign in [elementary] schools, but it should become part of the curriculum in [middle and secondary] schools too," he said. The "true face" of the militants must be shown to the public, he said.
Education is the answer
Education is the only tool that can defeat terrorism and militancy, KP Governor Engineer Shakatullah Khan told Central Asia Online, adding that's why the provincial government is focused on teaching employable skills that can alleviate poverty, the root of all social ills.
"We are planning to employ more than 600,000 jobless FATA youth, here and also want them to go abroad as skilled labourers, and for that we are focusing on the technical side of education, as well as conventional [academic] teaching," he said.
Official commitment will not waver, KP Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak said.
"Nobody can terrorise our teachers and kids from going to schools," he said. "You can see hundreds of [bombed] schools re-activated despite great odds."
"About 70% of the destroyed schools [in KP] have been rehabilitated," he added. "International donors are providing funds to repair the remaining 30%, which is being done on a war footing."
"Unfortunately the targeting of schools and schoolchildren continues," he said. "It hasn't been stopped, but ... it's been largely reduced.
Measures also are in the cards to counter the militant strategy of terrorising school kids through toy bombings."