Sunday, February 01, 2009

Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl

I am sure all of us feel that it’s high time that India takes strong measures against Pakistan. We are being too soft on terror and handling the situation very diplomatically.
We have given evidence to them, gave them rights to conduct their own investigation, didn’t use force and for that matter didn’t give them a deadline to eliminate terrorist camps.

On 8th of January, there was a front page article in Times of India on “The advance of Taliban” and it showed in terms of distances in kilometers how close our cities are to places occupied by Taliban.

But it was today that I was so moved by an article on BBC Urdu online - extracts from a diary of school girl Pakistan. Her firsthand description of things happening around her made me realize that I was a little wrong in identifying the enemy. It’s not all Pakistanis that I should keep cursing, ordinary citizens there are in a crisis. The Pakistan, with whom we had fought 5 wars, is now fighting hard to avoid a hostile take over by the extremists. God knows how and when this would change and what’s in store for future.

"Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl"

I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.
Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban's edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.
On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.

Today is a holiday and I woke up late, around 10 am. I heard my father talking about another three bodies lying at Green Chowk (crossing). I felt bad on hearing this news. Before the launch of the military operation we all used to go to Marghazar, Fiza Ghat and Kanju for picnics on Sundays. But now the situation is such that we have not been out on picnic for over a year and a half.
We also used to go for a walk after dinner but now we are back home before sunset. Today I did some household chores, my homework and played with my brother. But my heart was beating fast - as I have to go to school tomorrow.

I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms - and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses and the school presented a homely look.
My friend came to me and said, 'for God's sake, answer me honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taleban?' During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taleban would object to it.
I came back from school and had tuition sessions after lunch. In the evening I switched on the TV and heard that curfew had been lifted from Shakardra after 15 days. I was happy to hear that because our English teacher lived in the area and she might be coming to school now.

Swat has been a centre of militant activity

I have come to Bunair to spend Muharram (a Muslim holiday) on vacation. I adore Bunair because of its mountains and lush green fields. My Swat is also very beautiful but there is no peace. But in Bunair there is peace and tranquillity. Neither is there any firing nor any fear. We all are very happy.
Today we went to Pir Baba mausoleum and there were lots of people there. People are here to pray while we are here for an excursion. There are shops selling bangles, ear rings, lockets and other artificial jewellery. I thought of buying something but nothing impressed - my mother bought ear rings and bangles.

Today at school I told my friends about my trip to Bunair. They said that they were sick and tired of hearing the Bunair story. We discussed the rumours about the death of Maulana Shah Dauran, who used to give speeches on FM radio. He was the one who announced the ban on girls attending school.
Some girls said that he was dead but others disagreed. The rumours of his death are circulating because he did not deliver a speech the night before on FM radio. One girl said that he had gone on leave.
Since there was no tuition on Friday, I played the whole afternoon. I switched on the TV in the evening and heard about the blasts in Lahore. I said to myself 'why do these blasts keep happening in Pakistan?'

I was in a bad mood while going to school because winter vacations are starting from tomorrow. The principal announced the vacations but did not mention the date the school was to reopen. This was the first time this has happened.
In the past the reopening date was always announced clearly. The principal did not inform us about the reason behind not announcing the school reopening, but my guess was that the Taleban had announced a ban on girls' education from 15 January.
This time round, the girls were not too excited about vacations because they knew if the Taleban implemented their edict they would not be able to come to school again. Some girls were optimistic that the schools would reopen in February but others said that their parents had decided to shift from Swat and go to other cities for the sake of their education.
Since today was the last day of our school, we decided to play in the playground a bit longer. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again.

The Taleban have repeatedly targeted schools in Swat

The night was filled with the noise of artillery fire and I woke up three times. But since there was no school I got up later at 10 am. Afterwards, my friend came over and we discussed our homework.
Today is 15 January, the last day before the Taleban's edict comes into effect, and my friend was discussing homework as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Today, I also read the diary written for the BBC (in Urdu) and published in the newspaper. My mother liked my pen name 'Gul Makai' and said to my father 'why not change her name to Gul Makai?' I also like the name because my real name means 'grief stricken'.
My father said that some days ago someone brought the printout of this diary saying how wonderful it was. My father said that he smiled but could not even say that it was written by his daughter.

My father told us that the government would protect our schools. The prime minister has also raised this issue. I was quite happy initially, but now I know but this will not solve our problem. Here in Swat we hear everyday that so many soldiers were killed and so many were kidnapped at such and such place. But the police are nowhere to be seen.
Our parents are also very scared. They told us they would not send us to school until or unless the Taleban themselves announce on the FM channel that girls can go to school. The army is also responsible for the disruption in our education.
Today a boy from our locality went to school and he was told by the principal to go back home because a curfew was to be imposed soon. But when he reached home he came to know that there was no curfew, instead his school was closed down because the army was to move through the road near his school.


Five more schools have been destroyed, one of them was near my house. I am quite surprised, because these schools were closed so why did they also need to be destroyed? No one has gone to school following the deadline given by the Taleban.
Today I went to my friend's house and she told me that a few days back someone killed Maulana Shah Dauran's uncle; she said that it may be that the Taleban destroyed the schools in anger at this.
She also said that no one has made the Taleban suffer but when they are hurt they take it out on our schools. But the army is not doing anything about it. They are sitting in their bunkers on top of the hills. They slaughter goats and eat with pleasure.

The Taleban routinely carry out public floggings in Swat

I am quite bored sitting at home following the closures of schools.
Some of my friends have left Swat because the situation here is very dangerous. I do not leave home. At night Maulana Shah Dauran (the Taleban cleric who announced the ban on girls attending school) once again warned females not to leave home.
He also warned that they would blow up those schools which are used by the security forces as security posts.
Father told us that security forces have arrived at the boys' and girls' school in Haji Baba area. May God keep them safe. Maulana Shah Dauran also said in his speech on FM radio that three 'thieves' will be lashed tomorrow and whoever wants to see can come and watch.
I am surprised that when we have suffered so much, why people still go and watch such things? Why also doesn't the army stop them from carrying out such acts? I have seen wherever the army is there is usually a Taleban member nearby, but where there is a Taleban member the army will always not go.

Our annual exams are due after the vacations but this will only be possible if the Taleban allow girls to go to school. We were told to prepare certain chapters for the exam but I do not feel like studying.
As from yesterday the army has taken control of the educational institutions for protection. It seems that it is only when dozens of schools have been destroyed and hundreds others closed down that the army thinks about protecting them. Had they conducted their operations here properly, this situation would not have arisen.
Muslim Khan (a Swat Taleban spokesman) has said that those schools housing the army would be attacked. We will be more afraid of having the army in our schools than ever. There is a board in our school which is called the Honours Board. The name of the girl achieving the highest marks in annual exams is put on this board. It seems that no names will be put on it this year.

The army is accused of not doing enough to protect schools

I woke to the roar of heavy artillery fire early in the morning. Earlier we were afraid of the noise of helicopters and now the artillery. I remember the first time when helicopters flew over our house on the start of an operation. We got so scared that we hid.
All the children in my neighbourhood were also very scared.
One day toffees were thrown from the helicopters and this continued for some time. Now whenever we hear the choppers flying we run out and wait for the toffees but it does not happen anymore. A while back my father gave us the good news that he was taking all of us to Islamabad tomorrow. We are very happy.

My father fulfilled his promise and we reached Islamabad yesterday. On our way from Swat I was very scared because we had heard that the Taleban conduct searches. But nothing of the sort happened to us. It was instead the army who conducted the search. The moment we left Swat our fears also subsided.
Many are opposed to the militants' policy of closing girls' schools
We are staying with our father's friend in Islamabad. It is my first visit to the city. It's beautiful with nice bungalows and wide roads. But as compared to my Swat city it lacks natural beauty. Father took us to Lok Virsa museum and I learnt a lot. We also have such a museum in Swat but I don't know if it will remain undamaged from the fighting.
My father bought popcorn from an old man outside Lok Virsa. When the vendor spoke to us in Pashtu my father asked him if he was from Islamabad. The old man replied: "Do you think Islamabad can ever belong to Pashtuns?"
He said that he hailed from Momand Agency, but because of an ongoing military operation was forced to leave his abode and head for the city. At that moment I saw tears in my parents' eyes.

Well we should now understand the situation that people like her and her family are facing. The international community should wake up and help such innocent families. In the name of religion, and misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the holy scriptures ordinary people are getting exploited and are losing their homes, peace and happiness.


Prasoon Joshi said...

I am moved but not surprised. Similar was the situation of Afghanistan when Talibani elements started taking control of things there, then came the slaughters, honour killing, female dishonours, Osama, shelling, tanks and the rest is history.
We are clearly not far away. A peaceful Pakistan should be our first priority!

Anonymous said...

The US and China should give conditional military aid to help Pakistan out of this. But care should be taken that the same military help is not used against India in the future.

varun said...

at the first go it looks disastrous, but in the end we gotta realise that the coin has two sides...if we look at the approach that the pakis have been following for our country it deserves no exception...blame it on islam or pakistan but such things are bound to happen,,

KousikS said...

Really Pakistan needs help. It is the duty of every international citizen to protect these innocents. But problem is that this is a religious sensitive issue.

Anonymous said...

pakistan is a failed comm should help them..but they can do only when paki govt allow them to do and eradicate terrorism

Prasoon Joshi said...

its very easy for us to say that Pakistan (or turkey or afghanistan or iran or iraq or china or ...) is a failed state .. we fail to understand that the issues brought to our notice from such places are only those which affect us most .. you would be surprised to learn that China and its people consider India a failed state cuz the only news that goes out to the china's networks is about indian terror attacks !

nikhil sindhwani said...

I doubt that theres a solution to a situation which is essentially a product of glorified insanity. How and when are people gonna understand the value of life... I know its fucked up for most of us, but hey I can say that, and they should be able to say that too... I hope raising comments on this post and others like it help... cuz thats almost all that we can do, or we think we can do anyways... It is things like this that make one feel who the fuck is responsible, who the fuck is in charge, its definitely not GOD, cuz he is essentially the reason for it in the first place... somebody, even god if he's found his dignity yet, help... what s the fuckin UN doin on all this, I'd like to know, what happened to the international peace conferences, the promises of a safe future, the promises of living together. Isnt the fear of catastrophes and global warming and nuclear waste and alien invasion and earthquakes and tsunamis enough!!! GIVE ME A BREAK... GIVE THEM A BREAK... THEY DESERVE A CHANCE TO PLAN THEIR LIFE AS WELL...

Prasoon Joshi said...

Cant agree more ... The more I read about such things and see the condition of innocent people around, a belief that God is totally an intellectual 'concept' gets bolstered !!!

Sumedh said...

I prefer to leave the GOD factor out of this. I agree the "international" community should do something about this, but leave India out. India should think about protecting itself. Once secure (which looks pretty tough),then maybe give humanitarian effort a thought. For now,be practical, build International pressure(cant see that working in the near future, but I say give it a shot ) and yeah, just keep these guys ( from the most cold blooded terrorist to the innocent young girls ) out of our motherland. Jai Hind.

Harsha said...

@all sorry for joining late.. it is all coz of Sunday morning laziness

Yes, the situation in Pakistan is becoming close to what it was in Afghanistan. Even after 61 years of independence neither their political setup nor their military could prevent them from this situation. Every year we seen a huge chunk allocate to Pakistan army and it’s sad to their internal state.

@Annonymous 1
US and China can give military help, but will Pakistan government which is so insecure about its position accept such help and use it in the right direction ??

@ Varun
Yes I do agree that they themselves are responsible for this to a certain extent, but then it not the time to play a blame game, rather we should concentrate on peace and harmony in all parts of the country

Harsha said...

@ Kousik
Religion is indeed the main barrier here.

@ Nikhil
UN has become dummy. Ever since USA starting its so called War against Terror, UN has been a silent watcher. Let us raise our voice and try to reach their deaf ears.

@ Sumedh
Yea with so many domestic problems, general elections and security issues to be attended, India should rather focus on improving its internal environment and then render a helping hand to other nations. Be it Congo or Pakistan.

Monika said...

I am just surprised at the timing of this article coming up.. US has to some extent placed restrictions on its aid..And Pakistan being a country living off on foreign aid and money cant let go aids..We all know where they actually use the aid.. So this article is just a farce and its intended to generate sympathy for aids..So this is nothing but advt for getting aids by BBC who refuse to call 26/11 terrorists as terrorists but a mere gunmen..

Harsha said...

@ Monika
Firstly there is no restriction nor withdrawl of the aid to Pakistan from USA. Its just that US has asked for audit report to check how the aid is been utilised.
Re: the plot by BBC, I really dont see BBC having any tie-up with Pakistan nor will it be benefited by any means.
BBC is a British firm, and we did have the British PM Gordon Brown visiting India soon after attacks to support the war against terror.