The young heroes of 2014

Last year's bravest Pakistanis were all children, and all from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

The young heroes of 2014
From Aitzaz Hassan of Hangu, to Malala Yousafzai of Swat, to the brave children of Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan’s heroes in 2014 were all children, and all from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The tales of courage began in January, when Aitzaz, a ninth-grader from the Ibrahimzai village in Hangu, foiled a suicide attack on his school by physically intercepting the attacker to overpower him, and forced him to explode the jacket away from the other children, killing himself and Aitzaz.

Thousands of people across the world paid tributes to the young student who sacrificed his life to protect hundreds of others attending the morning assembly inside the school. Herald declared Aitzaz as Person of the Year for 2014. Among those lauding Aitzaz included Malala Yousafzai, another teenaged hero, who was shot by a militant in her head on October 9, 2012 for fighting for the right of education for girls. Malala herself made Pakistan proud when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October last year to become the youngest Nobel Laureate ever in history.
Aitzaz, a ninth-grader from Hangu, foiled a suicide attack on his school

Pakistanis were celebrating the Nobel prize for Malala, which she was awarded on December 10, when they faced the worst attack in the country’s history on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16. The barbaric attackers butchered schoolchildren, as young as 6 years old, in a seven-hour battle inside the auditorium, corridors, classes, libraries and lawns of the school. About 150 people, including 134 students, were killed. The attackers were continuously in contact with their top command as well as each other through at least three cellular phones that they had activated from Landi Kotal two days before the attack.

The incident proved to be a turning point for the nation, united the entire political and military leadership, and gave courage to the people of the country to stand up against militants.

“The most important thing is that the government and army must have the will and commitment to settle the issue of militancy once and for all,” says Tauseefur Rehman, a veteran journalist and former director of Intermedia. “There should also be efforts to counter the narrative of the pro-Taliban groups on social and mainstream media, so the militants don’t get support or sympathy.”

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the provincial government has taken some key decisions while matters relating to the federal government were forwarded to Islamabad for speedy action.

“For peace in Pakistan, it is a must that a proper border management system is implemented on the boundary with Afghanistan and the entry of everyone coming into the country is regulated,” says Nasir Khan Durrani, the inspector general of police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Besides, FATA must be integrated into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or made a separate province, giving the tribesmen their basic right to education, health and development.” FATA is the launching area of most terrorist attacks on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the rest of Pakistan, he says, and it therefore needs to be brought into the national mainstream, by giving its people the right to vote and moving courts against any unjust decision by the political administration.

“The Frontier Constabulary should be withdrawn from all over the country for deployment on the boundary between FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the original task for which the force was formed,” said Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, which rules the province. “Also, the federal government should recruit at least 5,000 youth from FATA into police, so they would have a sense of ownership.”

The province and the adjacent tribal areas have been suffering from violence for 13 years now. Tens of thousands of Pakhtuns have been killed, many injured while, and thousands are homeless, fighting the harsh winters in tents as IDPs.