Pakistan’s Schools in Terrorist Crosshairs

Schools in Pakistan are increasingly targeted by terrorists, prompting widespread closures, and frustrating the dreams of students in a nation fraught with civil strife and illiteracy.

After a pair of October 20 suicide bombings at one of Pakistan’s largest universities killed eight people and injured dozens more, officials shut down schools around the country. They were the latest in a series of attacks that have targeted or destroyed more than 600 Pakistani schools since 2007, reported Inter Press Service.

Yet some students decried the most recent closures. One first-grader complained that she was “bored at home,” while a fourth grader told IPS that the closures were interfering with her goal of becoming a doctor to “take care of my fellow women.”

Most of the attacks have been on schools for girls, often taking place in frontier provinces along the Afghan border. In a nation where, according to UNESCO, one out of two people are illiterate, the violence targets both human lives and opportunities for learning and understanding.

The most recent bombings also strike close to the center of Pakistani civil society.

The Islamic International University of Islamabad was described in the The Christian Science Monitor as a sanctuary for learning, one that’s “changing the way Islamic and Western knowledge are brought together in the Muslim world.”

Although public schools closed after the university bombings have reopened, many private institutions remain shuttered due to a lack of adequate security measures, reported The News of Pakistan.

The National in Abu Dhabi reported that tests had been postponed or cancelled — including SATs for high-schoolers looking toward possible university study in the United States.

Study abroad has become an increasingly attractive option, despite an apparently widespread Pakistani idea that emigres are treated as “second-class citizens.”

But as one student told The National: “Isn’t it better to be a second-grade citizen than a dead or maimed first-class citizen?”

Yet even passing tests is no guarantee of a good education overseas: In the United Kingdom, Oxford University’s student-run newspaper Cherwell reported that visa-processing problems are keeping as many as 14,000 Pakistani students out Oxford and other institutions.

In the days before the Oct. 20 attacks, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry had unveiled a plan to form volunteer student anti-terrorism teams on university campuses; there was no information immediately available about whether that plan would proceed.

–Ronnie Lovler/


“Pakistani educational bodies heighten security to fight terrorism”
Khabrein (India), October 26, 2009

“School closures disrupt student careers”
The National, October 21, 2009

“Most schools fail to meet security requirements”
Daily Times, October 27, 2009

“Pakistan schools reopen after university bombing”
CNN, October 26, 2009

“Students Want Schools to Remain Open Amid Attacks”
Inter Press Service, October 26, 2009

“University blasts in Pakistan and the future of Islam”
Christian Science Monitor, October 23, 2009

“Campuses told to take independent security measures”
Daily Times (Pakistan), October 23, 2009

“Malik launches student task force to curb terrorism”
The News (Pakistan), October 18, 2009

“Pakistani students refused visas” (Oxford University), Oct. 15, 2009

“Pakistan’s lingering illiteracy”
Interface (Pakistan), August 19, 2008

Islamic International University of Islamabad

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