For those who — thanks to his sacrifice — remain alive today, life remains unchanged. In Aitezaz’s school some 335 students are squeezed into five rooms, with as many as 84 students of Grade 7 studying in one classroom.
“Our biggest issue is that there are six teaching posts that have been lying vacant for several years and there is nobody to fill these slots,” explained Lal Baz Khan, the principal of the school. “This puts additional burden on the existing skeleton staff. If you hand almost 90 students to one teacher, obviously students won’t get due attention from their teachers. Naturally, students suffer and education in the area suffers.”
There are nine classrooms in the school, but only five are utilised. Although the classrooms are pukka, not built from mud or clay, and there are desks and chairs for students rather than mats, the school’s principal argues that this isn’t nearly enough.
“Ideally, we’d like 20 students per class. That means we need more teachers and more classrooms, so that our student-teacher ratio is reduced,” he argued, pointing to a national student-teacher ratio of 41 — which too is very high as compared to the preferred global ratio. In this school, the ration is closer to 84 students to a teacher.
While the existing building of the school is made out of bricks, the perimeter wall of the school remains in a dilapidated state, to the extent of being defined as “risky from a security point of view” by the principal. “The school had been receiving threats from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for some time, in the form of hand-written statements,” explained Principal Khan.
“I had been informing the concerned authorities of these threats. We wanted some provision of security guards and the construction of a check-post, both for the school and the village, but no heed was paid to our requests,” Principal Khan claimed. “I had to depute a laboratory assistant and a peon to act as guards.”
The reality of poor security hit home on Jan 6, 2014, when 15-year-old Aitezaz Hasan sacrificed his life to save his school.
Initial reportage had taken the incident to be just another attack orchestrated by the TTP, albeit one with fewer casualties than the norm. Slowly but surely, news began to filter through that Pakistan would have been mourning the loss of hundreds of students had it not been for Aitezaz Hasan. Many journalists and writers then started making their way to Ibraheemzai — 32 miles away from Kohat, with an estimated population of 20,000 — in search of a story.
While Aitezaz has put Ibraheemzai on the map, for Principal Khan, these frequent visits are now nothing but a nuisance. He argued that the students’ education has started being affected due to the frequency of visits from these unwanted media guests. “We are the only educational facility in the area. I had to request people to not visit the school anymore; else I would be left with no choice but to ban the entry of media personnel into the school.”
Inside the school building, some 335 students remain engrossed in their studies despite the overt threats by the TTP. Many students have fond memories of their beloved friend, Aitezaz, narrating that he had a burning desire “to do something special in life”.
His life, up until the moment of his death, was anything but extraordinary.
A student of Grade 9, Aitezaz Hasan was a soft-spoken gentle giant. At six feet tall, his burly physique owed much to his passion for body building. Many assumed he was older than 15, but his friends would attest that Hasan was most definitely their age.
While Aitezaz Hasan was never a spectacular student he was, according to his principal, a punctual one. On the day of the suicide attack however, he was late to school, and was being punished for his tardiness by being excluded from the morning assembly.
Little did Hasan know that the same assembly gathering was the target of the suicide bomber.
“The suicide bomber had gotten off a van coming from Hangu, on the road in front of the school,” narrated Principal Khan. “I think the suicide bomber sensed that he had missed his initial target, the morning assembly. Aitezaz and some other boys loitering around were already suspicious about the newcomer, since the suicide bomber, a 13 or 14-year-old boy, was not a local.”
“Perhaps the suicide bomber felt surrounded [when approached by Aitezaz]. He detonated his vest about 10 metres away from the school wall. Aitezaz sustained injuries from the ball bearings in the bomb, which ripped through his chest and heart,” Principal Khan said.
Mujataba Hasan, Aitezaz’s elder brother, told Dawn that Aitezaz, the youngest of four siblings, was always his parents’ favourite. “My mother and two sisters live in the village; we live in a joint-family system with our five uncles. Our father, Mujahid Ali, is employed in Dubai as a driver of a cement factory. Our family depends on him to send money for household expenses, but he rushed home to attend the funeral.”
While the government, private citizens, and military showered Aitezaz’s family with cash rewards for his courage, Principal Khan is worried about the school that was the actual target of the attack.
Officials meanwhile are focusing on protecting Aitezaz’s grave: Kohat’s regional police officer, Dr Ishtiaq Marwat, has deputed two police guards at the martyr’s grave because there is still the fear that the TTP might try to blow it up. This fear stems from an incident three years ago, when the TTP killed their target in Kohat — a havaldar — and then blew up his grave soon after his burial.
As the focus moves, as it inevitably will, to other stories and other tragedies, one hopes that along with honouring the valiant dead, we also care for those they died for.