In 2015 I visited Peshawar,Pakistan in the wake of the Army Public School massacre (2014). 132 children and 18 adults had recently been murdered by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Working with writer Billy Briggs, we spent two weeks in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to report on grassroots resistance against extremist groups. Aided by Pashtun human rights activists we visited Peshawar, and rural Taliban strongholds in Swabi and Mardan.
We were helped by women who head a network of human rights defenders.
Gulalai and Saba Ismail are sisters who formed a human rights organisation called ‘Aware Girls’ in 2003. They suffer constant death threats and were in hiding after their family home in Peshawar was attacked by armed men.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa there are allegations that the state turns a blind eye to extremist madrassas promoting jihad. Working undercover in Swabi, Billy and I gained access to Jamia Gasmia madrassa in Dhodhdr, a village in Swabi. Jami Gasmia is a militant madrassa where boys as young as 6/7 years old rise at 4.30am six days a week to recite and learn the Quran. The boys do this until 10pm at night. Jamia Gasmia has pledged allegiance to Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam, a religious political party with a military wing calling for a pure Islamic state, a group that is closely linked to the Taliban.
In Peshawar, we met families who lost children in the Army Public School attack and teachers who survived that day. We also met human rights activists and survivors of other suicide attacks.
NB Since this report both sisters Saba and recently Gulalai have fled Pakistan. Their rights and lives were under constant threat.