On Tuesday, in the twilight before dawn, two primary schools were set on fire in Khurram Agency by militants. The schools were empty due to a nationwide military mandated school shutdown amid serious threats to educational institutions. The shutdown has been extended to 12th of January from the 3rd, when the schools were originally supposed to re-open. Destroying schools has always been a much favoured tool in Taliban repertoire of insurgency, yet torching two schools in the immediate wake of the Peshawar Attack betrays a deeper strategy. The Taliban have painted education institutes with a crosshair, and they are letting the nation know. In the throes of their final hours, they continue to strike where it hurts the most, where the nation is weakest; targeting the lives of its children. The message is loud and clear, and so is the objective: paralysing the nation in a state of fear. To some extent it is working, the ghosts of the Army Public School still haunt Peshawar; how long will it take for the city to return to normal? When will parents start sending their children to schools and colleges again? The military is taking no chances, and it has extended an already extended winter break understandably so; no one wants another Peshawar like incident on their hands. But how long will this continue? The schools have to open at some point, and when they do, how well is the military prepared to deal with the threat?

Attacking schools goes much further than just striking terror into the hearts of the citizens of the region, it points towards their true nature and ultimate goal. It is only by rejecting critical, independent thought and isolating oneself from the knowledge of the wider world can a person buy into the twisted dogmas of the extremist and embrace brutality; a fact the militants learned long ago in the many madrassas they operate. Only by keeping their subjects uneducated, can the extremists enslave them. These attacks therefore, serve a practical purpose: a way to keep the populace malleable to their wishes. It also is a symbolic declaration of war on the thing that is extremism’s greatest fear and bane: education.

Caution is justified, especially with the lives of children at stake, but keeping schools closed for an extended period of time is damaging to the students’ education, and a tacit defeat at the hands of the militants. The schools need to reopen, and the military needs to divert resources from ‘hard targets’, such as military installations and state structures to these ‘soft targets’. It is time we send our children to schools, and render their greatest weapon meaningless.