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Asia

Teenage Pakistani boy hailed a hero

Pakistani PM Sharif has proposed giving Aitzaz Hasan a bravery award for stopping a suicide bomber from blowing up his school. Many say his courage will be in vain if Islamabad continues to appease Islamists.

There could have been hundreds of deaths if grade nine student Aitzaz Hasan didn't stop a suicide bomber from entering his school in a remote village in Pakistan.

Local police officials say Hasan tackled the bomber 150 meters (492 feet) from the main school gate in a Shiite-dominated town of Ibrahimzai in Pakistan's northwestern Hangu district on Monday (06.01.2014).

Media reports suggest there were around 2,000 students within the school grounds at the time of the attack, which left Hasan and the suicide bomber dead. Sunni Muslim sectarian group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which also has ties with the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Stepping up

Pakistani activists say the brave 15-year-old did what the country’s government has so far failed to do: confront militant Islamists.

Hasan has been hailed as national hero for saving the lives of hundreds of students and staff at his government-funded school. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recommended he be awarded the Islamic Republic's highest bravery honor, the Sitara-e-Shujjat (star of bravery).

But many in Pakistan see a paradox in Sharif's decision. Critics say that on one hand the government engages in a policy of appeasing extremists, refusing to launch a decisive military operation against them. On the other hand, critics like Moazzam Rauf, a young writer in Lahore, tell DW, they praise Hasan for setting "a sterling example of gallantry and patriotism."

A student holds the portrait of Atizaz Hasan, a boy who sacrificed his life to stop a suicide bomber outside their school gate, at the government boy_s school in Hangu, Pakistan, 10 January 2014 (Photo: EPA/BASIT GILANI)

'The nation is proud of this young hero,' says Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif

"It is high time that Pakistan owns this war. The government must take all the extremist organizations head-on," Rauf adds.

Rauf says Hasan has made all Pakistanis proud. At the same time, he is critical of the civilian and the military leadership of his country. "Hasan's act of bravery has sent a very clear message to the Taliban: Pakistani leaders might be impotent but its people will fight extremism till the end."

There is hope, Rauf says, that the Pakistani military and the country’s politicians get "a bit of inspiration from Hasan."

Praise for Hasan

Social networking websites are in fact full of praise for Hasan. He is held in high esteem, alongside Chaudhry Aslam, a hard-line police officer killed in a Taliban suicide attack in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi on Thursday (09.01.2013).

Aslam was known for his fearless opposition to the Islamists. While many Facebook and Twitter users shared articles honoring Hasan and Aslam, they condemned the Taliban and the Pakistani government.

"Wish our leaders had one-tenth of the bravery that Hasan and Aslam showed," one Facebook user wrote.

"He [Hasan] is a hero but I am sad for his mother. It was not his job to fight these terrorists. The people whose job it is are unwilling or unable to do it. I think it is a shame that we have come to this. If Hasan was my child, I would have been unhappy that he had risked his life to do this. It was not his responsibility," wrote another.

Social media users collectively demanded the government provide financial assistance and protection to Hasan's family and honor him with a state bravery award.

Mozzam Rauf believes the government only decided to posthumously give the award to Hasan once people started talking about him on social networks.

Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani teenage activist who miraculously survived after the Taliban shot her in the head in October 2012, also paid tribute to the "Hangu hero,” promising monetary assistance for his family.

"In sacrificing his own life, Aitzaz protected hundreds of innocent young students from being killed," Malala said in a statement. "I wish that his sacrifice helps bring peace to my people and my country."

Radicals getting bolder

After returning to power in 2013, Prime Minister Sharif made clear his government would not follow the previous government's anti-terrorism policy and would instead make peace with militants, including the Taliban.

Peshawar-based development worker and political activist Maqsood Ahmad Jan believes Sharif's insistence on peace talks with the Taliban and other radical groups are only encouraging the extremists.

Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai (Photo: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)

Hasan's sacrifice is being compared to Malala's

"The government has turned a blind eye to the Islamists' atrocities. The result is that the radicals are getting bolder," Jan tells DW. He also adds that the Islamists will only get stronger under the new rulers.

Ali Chishti, a security and political analyst in Karachi, believes the Pakistani state has failed to protect its citizens. "Pakistan is headed in a completely wrong direction and faces an existential threat due to its policies," he tells DW.

Experts say that despite government's claims, many areas of Pakistan's tribal northwest are under Taliban control. The Hangu incident, they say, is proof that militants can bomb public places and attack civilians any time and that the government has failed to curb terrorism.