Islamabad: Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recommended that a high award for bravery be bestowed on a teenager who was killed this week while stopping a suicide bomber from attacking his school.
The announcement came after calls had grown across the country to honour the teenager, Aitzaz Hasan, a ninth-grader from the Hangu district of the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
The bombing took place on Monday near a boys’ school in the village of Ibrahimzai. Aitzaz, 17, grew suspicious when a man wearing the same school uniform as his asked for directions. The teenager then tackled the stranger as he tried to flee, and the stranger blew them both up.
Prominent Pakistanis, journalists and social media campaigners have called Aitzaz a hero and have even compared him to Malala Yousufzai, the teenage girl who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 for defying their ban on female education.
Mr Sharif, in a statement on Friday, asked the country’s president, Mamnoon Hussain, to approve the conferment of Sitara-e-Shujaat, or Star of Bravery, on Aitzaz.
‘‘Aitzaz’s brave act saved the lives of hundreds of students and established a sterling example of gallantry and patriotism,’’ Mr Sharif said in his statement.
While the recommendation is considered a formality and is expected to be accepted by the president, it received a somewhat tepid response by some who said it did not go far enough, since the Star of Bravery is not the country’s highest civil award.
Sherry Rehman, an opposition politician and a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, suggested in a Twitter post that the teenager should be given the country’s highest award for bravery.
A teacher at the school told investigators that he saw Aitzaz chasing the attacker and then saw the attacker detonate the bomb that killed the teen, Local police official Raheem Khan said.
Pakistani media reported that Aitzaz was late for school and that's why he was outside when the attacker approached the building.
The English-language Express Tribune newspaper reported that Aitzaz's father, Mujahid Ali, was living and working in the United Arab Emirates when the attack occurred. Many men in the impoverished region are forced to move abroad, especially to the Gulf, to provide for their families.
Mr Ali told the newspaper that he had returned not to mourn his son but to celebrate his life.
"My son made his mother cry, but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children," he told the newspaper.
Local resident Miqdar Khan said people in the district were hailing the teen as a hero, and hundreds of people attended his funeral to pay their respects. He said the teenager was known for openly criticising militants.
"Aitzaz Hasan used to tell all that one day he would capture some suicide bomber, and his class fellows used to laugh," he said. "But this boy proved what he said, and I am sad that he left us too early."
The area where Aitzaz lived is home to many members of the minority Shiite Muslim sect who have often been killed by militants who view them as heretics.
Suicide bombings and killings have become an everyday fact of life in many parts of Pakistan.
A study by the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies found that terrorist attacks in 2013 increased by nine per cent over the previous year while the number of people killed in such incidents jumped by 19 per cent. The number of suicide attacks climbed by 39 per cent in the same period, the report found.
In the face of such unremitting violence the image of a teenager giving his life to save his classmates captured the imagination of many in Pakistan.
Aitzaz's death led to an outpouring of emotion on television and on social media, where the hashtag #onemillionaitzazs quickly became a favourite among Twitter users.
Chaudhry Mohammed Sarwar, the governor of the eastern Punjab province, told Pakistan's Dunya news channel that Aitzaz should be honoured.
"He is the hero of the whole nation as he has saved many lives by giving his own life," Mr Sarwar said.