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Militancy takes Swat to ‘the dark ages’

Thousands of girls abandon education; 131 of total 566 girl schools closed, 40 destroyed since July last year

PESHAWAR: The torching and bombing of girl schools and precarious security situation in the heaven-like Swat Valley have forced thousands of girl students to abandon education, according to official sources.

The relentless terrorist acts rendered 131 girl schools non-functional, while forcing around 17,200 girls to stop going to schools. During more than one year of violence in the valley, the suspected militants used destruction of girl schools as an effective tool to bring the government to its knees, while reversing the process of education in the restive mountainous district. The militants, who prefer to be called Taliban, are against female education, considering it a source of obscenity.

Before the military operation, firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlullah used to incite people through his unlicensed FM radio to pull out their daughters from schools, as their schooling was un-Islamic and promoting obscenity.

Listening to his arguments, hundreds of girl students were withdrawn from schools. However, after the decision of the government to launch an operation, the militants allegedly started bombing and burning girl schools as a tactic of war against the government, which triggered concern among all quarters.

According to an official data obtained by The News, the insurgents destroyed 40 girl schools since July 2007, when the tension gripped the district, to May 2008. The violence came to a halt on May 9 when the NWFP government and Taliban operating under the command of Maulana Fazlullah announced a ceasefire.

However, after the collapse of ceasefire agreement on June 23, the suspected militants started destroying girl schools in Matta and Kabal Tehsils, though the Swat Taliban had denied their hand in the destruction of schools. They have been blaming a ‘third force’ for the attacks on schools.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) central spokesman had also denied their hand in schools’ bombing, saying it had never been their policy.

An officer at the Education Department in Mingora informed ‘The News’ that 19 girl schools were bombed or torched in less than 20 days. Expressing his helplessness to protect the buildings, he said the premises of the schools were still vulnerable to militant attacks, as one guard at a school could not ward off assaults.

“Often the militants tie the watchman to a pillar and destroy the school. He cannot resist a large number of armed men,” he argued.

Moreover, security forces have also been billeted in 10 schools, including middle and primary schools in Shah Dheri, High School Mingwali, Girls High School Totano Bandi, middle and primary schools Charbagh, Darul Uloom Charbagh, primary school Barikot, girls primary school Kanju and primary school Fazalabad. Classes, according to the officer, have been stopped at all the above-mentioned schools.

Unfortunately, another 62 girl schools have been closed due to volatile situation in the valley and threats to the female staff. In a letter to the Swat district coordination officer on June 25, the Education Department expressed its helplessness to protect the girls’ education institutes.

“Female teachers and students feel insecure and have stopped going to schools. Due to lack of security, we cannot force teachers and students to attend schools and had to close them,” the officer said.

There are 566 girl schools in Swat, including four government girls higher secondary schools, 22 girls high schools, 51 girls middle schools and 489 primary schools. Out of the total, 131 girl schools have been closed, putting an end to the education of 17,200 girl students.

The dropout rate, particularly among girl students, has been constantly nose-diving, as female literacy rate stands at 22.89 per cent and that of male at 52.79 per cent, with an overall literacy rate of at 37 per cent.
Source: The News
Date:7/13/2008

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