PAKISTAN

Uproar over Talibani closing of girls' schools in Swat Valley

The Taliban have destroyed or closed all schools for girls in Pakistan's Swat Valley, deeming that their education need not continue after the age of eight. The Pakistani government is powerless in the matter.

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correspondent in Pakistan

In front of the presidential palace in Islamabad, 300 protesters against the destruction of Swat Valley schools defy the government. “[President] Asif Ali Zardari, where were you when we needed you? What have you done for us?” they shout.

 

In less than a year, over 100 schools have been destroyed by Taliban insurgents in the region. Schools for girls were the main target, but boys’ schools were attacked as well. And, as for those still standing, many parents have become too afraid to send their children there.

 

The Pakistani government is powerless to help, which many Pakistanis find scandalous. “Islamabad says they’re aware of the situation, but this does not explain why they allow this continue,”  Kamila Hyat, a columnist for the Pakistani daily 'The News', has said. “We wonder whether the Pakistani People’s Party [of which President Zardari is a member] considers the denial of education for 80,000 girls to be a minor problem.”

 

Threats and executions

 

The state’s passivity benefits insurgents, whose tactic is simple: destroy static structures to be replaced by others that are more in keeping with Islamic law. Muslim Khan, spokesperson for the Talibani in the Swat Valley, told FRANCE 24 a few weeks ago, “We destroy schools because the teaching does not correspond to that which children should learn.”

 

According to Sufi Mohammad, leader of TNSM (the movement for enforcing Mohammed’s law) and father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah (local Taliban head), girls need no education after the age of eight.

 

According to 'The News', parents received visits from Islamists insisting that they keep their daughters at home. In addition, some girls claim to have received threats aimed at dissuading them from working or from studying. Finally, on December 27, 2008, the Taliban threatened to destroy schools for girls unless they close by January 15, 2009. This dashed hopes for young girls hoping to train for careers later.

 

But these closures also serve to impoverish all the women who were working at the schools. Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir told the story of one such teacher. A widowed mother of three who taught at one school was threatened by the Taliban, who forbade her from teaching. She then turned to a religious figure to plead on her behalf. This resulted disastrously, with the religious figure being forced to leave his village, and the teacher being executed.
 

Taliban militants announced a ceasefire and Pakistani forces halted military operations in Swat last month after a cleric, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, struck a pact with the government of North West Frontier Province to enforce Islamic law in the valley.

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