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Pakistan posts army at Swat schools


Islamabad : The Pakistani Army and paramilitary forces have been deployed at some schools in the picturesque but restive Swat Valley in the country’s northwest where, bowing to a Taliban diktat, some 400 private schools have discontinued girls’ classes, depriving more than 40,000 students of their basic right to education.

Additionally, 84,248 girl students of state-run institutions are unlikely to attend school due to the fear of Taliban militants, who now control the entire area, despite the resolve of the local administration to reopen the schools March 1.

Twenty-five soldiers have been posted at 16 educational institutions in Swat’s headquarters of Mingora, an official in the town said.

However, another official said that posting security forces at all the educational institutions in the area was “not possible”.

The Taliban faction of Maulana Fazlullah had Dec 24, 2008 asked all government and private schools to close down girls’ classes by Jan 15.

The announcement triggered an outcry, prompting Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) central spokesman Maulvi Omar to distance the movement from the decision of the Swat militants.

Managements of private schools also appealed to the militants to take back their decision in the interest of thousands of girl students and hundreds of female teachers, many of them the lone breadwinners of their families.

“The Swat TTP reviewed the decision a couple of weeks ago with Maulana Fazlullah in the chair. They did not withdraw their threat, but softened their stance and allowed girls to attain education up to the fourth grade. However, the chief of the terrorists renewed the threat of bombing educational institutions if any school continued higher education for girls,” The News daily had reported earlier this month.

“The expiry of the deadline would have no immediate repercussions due to the winter vacations. However, the private schools’ management, a body of 400 educational institutions including 20 colleges, has decided to discontinue female education after the vacation despite assurances from the administration to provide security to their schools,” the newspaper added.

It quoted the owner of a chain of institutes as saying that the district coordination officer had offered security to the schools “but we think it will not work’.

“Girls, their parents, teachers and even drivers transporting students to and from schools are frightened while the owners of buildings have also asked us to vacate their property in view of fear of damage due to bombing,” the owner said.

“Thus, posting a few personnel at schools is of no use. So, we have decided to close female sections in private institutes to avoid the militants’ wrath,” he added.

Taliban militants have already destroyed 172 schools – 122 for girls and 50 for boys – depriving 40,646 students of education. These include 23,308 girls and 17,338 boys.

This apart, 18 schools have been occupied by the armed forces engaged in operations against the militants. This has impacted 7,039 students.