10/23/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Talibans attack Catholic schools in Swat Valley

by Qaiser Felix
Schools are under threat from suicide bombers. Students, forced to follow Islamic precepts, are leaving the valley. A long report by Minorities Concern of Pakistan points the finger at the unchallenged advance of Taliban groups in the country, which have reached the Swat Valley, an area also known as the ‘Switzerland of the Orient.’

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The process of talebanisation of Pakistan continues despite formal pledges by the central government and local authorities. Islamic extremism has in fact reached the Swat Valley, once known as the Switzerland of the Orient, this according to a report by Minorities Concern of Pakistan, a local organisation which monitors the situation of minorities and violations of the human rights of the population.

One of the cases cited in the report involves a Catholic-run public high school in Sangota, in the Swat Valley. In a recent letter, a group calling itself Janisaran-i-Islam (Sacrifices of Islam) attacked the school administration for allegedly “forcibly converting students” and “encouraging un-Islamic behaviour.”

The fundamentalist group calls for the firing of all Christians employed by the school and their replacement with fervent Muslims. It also threatens suicide bombers “if its orders are not followed.”

Instead of finding out what the school had to say, the local government agreed with the letter, and issued an order that all female students cover their heads in the school to preserve local Islamic morality from conversion and atheism.

Extremists enthusiastically welcomed the order, citing the case of the three young Christian women in Indonesia who were decapitated for not wearing the veil.

Worried by the turn of events, many parents pulled their daughters from the school, which was forced to shut down till next week when local authorities will send security agents to enforce security. However, only half of all non Muslim students are planning to come back. Many are actually thinking about leaving the country to avoid further violence.

What is happening does not worry the Christian minority alone. In the Swat Valley, a region much loved by Pakistanis and one of the country’s richest areas, greater Islamist pressures show that the government has failed to stem the flow of Talibans from neighbouring Afghanistan.

In an editorial article, the Daily Time says that the “government seems unable to control the militant groups, who have been controlling the different areas in the province and making people’s lives miserable,” opposed to everything that makes Pakistan a modern country.

On September 26 various Christian and Muslim non-governmental organisations operating in the country demonstrated in Islamabad against the rising tide of violence. They warned the government that if Islamic extremism is not stopped, humanitarian aid of any kind will dry up.

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