01/19/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Swat Valley: Taliban blow up five schools, threaten school girls

by Qaiser Felix
Carnage averted because of winter break. The government reiterates its commitment to re-opening schools in March, but the safety of tens of thousands of school girls remains in jeopardy. Another Pakistani fundamentalist group calls on Taliban to reconsider their decision and guarantee instead an education to girls as well.
Peshawar (AsiaNews) – The Taliban blew up five schools this morning in the town of Mingora, Swat district, north-western Pakistan. No one was killed or hurt in the blasts because schools were closed for the winter break. However, this is of little comfort to the thousands of students and teachers frightened by being the targets of choice for fundamentalist militias, who last year destroyed more than 150 school buildings.

Even though Pakistani authorities announced recently that they would guarantee the re-opening of schools in the Swat Valley, the Taliban remain a threat to tens of thousands of girls who want to continue their education at the end of the winter break.

Last December the latter had threatened to blow up school buildings and kill any girl going to class after 15 January.

About 400 private schools in the Swat Valley, an area located in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) on the border with Afghanistan, are being forced to stay closed. Re-opening, which was scheduled for early February, might have to wait till March.

“From March 1, all closed schools in Swat and NWFP will be reopened after the winter break,” Information Minister Sherry Rehman said. “Non-state actors are challenging the writ of the government in the name of Sharia, but Islam does not allow the closure of women's schools,” she explained.

Still the 400 Swat Valley  schools are not re-opening any time soon, leaving the education of about 80,000 female students from Grade 5 and up as well as the jobs of some 8,000 female teachers in jeopardy.

Ziauddin Yusufzai, spokesman for an association of private school owners in Swat, also said that the resumption of classes was in doubt. Schools “were due to re-open in early February, but after the Taliban warning, it seems impossible now for us to resume classes.” Instead, winter holidays might be extended until March.

For education ministry official Sher Afzal, “tens of thousands will be deprived of education.”

Since security forces launched an operation against militants in the region in 2007, the Taliban have blown up 168 schools, including 104 for girls, an education ministry official.

None the less, NWFP Minister for Primary Education Sardar Hussain Babak said in Peshawar that the NWFP government would provide full security and protection to educational institutions, especially to girls’ schools in the restive Swat district; nobody would be allowed to burn or destroy them in the name of religion.

The North-West Frontier Province has been the scene of major attacks by the Taliban who want to impose the Sharia and Islamic courts on the area.

Interestingly, another government banned fundamentalist group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has said that it did not oppose education for both boys and girls.

A TTP spokesman, Maulvi Omar, said that his organisation has contacted the Taliban in Swat Valley, to convince them to reconsider their decision to ban girls’ education.

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