Taliban in Pakistan, Pakistan Taliban, northwest Pakistan Taliban
Mohammad Sajjad/AP
A Pakistani police officer and local
residents gather at the site of a bomb
blast in Peshawar,
Pakistan on Tuesday,
Jan. 20,
2009. (AP)

Taliban Targets Education in Pakistan, Residents Stand Firm

January 23, 2009 10:28 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The Taliban continues to wage war on education institutions and daily life in northwest Pakistan, but can local residents muster the courage to keep fighting back?

Upholding Education at Any Cost

The Times of India reports on the latest Taliban target in dangerous northwest Pakistan: audio and video equipment in buses. In a letter obtained by the Associated Press, the militant group called music and movies sources “of mental agony for pious people,” punishable by suicide bomb attacks. The threats are the Taliban’s newest attack on “symbols of authority” in the region. Girls’ schools and police stations have also been singled out.

The threats to schools in Pakistan are somewhat new, and represent “a dark echo of Taliban rule in Afghanistan,” reports the AP. Nearly 170 schools, mostly for girls, have been either bombed or burned over the past year or so, and in December 2008, Islamic militants issued a warning that all girls’ schools would have to be closed by Jan. 15. Ziauddin Yousufzai, who leads an association for private schools in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, told the AP that school attendance had been halved since the warning.

In September 2008, a school near Quetta, Pakistan, was bombed, killing three students and wounding six, according to CNN. The incident marked the third attack on a school in Pakistan during the week of Sept. 19, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. A suspected plot targeting another girls’ school in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan was stopped, officials told CNN. 

But some Pakistanis refuse to give in to Taliban demands. Bloomberg reported on Jan. 19 that girls’ schools in the Swat Valley would be opened, and female students protected by government forces. Pakistan’s Information Minister Sherry Rehman told the AP of Pakistan, “We will get the girls’ schools reopened,” Bloomberg reported.
In Afghanistan, girls face similar Taliban threats, and have also displayed an unwillingness to give in. In November 2008, an acid attack on students walking to Mirwais School for Girls in Kandahar, Afghanistan, did not kill the girls’ spirit, reported the International Herald Tribune. Less than three months later, almost every female student has returned to class, many trekking from two miles away.

Shamsia Husseini, who was severely burned in the attacks, told the IHT, “My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” proof, perhaps, that the school has “sparked something of a social revolution” in the conservative city, writes Dexter Filkins of the IHT.

Background: Threat to girls’ education in Afghanistan

In 2006, U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported on the serious threat to education in Afghanistan, fearing a “lost generation” of students. Teachers were assassinated or threatened “to stop teaching or die.” British troops struggled to maintain any sense of control, particularly at night, when the Helmand province fell into “the hands of the Taliban.”

That year, Human Rights Watch documented the “Escalating attacks by the Taliban and other armed groups on teachers, students and schools in Afghanistan,” resulting in closed schools, particularly schools for girls. Human Rights Watch feared the Taliban’s campaign of terror would “undo advances in education” achieved since the group’s 2001 ouster.

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