Well, it happened. Media outlets reported today that private schools in Swat closed in compliance with the Taliban edict banning girls’ education, [see CHUP's past coverage on the ban announcement]. According to BBC News, “Owners say the schools will not reopen until the conflict in Swat is resolved, or the Taleban revoke the ban.” The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan reported, “School owners in Mingora, the administrative centre of Swat district, say even if they keep the schools open, parents are unlikely to send their children in view of the Taliban threat.” Ahmad Shah, a Mingora school owner, told him, “The local administration called a meeting of Mingora’s school owners two days ago and promised to provide security to us if we remained open, but no one is ready to run the risk.” The BBC noted in its coverage:
There are more than 350 privately owned schools in Swat, each with separate sections for boys and girls, according to data available from a local association of schools. Over the past year, most of them were ordered closed by the Taliban, except 96 schools that operated in Mingora town. They have now closed, bringing all privately administered girls’ education in Swat to an end.
However, according to the AFP, “Pakistan’s umbrella Taliban organization in a statement Friday distanced itself from the threat from the local commander, saying it wasn’t against the education of boys or girls.” Mullah Omar asserted, “We do not agree with the ban on education in Swat…We are in contact with Maulana Fazlullah and we hope an announcement to withdraw the decision will be made soon on his FM radio.” [Maulana Fazlullah heads the Swat-based extremist group, the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), and has been dubbed the "Radio Mullah" for his sermons and tirades broadcast by his pirate radio station, see CHUP's past post for more background.]
Information and Broadcasting Minister Sherry Rehman stated today that “the government would work with the provincial administration to protect education, particularly for girls, in North West Frontier Province,” adding that “she expected a resolution in the National Assembly against the attacks on schools.”
Rehman’s response was disappointing, at best. If the government wishes to truly protect its citizens and their right to education, it needs to do more than issue “resolutions” that ultimately do nothing to improve the immediate problems at hand. Moreover, although the local administration promised to provide security to these private schools, the fact that fear still remains says a lot about the influence these militant groups wield in Swat Valley. [Image from BBC]