CNN is reporting today that “suspected Taliban militants” blew up a government-run boys school in Swat Valley. Although no one was wounded, the blast marked the 183rd school destroyed by Swat militants in the last six months, [although Dawn earlier this month put the number at over 100 schools in the last 14 months]. According to BBC News, the militants justify the bombings because they say the schools “are used for shelter by [Pakistani] troops.” Today’s bombing comes just a day Swat’s radical cleric, Maulana Fazlullah [also known as the Radio Mullah] threatened to kill more than four dozen government officials if they did not appear before him for opposing the Taliban, [see Rabia at Grand Truck Road for the full list]. According to Dawn, “It has been learned that most of the people on ‘the list’ have already left Swat. The only man, who defies militants is veteran ANP leader and former federal minister Afzal Khan Lala, who lives in Durushkhela under the protection of an army unit. He has twice come under militants’ attack.” The militants’ spokesman, Muslim Khan, asserted, “The rest of the people of Swat should feel secure while those who have fled and have not been included in the list may return to their homes.”
The above statement would be laughable if the situation wasn’t so dire. Obviously the people of Swat shouldn’t feel secure – numerous schools have been destroyed, roadside bombs are a frequent occurrence, hundreds have died in the clashes between security forces and militants, and Fazlullah’s organization has banned girls’ education in the Valley. According to the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan, “Residents said an indefinite curfew was in force in the area as troops continued to search for militants.” Military spokesman Athar Abbas told Voice of America, “We are hopeful of establishing peace in Swat. We will not let these militants succeed in their designs.” Dawn reports that the government has decided to deploy army and paramilitary troops at a number of educational institutions in Mingora in the wake of mounting attacks in Swat Valley. However, the news agency quoted an official who added, “It is impossible to protect all government buildings against militants’ attacks by deploying troops.” According to Dawn, “He was alluding to requests by the valley’s administration that the government step in to protect educational institutions in the face of repeated threats by militants to destroy schools and colleges ‘corrupting the youth.'” The new security measure has translated into 25 soldiers being posted at 16 different institutions.
I wonder how effective the military’s ground offensive has been in Swat – Has it been coupled with a counterinsurgency approach – i.e., an effort to sway the war of ideas in Swat Valley and counter the hardline rhetoric of Mullah Fazlullah? What needs to occur for “peace to be restored” in the area?
Additionally, here is a link to a haunting BBC piece – a diary of a schoolgirl in Swat: One notable part – “Some of my friends have left Swat because the situation here is very dangerous. I do not leave home. At night Maulana Shah Dauran (the Taliban cleric who announced the ban on girls attending school) once again warned females not to leave home.”