PAKISTAN: Girls' schools face growing threat in NWFP
A school near Peshawar where increasingly more and more girls are under threat from pro-Taliban militants
Darra Adam Khel, 20 December 2006 (IRIN) - It is not uncommon to hear the sound of gunfire in the small town of Darra Adam Khel, 42 miles south of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Pakistan's rugged North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
In fact, a deafening volley sounds out every few minutes in the town's dusty main bazaars, as traders or buyers test out the weapons on sale at the many shops lined along the market.
Darra Adam Khel, for over a century, has been the centre of locally manufactured arms and replicas of almost every conceivable weapon, from pistols and hand grenades to automatic machine guns, carved out with astonishing skill at the small iron forges visible everywhere.
It is estimated that at least 10,000 people from among the population of around 80,000 earn their living from the weapons trade – which flourishes despite government bans on displaying weapons in public.
"Our grandfathers and great grandfathers made swords and sabers. We make guns," explained Azam Khan, 40, a trader, as he carefully tested the weight and balance of a newly turned out Kalashnikov gun.
But recently, the weapons of Darra Adam Khel, located in a tribal area where the writ of Pakistan’s government is limited, have been turned inwards. The targets have been schools for girls, and today many girls in the area no longer go to school.
"We want her to be educated. It is important these days, but we are too scared to send her," says Azmat Khan, as his daughter, Faria, aged nine, helps her mother knead dough for rotis (bread). She has not been to school for two weeks.
"It is too dangerous now, and my friends and I are scared," Faria told IRIN.
Over the past two months, at least two schools in the area have been bombed. They include the Government Girls’ High School at Akharwal in Darra Adam Khel, which suffered damage after a bomb attack at the end of November and the under-construction Girls’ Degree College Sheraki, whose boundary wall was damaged in another bomb attack.
|Getting girls into the classroom is already a challenge throughout much of NWFP|
"There have also been notices affixed on the gates of schools, asking people to stay away. The situation is very bad," a spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said at the organisation's Peshawar office.
Parents of pupils, teachers, school heads and bus drivers bringing pupils to schools have also been threatened and warned to stay away. In other cases, militant extremists have made phone calls to schools, ordering that girl students wear the 'burqa' (a full veil covering the body from head to foot).
The targeting of schools for girls is not limited to Darra Adam Khel. In November, am aerial attack carried out by the Pakistani military in Bajaur Agency, killed at least 80 pupils at a seminary school. The attack has led to a marked rise in extremist sympathies in the area, with the bombing widely condemned.
Recently, pamphlets circulated in Bajaur have warned parents to keep girls away from school and ordered schools to ensure children are dressed in shalwar kameez rather than 'western' clothes including trousers and shirts.
The problem is a part of growing 'Talibanisation' across the province, spurred on by the situation in Afghanistan. There have been various reports of attacks on music or video shops, threats to barbers not to shave men and warnings to female health workers and teachers to leave specific areas across many parts of NWFP.
"We are too scared to go back to our schools, even though we worry about the students who will suffer because there are no classes to go to," said Surriya Bibi, 50, who till recently taught at a private school in the Darra Adam Khel area.
There have been accusations that the coalition of religious parties running NWFP’s provincial government - the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) - has done too little to combat the problem. For its part, the MMA has consistently stated it does not oppose education for girls and is in fact eager to encourage it.
But the impact of the latest attacks has been extremely negative, with no official attempt to provide security to women or girls who want to go to school. This can only augur ill in a part of the world where the literacy rate for women stands at around 10 percent on average; in many rural areas of NWFP it is even lower because of a lack of sufficient schools, traditional reluctance to educate girls and orthodox hostilities to allowing schools to operate.