EXTREMISTS’ hatred of education — especially girls’ education — is nothing new in Pakistan, as the bombing of hundreds of schools by militants in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the past few years shows. What is alarming, though, is the fact that the obscurantists’ war on education seems to be spreading to other areas.
As we write this, private schools and English language centres in Balochistan’s Panjgur and Turbat towns have been shut for over a week. Threats issued by a hitherto unknown Islamist group caused the owners and administrators to take the drastic step. The Tanzeem Islami al-Furqan — not a known entity in the plethora of extremist groups that operate in this country — reportedly distributed leaflets in the Makran region railing against ‘Western’ and female education.
The leaflets were followed up with the physical targeting of a school building and van. While the Makran region has been affected by the Baloch nationalist insurgency, the area has a largely moderate and secular reputation where religion is concerned. However, the threats illustrate an effort to forcibly change the region’s character and promote obscurantism. Already sectarian killers have wrought great havoc in Balochistan. If the threats against educational institutions are not taken seriously it will only push the blighted province further into the abyss of religious zealotry and illiteracy.
The provincial government has taken notice of the threats, and practical steps are now needed to unveil and punish those behind them. Baloch nationalists, who claim to be struggling for the rights of their people, should start a counter-campaign to protect education in the province and resist the extremists’ onslaught.
The local people want to educate their children — both boys and girls — as a march staged by thousands of people, both men and women, in Panjgur last week to protest against the school closures demonstrated. Balochistan’s educational indicators are already woeful. Both state and society need to take a firm stand now before extremists succeed in changing the local fabric to reflect their dark worldview.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2014