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(Top left) A school building after the attack. (Right) A view of the damaged verandah and (bottom left) a room littered with broken furniture.—Photos by Umar Bacha
(Top left) A school building after the attack. (Right) A view of the damaged verandah and (bottom left) a room littered with broken furniture.—Photos by Umar Bacha

GILGIT: One dozen schools, including an Army Public School, in various parts of Gilgit-Baltistan’s Diamer district were torched in the early hours of Friday morning by attackers believed to be militants opposed to girls’ education, triggering road protests and blockade of the Karakoram Highway during the day.

Most of them were girls’ schools, while at least one of the institutions had been attacked at least five times in recent years, sources told Dawn.

An urgent meeting of army, civil administration and law enforcement agencies was held at the headquarters of the Force Command Northern Areas in Gilgit to review the situation and take measures to tighten security at education institutions.

Most of the institutions targeted are girls’ schools

Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman earlier condemned the attacks and sought an incident report from the commissioner of Diamer division.

According to the authorities, unidentified persons attacked the government and private schools in different parts of Chilas, Deral and Tanger tehsils between Thursday night and Friday morning. The torched schools were: Girls Primary Schools in Sheegay Manikal, Darel Valley; Galee Bala, Tangir Valley; Khanbary, Gyal Village and Ronay; Army Public School in Darel Tehsil, Tabor village of Darel Valley and Tangir Valley; Girls’ School in the Takya area of Chilas; Social Action Programme Primary School in the Hudur area of Chilas and Primary School in Galee Bala, Tangir Valley.

“The miscreants tried to damage around 12 schools in Diamer district. They tried to set fire to some of them and broke windows and doors of some others,” home secretary Jawad Akram told AFP.

However, a senior official in Diamer district, Dildar Ahmed Malik, said at least “10 of the burnt schools” were for girls. “The incident took place in the far-flung area. We are investigating it, but the inquiry will take time because of the remoteness of the region,” he said.

Talking to Dawn, Diamer SSP Roy Ajmal, however, said five schools were set on fire and others were damaged. He said a search operation was under way to trace the culprits as a couple of suspects had already been picked up.

“It seems that the locals, who are opposed to girls’ education, are involved in the incident,” he said, adding that preliminary investigation showed the arsonists were “individuals not associated with any [militant] organisation”.

He said the buildings of some schools were under construction.

He said security was tightened at the entry and exit points of Diamer district.

“Girls’ education is being opposed in the district,” sources said, recalling that incidents of attacks on girl school buildings had taken place in the past too. The girls’ school in the Takya village of Chilas — the district headquarters of Diamer — has been torched five times in the years 2015, 2011 and 2004.

Protest

The Friday attacks triggered protests in Darel, Tangir and Chilas.

A large number of people belonging to political parties, student groups and local organisations staged protest demonstrations on roads and the Karakoram Highway. They shouted slogans against extremism and demanded exemplary punishment for the culprits. They termed it an attack on the future of the local people.

Prominent among the protesting organisations were the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Diamer Youth Movement, Diamer Students Organization and Thak Youth Organisation.

Security situation reviewed

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies decided to beef up security at education institutions and other important buildings in the district.

According to a press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations, representatives of the army, civil administration, police and law enforcement agencies met at the headquarters of the Force Command Northern Areas in Gilgit to discuss the incident.

The meeting condemned the attacks and directives were issued for taking indiscriminate action against the culprits and their sympathisers. “The army, police and security forces and public are united to defeat mischievous people,” the ISPR press release said.

According to another press release, GB chief minister Hafeezur Rehman also condemned the incident and sought a report from the commissioner of Diamer division.

The PTI and PPP leadership as well as Malala Yusufzai also condemned the incident in separate statements.

PPP co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari demanded immediate arrest of the culprits and strict punishment to them ‘for this shameful and despicable act’. He said such an act was unpardonable. Stopping girls from education cannot be tolerated and the PPP will resist any such move,” he said.

PTI chief and prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan expressed shock in a tweet: “Shocking & condemnable torching of schools in GB, more than half of them girls’ schools. This is unacceptable & we will ensure security for schools as we are committed to focusing on education, esp girls’ education which is integral to Naya Pakistan.”

Being a victim of terror attack, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and girls’ education activist Malala Yusufzai tweeted: “The extremists have shown what frightens them most - a girl with a book. We must rebuild these schools immediately, get the students back into their classrooms and show the world that every girl and boy has the right to learn.”

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2018