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The prime suspect believed responsible for the torching of 14 girls' schools over a period of two days in Gilgit-Baltistan's (GB) Diamer district was killed during a search operation in the Tanger area on Sunday, Diamer Police Spokesperson Muhammad Wakeel told Dawn.

Shafiq ─ who has no known association with any organised militant or terrorist outfits, but is referred to as a "militant" and "militant commander" by police officials ─ was one of the suspects behind the brazen arson attacks targeting girls' schools in the Chilas, Darel and Tanger tehsils of Diamer district.

Police began conducted raids in various parts of Diamer last night to track down those responsible for the arson attacks. GB Spokesperson Faizullah Faraq said that 10-12 police parties were involved in the operations.

A police constable was killed and another wounded in a gun battle with armed suspects during a late night raid on Saturday in Tanger. Faraq on Sunday said that 30 people had been arrested during search operations so far.

Police sources said that locals were also taking part in the search operations, and that most 'militants' in the area are locals.

Muhammad Wakeel said that the "militants" in Tanger had been attempting to flee the area but locals had surrounded them, after which Shafiq was killed.

Police sources added that a civilian was injured in an exchange of fire between police and the 'militants'. At least three to four others were also injured during the operations.

GB Spokesman Faizullah Faraq said that miscreants had occupied a road in Tanger and were firing at passing cars.

The car of Sessions Judge Malik Inayat Rehman, who was going from Shatial to attend the funeral of the slain police constable (his cousin) in Tanger, was also fired at as it travelled along the road, his father, former GB Legislative Assembly speaker Muhammad Miskeen told DawnNewsTV.

Although the car was badly damaged, the judge escaped unharmed, Miskeen said, adding that the judge had not been alerted to the security threat by police.

Locals in the area sought the assistant commissioner's permission to fight the miscreants, but were not given the go ahead to do so.

Meanwhile, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Gohar Nafees said that a suicide jacket, grenades and an array of arms were recovered from a suspected terrorist's house in Chilas.

DIG Nafees said a heavy contingent of security forces had been deployed in Darel, and that the search operation would continue in Diamer until "terrorism was eliminated".

GB Information Minister Shams Mir said that a team of forensic experts from Islamabad had arrived in GB to investigate the arson attacks. Mir said that the experts are part of a joint investigation team constituted to probe the incidents and track down those responsible.

Police reports links attacks to past incidents

During a meeting on Saturday of GB ministers from Diamer, the home secretary, IG Police, government spokesman, district administration, intelligence and law enforcement agencies officials and elders of the district in Chilas, it was decided that the search operation would be extended, and that locals had assured the administration of their cooperation with police.

Sources privy to the meeting had said that the names of 20 suspects had been given to the local jirga with the demand for their immediate surrender.

The police later submitted to the chief minister an initial report linking the latest episodes of school torchings with past attacks on girls’ schools in the area.

The report stated the incident was the continuation of the past incidents in which girls’ schools had been attacked with an objective to bar them from getting education.

Schools torched

In 2004, half a dozen girls’ schools had been torched in one go. Girls’ schools were also targeted by extremist forces in 2011 and 2015.

Some traditions and extremism are main reasons for local resistance to female education in the district, which has the lowest literacy rate in Gilgit-Baltistan.

According to Alif Ailaan’s Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017, GB received a score of 63.18, getting fourth position in the list of eight Pakistan territories with respect to quality of education.

However, Diamer is the lowest-ranking district in terms of quality of education, with a score of 36.37, and among the 10 lowest-ranking districts in Pakistan.

There are 244 government schools in the district, about 83 per cent of which are primary level, 10.6pc middle schools and 6pc high schools. There are no higher secondary schools in the district. Of the government schools, 156 are for boys and 88 are for girls, according to Alif Ailaan.

Of the 16,800 students enrolled in government schools, only 20pc or 3,479 are girls.