Gilgit-Baltistan police on Wednesday announced the arrest of a 'commander' allegedly involved in the torching of schools in Diamer earlier this year.
The suspected arsonist, identified as Qari Hidayatullah, was arrested along with three 'accomplices' in an operation in Darel on Tuesday night, a police spokesman said.
The police, GB Scouts and various other forces took part in the operation, the spokesman added. A local jirga of elders in Darel's Tangir area also played an important role in the arrests.
A member of the jirga and GB minister Haider Khan said that the jirga had warned the relatives of the suspects to hand them over, saying if security operations had to be conducted to track them down, the family members would be responsible for the consequences.
Additionally, the families were told that they would face a social boycott if they did not cooperate by handing over their wanted family members, the official said, adding that the issue is not about simply arresting the suspects, but of tackling and eliminating the triggers behind such attacks.
On the night of August 2, more than a dozen schools — half of which were girls-only centres — were burned down in Diamer by unidentified assailants.
An initial report suggested that miscreants carried out the attacks in an organised manner, first vandalising the buildings and then setting them ablaze.
It also said that important evidence uncovered during the investigation suggested involvement by foreigners and some local facilitators.
An operation was subsequently launched in the area to track down and arrest the culprits. A total of 40 people have been arrested so far in connection with the torching of GB schools, while 15 suspects are still being searched for.
Torching of schools
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.