IN an ominous throwback to one of the most dispiriting aspects of militancy in Pakistan, the war on girls’ education has started once again. Late Sunday night, two government middle schools, where nearly 500 female students were enrolled, were blown up in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. One may be sure that such a large number of students cannot be accommodated in other institutions, and their education will suffer a significant setback, perhaps on a permanent basis. There is a particular poignancy to this likely outcome, because in Pakistan the dropout rate for girls after primary school is particularly alarming, and one of the reasons for it is the inadequate number of girls’ middle schools in most parts of the country. The only silver lining to Sunday’s attack is that no loss of life was reported. That was not the case last week when a policeman posted outside a private school in Swat’s Sangota area opened fire on a school van, killing a seven-year-old girl and injuring five other female students and a teacher.
The violent campaign against girls’ education has never really been completely eradicated after the TTP began to threaten parents in Swat if they sent their daughters to school; that, and the subsequent murderous attack on her, formed the genesis of Malala Yousafzai’s evolution into a global icon for girls’ education. In 2018, no less than 14 girls’ schools were torched by reported ‘militants’ over a period of two days in GB’s ultra-conservative Diamer district. Now with the Afghan Taliban in power next door, and their banning of girls from most avenues of education, new life has been breathed into this regressive mindset on this side of the porous border as well. Pakistan is on the cusp of losing the gains it has made against militancy over the last few years. After the APS attack, state and society had evolved some semblance of a narrative against violent extremism. But the obdurate refusal to unequivocally reject extremism in all its forms has come to haunt the state. Its opaque negotiations with the TTP, encouraged by the Afghan Taliban but vociferously denounced by residents of areas that bore the brunt of militancy, has allowed agents of mayhem to find a foothold in the country. It will take more blood and sacrifice to root out this menace yet again.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2023
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