Sergio Restelli

Girls education under attack in Pakistan

In a troubling pattern of violence, girls’ schools across Pakistan are being relentlessly targeted. The latest incident occurred in the Surab district, where armed men attacked a girls’ secondary school, setting it ablaze. This marks the fourth such attack in just one week, raising serious concerns about the safety and future of girls’ education in the region.

According to reports from a private newspaper, unidentified individuals set fire to the Golden Arrow Girls Middle School in Waziristan. This was followed by another arson attack on a girls’ school in North Waziristan, and a similar incident at a school in Killi Dhamb tehsil where the staff room was set on fire. Although police responded quickly and extinguished the flames, the attackers had already fled. Notably, the school lacked a night guard, which may have facilitated the attack. Authorities have since registered a case under anti-terrorism laws and launched an investigation.

The frequency of these attacks has surged in recent months, particularly in the Kech and Panjgur districts of Balochistan. In a notable development, police arrested Faridullah, a teacher from Waziristan, on suspicion of involvement in these arson attacks. An FIR filed at the Razmak police station details how five masked gunmen infiltrated a school, forcibly took the keys, and set the building on fire. This school, constructed by the Pakistani Army in 2020, serves over 500 girls and had previously been attacked in March, when its solar lights were damaged.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has intervened to repair and reopen the damaged schools. Despite these efforts, another school in the Shawa area of South Waziristan was bombed just eight days after reopening. This area, a former stronghold of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), remains vulnerable. The TTP, closely allied with the Afghan Taliban, has been emboldened by the latter’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, which has severely restricted women’s rights and education there.

The Pakistan Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training has issued a stern call for action in response to these attacks. In a letter to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, the Ministry expressed deep alarm, stating, “It is particularly disheartening to note that these heinous acts of terrorism are disproportionately targeting institutions dedicated to girls’ education.” The letter further emphasized that these actions not only endanger children’s lives but also threaten the significant progress made in promoting education and gender equality.

The Ministry described these attacks as “an assault on the future of the nation,” urging immediate and robust measures to safeguard educational institutions and ensure the continuation of girls’ education.

Despite the fear and uncertainty, communities affected by these attacks are showing remarkable resilience. Local educators and leaders are organizing makeshift classes and seeking alternative venues to ensure that education continues. Their determination stands as a testament to the unyielding spirit of those fighting for the right to education.

As Pakistan grapples with this wave of violence, the courage and resolve of its people highlight the critical importance of protecting and promoting education, particularly for girls. The international community watches closely, hoping for swift and decisive action to end these attacks and safeguard the future of Pakistani girls.

About the Author
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990's as the special assistant to the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades he has been involved in peace building and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020 his first fiction "Napoli sta bene" was published.
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