Gilgit/Islamabad  -  Twelve schools were attacked overnight in apparently coordinated attacks by unknown assailants in Diamir district of Gilgit Baltistan, raising fears of increasing extremism in a relatively peaceful area.

Officials on Friday said the attackers mainly targeted girls' schools in the tourist region on the Chinese border famed for its high peaks.

A district spokesman said the miscreants burnt several under-construction and some recently-built schools near the district headquarter Chilas, which is about 130-kilometre from Gilgit.

No one was injured as the schools, eight of which belonged to girls, were closed during the overnight attacks – which came in an area where Taliban-linked militants opposed to girls’ education are active.

According to local sources, the attackers blew up two schools while others were torched and ransacked. They also torched books, school record and some items.

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

Police said it has launched a search operation in the area to arrest the perpetrators.

The attacks on schools triggered protest by local residents who sought safety for educational institutions.

Some locals and journalists said they had heard explosions in GPS Ronay and Girls School Takya. The other schools that were ransacked and torched were located in Hoder, Thor, Gayal village, Tabour, Khanbari, Jaglot, Gali Bala and Gali Paeen.

The attackers had also tried to break into an army-run school, but had been stopped by guards, said a local resident, Ghayas Ali. “People heard heavy explosion.”

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Pakistani Taliban and allied Islamist militants, who regard girls education as anti-Islam, have been attacking thousands of schools for young women in north-western and northern parts of the country.

The attacks in villages of Diamer district had been a well planned and coordinated act, police chief Raja Ajmal said.

“You know well who is doing these types of acts and what their motives are,” the officer told Reuters by phone. He said [not only the militants but] the residents of the area [as a whole too] had a history of opposing girl education, but the government recently helped build girls schools there.

Senate Standing Committee on Interior Chairman Rehman Malik took notice of the incidents and asked the Baltistan chief secretary to furnish a report on the matter. He said that those found involved would be severely punished.

Gilgit Baltistan is known for its scenic beauty and it has been relatively free of the violent militancy that has plagued some other parts of the country for years.

The region is home to world's second highest mountain, K2, and numerous other peaks attracting mountaineers and tourists from around the world.

It has however seen some Taliban-linked attacks on foreign tourists and violence against Shia Muslims in the past.

Several TTP militants disguised in police uniforms assaulted a high altitude mountaineers’ base camp in the region in 2013 and killed nine foreign climbers and two local guides.

Like many other under-developed areas of Pakistan, basic education needs in Gilgit Baltistan are being met by private or community organisations, and a large number of primary schools have been set up by non-government organisations.

Following the attacks, local residents staged a protest at Siddique Akbar Chowk demanding the arrest of culprits and seeking safety for educational institutes which are often targeted by the militants, it said.

 

Education is a pressing issue in Pakistan, where government statistics show that more than 22 million children are out of school - the majority of them girls.

According to Alif Ailaan's Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017, Diamer is the lowest-ranking district in terms of quality of education in GB, 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 percent of which are primary level, 10.6pc middle schools and 6pc high schools. There are no higher secondary schools in the district. Of the total number of government schools, 156 are boys schools, while 88 are girls schools, according to Alif Ailaan.

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

 

 

 

Not a new phenomenon

Girls' schools are often attacked in the northern and north-western areas of Pakistan. According to a report, about 1,500 schools have been destroyed in the tribal belt during the last 10 years.

In December 2011, at least two girls' schools were partially damaged in low-intensity explosions in Chilas area of Gilgat Baltistan. Earlier that year, unidentified men had also blown up two girls' schools.

In 2004, girls' schools in Chilas came under a string of attacks. Nine schools of which eight were girls' schools were attacked and destroyed in five days in the area in February.

Terrorists have also blown up educational institutions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

 

 

Nobel Prize winner and education activist Malala Yousafzai was also shot by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls' education in Swat.

In 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report stated that attacks by the Taliban and other militant groups disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly girls, in Pakistan.

 

Condemnations

Pakistan’s prime minister-in-waiting, former cricketer Imran Khan, condemned the “shocking” attacks on schools.

“This is unacceptable (and) we will ensure security for schools as we are committed to focusing on education,” tweeted Khan, who won last week’s general election and said on Friday he had enough support in parliament to form the next government.

Former President of Pakistan and Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians President Asif Ali Zardari also strongly condemned the act of terror in Diamir in which schools were torched and ransacked.

In a statement Zardari demanded immediate arrest of culprits and strict punishment for this shameful and despicable act. He said that such act is unpardonable and stopping girls from education cannot be tolerated and PPP will resist any such act. He asked government to keep an eye on such miscreants and they should be apprehended.

Condemning the school attacks, Malala Yousafzai’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai said in a tweet, “We have to provide the same sanctity to our schools and educational institutions as we do to mosques, temples and churches.”

 

 

Alarm as 12 GB schools

attacked in one night

 

Our staff reporter/Agencies