Ideology of Ignorance in Pakistan

Pakistan ranks 142/146 in the Global Gender Gap Index, 2023, ranking just above Iran, Algeria, Chad and Afghanistan.

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Pakistan's Economic Crisis May Worsen In Future [Photo credit: businessworld.in]

On May 17, 2024, the Sofia Noor School, a high school for girls was destroyed in an explosion in Karikot village of Wana tehsil (revenue unit) in South Waziristan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). No casualties were reported in the blast. However, the building of the school has been severely damaged. The school was inaugurated in March 2024 with the cooperation of the Wana Welfare Association. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had reportedly been asking for five per cent of the earnings from the school, and had sent at least three letters of warning in this regard.

On May 8, 2024, the Aafia Islamic Girls Model School in the Sheva area of North Waziristan District in KP was blown up and razed to the ground. According to the Police, the attackers first beat up the school guard before setting off the explosives.

Two such events in a single month are an ominous sign of the reemergence of the phase when Pakistan witnessed multiple attacks on schools in KP. According to “Education Under Attack 2018 – Pakistan”, published by UNHCR in May, 2018, more than 1,100 girls’ schools were destroyed in the tribal areas between 2007 to 2017, with teachers and young students also targeted.

The Taliban’s ‘takeover’ of Afghanistan in August, 2021 wielded a noteworthy psychological and ideological influence across the Durand Line, particularly in the bordering Districts of KP. Since 2021, the Taliban have banned girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade and banned women from university. TTP, which is doctrinally closer to the Taliban, is trying to enforce a similar anti-education and theocratic agenda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The Taliban’s ‘comeback’ has no doubt bolstered TTP’s activities in the bordering areas of KP. Attacking schools for girls has been one of the TTP’s preferred actions.  An April 21, 2023, report underlined the abysmal condition of the education sector in North and South Waziristan, with derelict school buildings and the non-availability of teaching and other staff. Hundreds of students are forced to leave schools as no classes are conducted. Books and stationery are also unavailable. Moreover, the direct attacks on girls’ schools are aimed at spreading terror and are a critical challenge to girls’ education in the region.

Incidents of attack on schools in KP since August, 2021 include:

September 22, 2021: An under-construction girls’ middle school was damaged in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in the Kalu Parangi area of KP’s Tank District.

October 10, 2022: Unidentified terrorists attacked a school van in the Charbagh area of Swat District in KP, killing the driver and injuring two students.

December 1, 2022: One man was killed and a security official was injured in an attack on the Army Public School for Girls in the Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan District in KP. Terrorists opened fire from a nearby mountain during Parents’ Day celebrations at the school. However, the students, parents, staff and security personnel who were present inside the school at the time of the attack, remained unhurt.

May 4, 2023: Assailants entered a school staffroom in a Kurram District school in KP, where students were taking exams, and killed seven teachers who were members of the Shia community.

May 23, 2023: Two government schools for girls, Government Girls Middle School, Noor Jannat, and Government Girls Middle School, Yunus Kot, at Mirali in the North Waziristan District of KP were blown up. No loss of life was reported in the incidents.

September 15, 2023: Three children were injured in an explosion at a school in the Upper Dir District of KP. The explosives were carried by a four-year-old child in a schoolbag. “Initial investigation shows that the child found an igniter of a hand grenade and carried it in his school bag, he was playing with it in his nursery class room when it exploded.”

December 5, 2023: At least seven persons, including four children, were injured in a bomb explosion outside a school on Warsak Road in Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. Around four kilograms of explosives were used in the bomb that exploded outside the school, Arshad Khan, a Police officer, disclosed at the site of the explosion.

December 29, 2023: Unidentified terrorists partially damaged a girls’ school in the Mumbati Barakzai area of Bannu District in KP. The terrorists burned the science lab and stole the solar panels of the school. Police said the terrorists left behind a message of warning, allegedly from the TTP.

These attacks have worsened the already dwindling infrastructure, and also inculcated fear among the scarce teaching staff, significantly hindering their ability to conduct classes and undermining educational opportunities for local students, particularly girls. 

As reported in January, 2024, terrorists associated with the proscribed TTP network now have advanced weapons in their possession, along with Afghan fighters who had joined the group’s ranks. Further, some 28 to 30 small armed factions have merged with TTP ranks.

The literacy rate in the province is also abysmal. As reported on May 20, 2024, the female literacy rate in the erstwhile FATA region (now part of KP) is distressingly low at 7.8 per cent. According to the former FATA Annual Education Census 2017, only 37 per cent of girls attend primary school and a mere 5 per cent continue to secondary school. This compares to 49 per cent of boys at the primary level and 17 per cent at the secondary level. It was also reported that 14.7 per cent of girls aged 3 to 13 had never been enrolled in any school.

The social environment also militates against the free movement of girls and women. The culture forces the female population to remain within confined areas. Local culture in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, considers chaadar (head cover for girls) and char-deewari (boundary walls of the home) as essential protective covers, both symbolically and materially. As reported on January 18, 2024, approximately 50 per cent of schools do not have boundary walls. Meanwhile, on November 24, 2023, a group of Imams (religious scholars) in Bannu District issued a statement demanding an immediate ban on girls’ participation in sports activities in the District. “We are not against girls’ education but their participation in sports promotes vulgarity and if this doesn’t stop, we will launch a protest movement,” their statement read.

Pakistan ranks 142/146 in the Global Gender Gap Index, 2023, ranking just above Iran, Algeria, Chad and Afghanistan. The ongoing attacks on girls’ schools are a direct consequence of the Taliban’s overarching shadow over the tribal belt in Pakistan, and the situation can only get worse, if the provincial and federal government in Pakistan fail to control the situation. TTP activities can be expected to continue to traumatize the women and disrupt the educational set-up.

Sanchita Bhattacharya

Sanchita Bhattacharya is a Research Fellow at Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India

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