Burning Of Schools
22 February 2004
Karachi: The recent spate of arson attacks on girls' schools in the Northern Areas needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Local officials have blamed hardline elements opposed to formal education of females for the attacks, which have so far resulted in the destruction of eight community schools in the area. Some reports have suggested a sectarian motive for the attacks; others say that the anger of the arsonists is directed more against foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies whose funding has helped set up these schools. It is believed that certain religious leaders have decreed that utilizing the funds of these NGOs is un-Islamic. That may be one reason why only foreign-funded schools have been targeted. Whatever the real reason, at stake is the future of thousands of girls who will have nowhere else to go for education if their schools are burnt down. The response of the government has been muted so far. While the police have arrested 20 people over the past few weeks in connection with the attacks, none have been charged as yet and little has been done to prevent the recurrence of such attacks. The attackers could not have chosen a more critical area for venting their bizarre venom. With a population of around 1.5 million, at 12 per cent the literacy rate in the Northern Areas is among the lowest in the country. For reasons of poverty as well as social restrictions, most girls in the area were unable to go to school prior to the arrival of the community schools. With the help of NGOs and some enterprising local supporters, there are now about 100 such schools that have been set up specially for girls in the Northern Areas. Though small in number, these schools are making a major impact on the lives of hundreds of young women who, as mothers, will have a crucial role to play one day in shaping the future of another generation of Pakistanis. It is incumbent on the government to take serious notice of the mischief of a few misguided elements so that an example is set for similarly inclined others in the area.