The Taliban’s ‘alarmingly efficient’ war on education

The Guardian , December 22, 2014

The attack in Peshawar that killed more than 100 children last week was just one of hundreds of Taliban attacks against schools, says a new report. And the violence is working, with millions of Pakistani children now out of schoolL

Last week’s Pakistani Taliban attack in Peshawar, which claimed the lives of 141 people, mostly children, was the worst terrorist atrocity the country has suffered. But Peshawar Public Army school was far from the first Pakistani school to be targeted by the fundamentalist militants: according to a comprehensive report released earlier this year by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), a coalition of organisations including Human Rights Watch, Save the Children and Unicef, at least 838 were attacked between 2009 and 2012. Hundreds were destroyed.

As symbols of government authority and, in the words of the International Crisis Group, accused of “promoting western decadence and un-Islamic teachings”, schools have proved a soft target for the Pakistani Taliban in their northwestern strongholds.

According to the GCPEA, many, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the so-called federally administered tribal areas, have been attacked at night, blown up or razed to the ground with small, improvised bombs set with timers. Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission reported more than 500 schools damaged or destroyed in this way in 2009 alone.

But several have also been attacked in the daytime, including with grenades, rockets, rifles and machine guns, and school buses have also come under attack. In one such incident, in September 2011, Taliban fighters “fired a rocket at a school bus transporting students home from Khyber Model school near Peshawar”, the GCPEA says. “When the rocket missed, they opened fire with guns on the other side of the vehicle.” Twelve schoolchildren were injured in that attack, while four more, and their driver, died.

A careful compilation of local media and aid group reports suggests at least 30 schoolchildren lost their lives in attacks on schools in Pakistan between 2009 and 2012, the report says, and more than 97 have been injured – including Nobel prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, 15, who was shot in the face and neck on her school bus for “promoting secular and anti-Taliban values” by campaigning for girls’ education. At least 138 pupils and staff have also been kidnapped, of whom more than 40 are thought still to be in Taliban captivity

The report also says at least 15 teachers have been killed over the same period; one was shot because he refused to follow the Taliban’s dress code, and another because he declared suicide bombings un-Islamic. Eight more were injured, including four women who were victims of acid attacks. In January 2013, five women teachers and two health workers were shot dead in KP province.

Girls’ education is a particular target: in early 2009, after the Taliban took control of the Swat valley in KP province, they “banned girls’ schooling outright, forcing 900 schools to close or stop enrolment for female pupils”. While the rule was later relaxed to allow girls to attend school up to age 10, in Swat district alone, about 120,000 girls and 8,000 women teachers stopped going to school.

The Taliban campaign against education has been “alarmingly efficient”, the report concludes: hundreds of thousands of children have been bombed or terrorised out of school, while violence against teachers has had a devastating effect on recruitment. According to the International Crisis Group, more than nine million Pakistani children are not currently receiving a primary or secondary education. The country’s own Human Rights Commission concedes it has the second-largest proportion of children not attending school in the world after Nigeria. The massacre at Peshawar Army Public school won’t help.