Voice of a Journalist & Human Rights Defender
Threats to girls for abandoning education in Pakistan’s Panjgur district and in other areas of Makran, has unfortunately failed to gain media attention or response from International human rights organizations.
Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan, is another Boko Haram in Balochistan, that has got forcibly closed down all private running schools and English learning centers in Panjgur district opposing coeducation and Western-style learning.
In May 2014, Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan distributed pamphlets warning all private schools in the district to shut down girls’ education or to suffer the consequences. The pamphlets denounced female education asharam, an Islamic term referring to things forbidden.
The intimidation by this militant group on May 7 has caused panic and closure of all private educational institutions for last two months in Balochistan’s southern district of Panjgur. The armed men of Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan attacked and burned a school van of the Oasis School carrying female students in Panjgur on May 14.
The students remained unhurt but the attackers beat the school head Major (retired) Hussain Ali, who was driving female students to school. After this attack all private school owners had decided to shut down the schools for an indefinite time considering the lack of security
Since the first day of receiving threats by militants, the students, teachers, human rights organizations and civil society are protesting against threats and demanding security. However, security officials made an announcement during a press conference in Panjgur on June 16 to reopen all non-government schools and English learning centers on June 23. Yet militants once again threatened to keep schools closed.
Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan in terms of area but the least populated. Despite its natural resources, Balochistan is very backward; only 36 percent of girls are receiving an education and 44 percent of boys are enrolled in school. But Panjgur is marked with an outstanding position in Balochistan and Pakistan due to its quality education. This credit goes to around 30 private institutions, including schools and English language centers, in the district.
Failure of government in reopening of schools and provision of security
The government of Balochistan claims to have imposed an educational emergency in Balochistan. The government assured action against extremist elements threatening private schools in Panjgur. However, the teachers and students still fear vengeance from extremists. Even in a seminar held in Quetta, Balochistan, Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch vowed to fight terrorists.
Senator of the ruling party Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo emphasizes that Balochistan’s issues can be resolved through education and he says that there is no restriction on girls’ education in the province. He underscores the need for at least 26,000 primary schools in the province. However, the reality differs with the senator’s statements when we see educational institutions being closed after threats by religious extremists and government fails to ensure security.
Closure of schools a great menace
The closure of schools by extremists is a great menace to the already backward region. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) observed this as the latest sign of extremism gnawing at the vitals of the country. HRCP in its official statement condemning the threats said, “These events intimidated most private schools — at least 35 private schools and 30 English language centers – and forced them to close their doors to about 25,000 students.”
“The drive for stopping girls from going to school is not new in Pakistan – the attack on Malala Yousafzai is just the most infamous example – but it now seems to be spreading to parts of the country that had previously been spared. The Panjgur move is the latest attempt to deprive girls of education.”
On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai, an education and peace campaigner, faced a deadly attack as a result of her campaign for girls education in Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.
Answering a question to this writer on July 20, 2014 via email regarding school closures in Balochistan, Malala said
“What is happening to girls in Panjgur, we faced in Swat from 2007 to 2009. When more than 400 hundred schools were bombed or burnt and girls were banned to be going to school. Children, especially girls need complete safety and security to continue their education. It is the responsibility of the government to make schools safe havens not a place of terror and fear. Both teachers and pupil must be protected from all terror and violence.”
Seventeen-year-old Malala has received the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She has motivated thousands of women and leaders to educate women.
Considering the issue a great threat Ziauddin Yousafzai, the UN adviser on Global Education urged: “We strongly condemn the closure of schools by the terrorist organization. The federal government, provincial government and the law enforcing agencies must take an action to ensure the girls come back to school and resume their studies.”
Senior Baloch journalist Shahzada Zulfiqar wrote,
“The people of Panjgur suspect that security forces are involved in supporting Islamist groups to punish the Baloch people, who are considered to have liberal inclinations when it comes to education. According to them, the military establishment believes that their liberalism is the root cause of the on-going separatist movement.”
The rise of Talibanization and religious extremism in Balochistan is very alarming. The extremists’ moves against education – mainly girl’s education – are a great menace to the already deprived and backward land of Balochistan.
It is the responsibility of the state to address the issue otherwise Balochistan may become Nigeria for another Boko Haram because the students and teachers’ lack security and are unable to continue their education.
If the government, international community and human rights organizations keep silence over this burning issue and the misinterpretation of Islamic teachings regarding education remain uninterrupted, the moves of extremists will push Balochistan back to the Stone Age.
Yousaf Ajab Baloch is a journalist and human rights defender. He is editor-in-chief of The Balochistan Point, an online English newspaper. He is author of a Book: A Battle Field for Balochistan. Follow Yousaf on Twitter@YousafAjab. Read other articles by Yousaf.
July 24, 2014 7:46 am·