By Bilal Naveed
LAHORE: Pakistan prime minister, chief justice, upcoming premier other high-ups and civil society have strongly condemned 13 schools torching in Diamer, Gilgit Baltistan.
Officials on Saturday said 13 schools were attacked mainly girls’ schools overnight in apparently coordinated attacks by unknown assailants in the tourist region famed for its high peaks, Diamer district of Gilgit Baltistan, raising fears of increasing extremism in a relatively peaceful area. Earlier, on Friday there were reports of attack on 12 schools, however, later another schools was found torched by the miscreants.
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. No one immediately claimed responsibility of the incident so far.
Caretaker Prime Minister Justice (retired) Nasir-ul-Mulk condemned the shocking incident of torching of a dozen schools in Gilgit Baltistan. Nasir-ul-Mulk said those who were responsible would be held accountable. He has also sought a report about the incident from the concerned authorities.
The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Saturday took suo motu notice of the attack on 12 schools in Diamer, Gilgit-Baltistan. The CJP also noticed that most of them were girls’ schools. Justice Nisar has also sought a report from the government, the secretary of Azaad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs, and from the interior secretary within the next 48 hours. Notices have been issued to the federal government and interior minister as well.
Upcoming Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, also strongly condemned the attacks on schools. “Shocking & condemnable torching of schools in GB, more than half of them girls’ schools. This is unacceptable & we will ensure security for schools as we are committed to focusing on education, esp girls’ education which is integral to Naya Pakistan”, tweeted Khan, who won last week’s general elections and said on Friday.
Former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari also strongly condemned the act of terror in Diamer 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.
Nobel Prize winner and education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was also shot by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ education in Swat, also condemned this incident. “The extremists have shown what frightens them most – a girl with a book. We must rebuild these schools immediately, get the students back into their classrooms and show the world that every girl and boy has the right to learn”, she tweeted.
UNICEF Pakistan said, “education is a fundamental right of every girl and boy, everywhere. Attacks on schools rob children of their basic right to education and have a devastating impact on their lives. UNICEF also appreciates that the Government of Pakistan has taken notice and has initiated measures to tighten security at educational institutions.”
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.
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.
Police said it has launched a search operation in the area to arrest the perpetrators and tracing phone records of multiple mobile numbers. Police chief Raja Ajmal said the attacks in villages of Diamer district had been a well planned and coordinated act. 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.
The attacks on schools triggered protest by local residents who sought safety for educational institutions. 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.”
An initial report of the incident has been submitted to the chief minister, according to GB Information Minister Shams Mir. According to the report, the “miscreants” carried out the attacks in an “organized manner”. The assailants first vandalized the buildings and then set them on fire, said the report. The report also claimed that the investigation uncovered “important evidence” that suggested that foreigners and some local facilitators were involved in the incident. Mir further said that the police were tracing phone records of multiple mobile numbers. Meanwhile, GB spokesperson said that at least 10 people had been arrested in connection with the incident.
In addition, a list of about two dozen “extremely dangerous” criminals has been submitted to the local Jirga so it can be passed on to the administration.
The attacked schools included:
- APS in Tangir Valley (adjacent to Diamer, sharing borders with Kohistan district of KP)
- Girls Primary School Sheegay Manikal, Darel Valley
- Girls Primary School Galee Bala, Tangir Valley
- Primary School Galee Bala, Tangir Valley
- Girls Primary School Khanbary
- Girls Primary School Gyal Village
- GPS Gokaj, Darail tehsil of Diamer
- Girls Primary School located in Ronay, Chilas
- Girls School Takya
- Social Action Programme (SAP) Primary School in Hudur area
- Army Public School, Darel Tehsil
- Primary School in Tabor village of Darel Valley,
- SAP Primary School in Tabor, Darel
Earlier, Commissioner of Diamer, Syed Abdul Waheed Shah had told that attempts were made to blow up two schools using explosives, while 11 schools were set on fire.
Gilgit Baltistan is known for its mountains and natural 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.
Like many other under-developed areas of Pakistan, basic education needs in Gilgit Baltistan are being met by private or community organizations, and a large number of primary schools have been set up by non-government organizations.
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% of which are primary level, 10.6% middle schools and% 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 3,479 are girls.