by Jamil Nagri
While urgent measures had been taken by the security administration in Northern Areas to protect educational institutions and trace culprits behind orchestrated attacks on schools in Gilgit-Baltistan, another girls’ school was destroyed in a brazen arson attack in Diamer district on Saturday hours before a police official was killed in an exchange of fire with armed suspects.
In the exchange of fire with armed men during a late-night raid on a house in Tanger tehsil of Diamer, a policeman was killed and another was wounded, police confirmed to Dawn. They said constable Arif Hussain was killed and another constable, Karamat, suffered wounds during the gun battle leading to the arrest of two suspects, Ibadur Rehman and Saeedur Rehman.
As the number of schools torched in the district over the past two days increased to 14, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the incidents and directed the interior secretary and the secretary for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan to submit their reports within the next two days.
The latest attack was carried out on a government girls’ school in Darel tehsil of Diamer where forces against girls’ education had repeatedly attacked government and private schools in the past. Most of the girls’ schools had been targeted in Chilas, Darel and Tanger tehsils of Diamer district.
So far 18 suspects have been arrested with six FIRs registered at different police stations, while sources privy to a meeting of ministers, civil administration officials, law enforcement and intelligence agencies and locals said a list of 20 suspects was handed over to a local jirga with the demand for their immediate surrender. The meeting also decided to extend the operation against extremists across the district.
Meanwhile, police continued raids in different areas to arrest the suspected attackers.
While briefing caretaker prime minister retired Justice Nasirul Mulk on progress in investigation into the incidents, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman said that all-out efforts were being made to identify and arrest the culprits, according to APP.
The chief minister also directed the authorities concerned to restore the destroyed schools and made them functional within the next 15 days. The demand was also made by Malala Yousufzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and girls’ education activist.
Being a victim of a terrorist attack herself, Malala tweeted: “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.”
To formulate a mechanism to trace the culprits, a meeting of GB ministers from Diamer including Haji Janbaz Khan, Haidar Khan, Imran Wakeel, home secretary Jawad Akram, IG police Sanaullah Abbasi, government spokesman Faizullah Faraq, district administration, intelligence and law enforcement agencies officials and elders of the district was held in Chilas.
Mr Faraq told Dawn that the meeting had decided to extend the ongoing search operation against suspects as local people assured the administration of their complete cooperation with police.
At the meeting, the sources said, the names of 20 suspects had been given to the local jirga with the demand for their immediate surrender.
The police later submitted to the chief minister an initial report linking the latest episode with the past attacks on girls’ schools in the area. The report stated the incident was the continuation of the past incidents in which girls’ schools had been attacked with an objective to bar them from getting education.
Talking to the media after visiting the affected schools on Saturday, GB Chief Secretary Babar Hayat Tarar said a grand operation was being launched in the district to arrest the attackers. On the occasion, he also appealed to local people to cooperate with police to identify militants.
However, local journalists faced difficulties to get updates and details of the incidents. They said officials of the area administration kept their phones switched off and avoided to hold any press briefings about the series of attacks.
In 2004, half a dozen girls’ schools had been torched in one go. Girls’ schools were also targeted by extremist forces in 2011 and 2015.
Some traditions and extremism are main reasons for local resistance to female education in the district, which has the lowest literacy rate in Gilgit-Baltistan.
According to Alif Ailaan’s Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017, GB received a score of 63.18, getting fourth position in the list of eight Pakistan territories with respect to quality of education. However, Diamer is the lowest-ranking district in terms of quality of education, 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 per cent of which are primary level, 10.6pc middle schools and 6pc high schools. There are no higher secondary schools in the district. Of the government schools, 156 are for boys and 88 are for girls, according to Alif Ailaan.
Of the 16,800 students enrolled in government schools, only 20pc or 3,479 are girls.