ISLAMABAD: Police say gunmen have killed one police officer and wounded another during an overnight search operation for suspects linked to the torching of nearly a dozen schools in the country’s north.
Moreover, the prime suspect believed responsible for the torching of 14 girls’ schools over a period of two days in Gilgit-Baltistan’s (GB) Diamer district was also killed during the search operation.
Shafiq ─ who has no known association with any organised militant or terrorist outfits, but is referred to as a ‘militant’ and ‘militant commander’ by police officials ─ was the prime suspect behind the brazen arson attacks targeting girls’ schools in the Chilas, Darel and Tanger tehsils of Diamer district.
Sanaullah Abbasi, police chief in Gilgit-Baltistan, said Sunday that one suspect was killed in the gunbattle and another 17 have been arrested in the ongoing operation.
Police began conducting raids in various parts of Diamer Saturday night to track down those responsible for the arson attacks. GB Spokesperson Faizullah said that 10-12 police parties were involved in the operations.
According to reports, locals were also taking part in the search operations, and that most ‘militants’ in the area are locals.
On Saturday, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar had hinted at the possibility that the attack on the schools was a “conspiracy” against his initiative to build the Diamer-Bhasha Dam, as he took suo motu notice of the acts of vandalism in the schools in the semi-autonomous region.
According to Alif Ailaan’s Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017, GB received a score of 63.18, placing at fourth place out of eight Pakistan territories ─ above Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas ─ with respect to quality of education.
Diamer is the lowest-ranking districts 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 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 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 20pc or 3,479 are girls.
During the last 10 years, at least 1,500 schools have been destroyed in the tribal belt, according to a report.
In 2012, Malala Yousafzai, who later won the Nobel Prize for her efforts to promote education in the tribal areas, was shot by the Taliban for the same reason.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2017 issued a report and said that the education of thousands of students, especially girls, was disrupted by attacks perpetrated by the Taliban and other militant groups.
The 71-page report, “Dreams Turned into Nightmares: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan”, is based on 48 interviews with teachers, students, parents, and school administrators in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
It urged the government to take necessary measures to ensure that schools were safe for students.