Ban On Girls Ecucation Making Taliban Unpopular
Taliban fighters, who have been fighting a war against Pakistani forces, have banned girls education in the areas, which are in their control. This decision of Taliban has been eroding their popularity. Now they have not been enjoying the support of people in tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border. A Peshawar-based journalist has written an article on this issue.
The Afghan Taliban banned girls' education and many among them now regret the decision. The Pakistani Taliban in Swat have done the same thing and one day they too would realize that this was something wrong. But it would be late by then and neither regrets nor remorse would absolve them of the responsibility of keeping thousands of girls illiterate and rendering jobless a large number of female teachers and other employees.
The headstrong leadership of the Maulana Fazlullah-led Swati Taliban has even refused to listen to the advice of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose spokesman Maulvi Omar urged it to review the decision. Though the TTP founder Baitullah Mahsud hasn't commented on the issue and his organization is yet to give a clear directive on girls' education to its Swat chapter, the fact that many schools for females continue to function in his native South Waziristan and in neighbouring North Waziristan show that this isn't the policy of Pakistani Taliban to lock out educational institutions meant for girls. Still the absence of a proper policy guideline on girls' education by the TTP emboldened the Swati Taliban to go ahead with the decision to close all schools and colleges for females by January 15. As Muslim Khan, the spokesman for the Taliban in Swat pointed out, the TTP hadn't formally asked them to cancel the decision and, therefore, they would go ahead with its implementation.
It is obvious that the TTP isn't always a disciplined organization. Militants from various persuasions and places make up the TTP, which is an umbrella organization for radical Taliban groups having their own local and specific agendas. In the past also, the TTP failed to discipline its Mohmand Agency chapter and its commander, Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid, despite announcing that he would be made accountable for fighting a rival group of Salafi militants and killing its head Shah Khalid along with scores of his fighters. The TTP did nothing to stop the bombing of some girls' schools in Darra Adamkhel, another stronghold of a radical band of Taliban like those in Swat. The TTP also remained unmoved when the Taliban in Bajaur occupied several girls' schools and other government buildings and set up madressahs or their Shariah courts there.
The Swati Taliban are a different breed compared to the other militants. Many among them haven't studied in madressahs, or Islamic schools, and even their leader Maulana Fazlullah was unable to complete his religious education. Members of jehadi groups are also to be found among the Taliban in Swat. Commoners including tenants have joined Taliban ranks and some are driven by an urge to harm the landowning families in Swat. Others are seeking revenge against the government, its security forces and all those Swatis who have backed the military operations in the once peaceful valley. The authorities and many Swatis also claim that criminals have become part of the Taliban and are using the militants' power to pursue their activities.
That the Swati Taliban are the most dangerous and intolerant among the lot is evident from some of their actions. Besides bombing and destroying 172 schools, including 122 for girls and 50 for boys, they are in occupation of another five educational institutions for use as their bases. By the way, education is no longer a priority even for the government and the security forces in Swat where death and destruction is now a way of life. Due to lack of accommodation, the security forces are also occupying 18 schools where 7,039 male and female students used to study and using these places as their barracks. It is pertinent to recall that the Swat state had one of the best educational outreach and facilities during the progressive rule of the Wali of Swat. Roadside schools, clinics and police posts, nicely-built and painted yellow, are still a familiar sight in the Swat valley. It was, therefore, hardly surprising that educationists from Swat earned name and reached the highest offices in the administrative set-up of the education department in NWFP.
The list of Taliban excesses is long and full of misery. Security forces too have killed an unacceptable number of civilians during military action and displaced a large number of families. The people of Swat are often critical of both the Taliban and the security forces and it is not uncommon to find them blaming them in equal measure for their unending plight. But the Taliban due to their claim to be fighting for Shariah must be judged by the high standards of Islamic principles. Some of their actions are clearly un-Islamic. The Taliban gave up the peaceful struggle for enforcement of Shariah that was being waged earlier by Maulana Sufi Mohammad's black-turbaned Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) and resorted to the use of force to accomplish their goal. Their Shariah mission has now been pushed into the background due to the unabated violence that has engulfed Swat in recent years.
The Taliban have been destroying or occupying government buildings and blowing up bridges, basic health units and hotels, including the one that looked majestic with clouds often swirling around it at the now deserted Malam Jabba skiing and chairlift resort. Electricity and gas installations have been bombed and road blockades and checkpoints set up to add to the misery of the people. Beheadings of personnel of security forces and police and political rivals is common. Bodies of people slain overnight are dumped in the morning by the roadside everywhere in Swat or at the Greens Chowk, nowadays commonly referred to as "Khooni Chowk" (bloody square), in Mingora city. Anyone found in violation of the Taliban code are warned in the nightly FM Radio show by Maulana Shah Dauran to behave or face the consequences. None can dare to defy the militants and those who move out of Swat live in fear. And probably for the first time in Pakistan, a polling station in Shalbandai village neighbouring Buner district was bombed by a suicide bomber on December 28, 2008 during a National Assembly by-election to kill 43 people for avenging the death of six Taliban fighters at the hands of the villagers last year.
In such circumstances, it would be suicidal for the teachers or students to keep the girls' schools and colleges open. Despite assurances of security by the Swat administration and the government, nobody is convinced that it would be safe to send girls to school and let the female teachers, or their male counterparts, to continue teaching. Most of the government-run educational institutions for females were already closed due to the fear of the militants. The privately-managed schools and colleges too had made adjustments by halting co-education at the few institutions where it was still in practice, ordering the female students and teachers to observe purdah and come veiled and changing part of the curriculum with greater stress on religious education. But the Taliban wanted more as they gained power and finally on December 24 Maulana Shah Dauran made the dreaded announcement that girls' education was being outlawed from January 15. Pleas by the owners and teachers of private schools and many parents brought a slight relaxation in the Taliban stand as they allowed girls to attend school until grade four. It seems they were following the policy adopted by the Afghan Taliban, who during their rule in Afghanistan allowed girls aged nine to receive education.
There is no doubt that the ban on girls' education deprived the Afghan Taliban the support of many Afghans and forced Muslims elsewhere in the world to stop backing them. Other factors too drained backing for the Afghan Taliban but the outlawing of female education annoyed families who wanted their women to become literate and become useful members of the society. The ban portrayed the Taliban as a retrogressive force that wanted to deprive women of enlightenment and keep them in bondage. Though the Afghan Taliban subsequently allowed girls to receive nursing and medical education on a limited scale and promised to reopen girls' schools and colleges once the country's civil war and the security situation improved, few believed their promises.
Due to their actions, the support for Swati Taliban has dwindled. They are living in a make-believe world and are still claiming to enjoy popular support. During visits to their strongholds in Shawar and other places in the Matta area, one found people criticizing them during private conversation. Those feigning to support largely do so out of fear or some vested interest. By making the people of Swat suffer, the Taliban have made their cause unpopular. The ban on girls' education is one more step toward taking away whatever little support the Swati Taliban still enjoyed.
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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia