(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Girls make tentative return to schools in Swat

An estimated 40,000 girls could be kept out of school
Fahim Siddiqi/IRIN

Girls who had not been going to school in Swat Valley, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), since militants declared a ban on female education at the end of December 2008, have been tentatively returning.

Several days ago, the NWFP provincial government reached a deal with Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammadi (TNSM), whereby elements of Islamic law would be enforced and schools reopened.

“My daughter, aged 10, was thrilled to wear her uniform again and go to school. We hope it can continue,” Sayeda Bibi (not her real name) told IRIN from her village near Swat’s principal city of Mingora.

The unwillingness to allow her real name to be disclosed, however, betrays an underlying fear. “We are pleased but we are afraid things could become bad again,” she said.

“There are people here who don’t want peace. They are out to create trouble,” said Fazal Khan, 40, from Mingora. There have also been incidents of lawlessness in the area, including the setting on fire of houses and the abduction of people, according to local media

The TNSM chief has told the government to set up Islamic courts within two weeks, or face an end to the truce - a situation that would plunge Swat into a new crisis, some analysts say.

Thousands who have moved to Peshawar, some 170km to the southwest, are watching and waiting. “We will not move back till there is more certainty and stability,” said Daud Jan, one of the migrants.


The NWFP chief minister, Ameer Haider Hoti, has described the truce as “very welcome”, saying he would resign if it was sabotaged, but others fear their civil rights are being eroded.

“Dialogue is something to be encouraged but we are alarmed there have been no guarantees that the fundamental rights of the people of Swat will be protected,” said. I.A.Rehman, chief executive of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). HRCP has been closely monitoring the situation in Swat for months and has described the humanitarian fall-out from the conflict there between militants and government forces as “appalling”.

Tens of thousands of people, including many school teachers, have fled Swat. “All the best teachers from my children’s schools have left. I do not think they will go back,” said Shahnaz Khan, 35, a mother of three whose family left Mingora several months ago. “According to my relatives there, many children have gone back to schools but there are now too few teachers,” she said.

Other families are still too scared to send their children back to school.

The fact that the militants in Swat are divided into factions is raising concerns that, as has happened twice since 1995 [see IRIN report on the origins of the Swat conflict], the peace accord may not prove durable.


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