Why are the Taliban attacking Pakistan

Pakistan: Attacks on schools prevent education

(London, March 27, 2017) - Taliban and other militant attacks are wreaking havoc on the education of Pakistani children, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today on the eve of the second international conference on safe schools in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

Pakistan's education system is facing enormous challenges, with an estimated 25 million children out of school. The report contains testimony of how acts of violence by militant groups affect the education of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly girls. The report also documents the military use of educational institutions.

"The Taliban and other militant groups have repeatedly carried out horrific attacks on Pakistani schools that threaten the lives and education of students," said Bede Sheppard, assistant director of children's rights at Human Rights Watch. "A lot of these bold attacks stem from the authorities too often protecting militant groups or not properly pursuing them, and that has to change."

The Pakistani government should take immediate action to make schools safer and to hold those responsible for attacks against schools, students and teachers accountable through fair trials.

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 education workers in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). It documents attacks by militant groups between January 2007 and October 2016, in which school buildings were destroyed and teachers and students came into the line of fire. These incidents so frightened many parents that they decided not to send their children to school anymore. The attacks were often targeted against schoolgirls, their teachers and schools, and thus above all against the right of girls to education. The report also examines the occupation of educational institutions by security forces, political and criminal groups.

Militant Islamist groups, including the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and their allies, are attacking schools and universities in Pakistan to promote intolerance and exclusion, damage government symbols and drive girls from schools. A Taliban commander who claimed responsibility for the attack on Bacha Khan University in KP in January 2016 said: "We will continue to attack schools, colleges and universities all over Pakistan because they are breeding grounds for apostates."

After the Taliban captured large parts of the Swat Valley in KP in 2007, the group began targeted and violent crackdown on the schooling of girls. More than 900 girls' schools had to close and more than 120,000 girls dropped out. More than 8,000 teachers lost their jobs. For many girls, this ended their schooling. They did not return to schools even after the Pakistani government drove the Taliban out.

The Pakistani government does not collect specific data on the number of attacks on schools and universities and the number of people killed and injured in these attacks. However, the Global Terrorism Database has documented 867 attacks on Pakistani educational institutions in 2007 and 2015, in which 392 people died and 724 were injured. According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education, between 2009 and 2012 alone, at least 838 attacks were carried out on schools, in which hundreds were massively damaged. In December 2015, the Department of State and Border Regions (SAFRON) reported that 360 schools in three of the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were destroyed in 2015.

The government's failure to collect consistent and transparent nationwide data on such attacks raises questions about how it intends to oversee the repair of the damaged schools, how it identifies trends that can shed light on appropriate protective measures, and how it determines who is responsible and pursued.

The endangered Pakistani education system received international attention in the attacks on the future Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai on October 9, 2012 and on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. Prime Minister Nawaz announced after the terrorist attack in Peshawar that killed 135 children Sharif set out a 20-point action plan to target terrorism in a targeted and comprehensive manner - but none of the 20 points related to students or education.

In some areas, government forces have used educational facilities, including both schools and colleges, as temporary or permanent housing or military bases. If educational institutions are used for military purposes, the risk of an attack increases significantly. The government should clearly and publicly order that the Pakistani security forces restrict the military use of schools.

Furthermore, Pakistan is to develop a comprehensive program to protect students, especially girls, teachers, schools and universities from attacks and military use. All relevant ministries at national and local level are to be involved in the implementation of this strategy.

So far, it has mainly been left to the provincial governments to ensure the safety of schools. However, they do this only sporadically and inconsistently and hardly take into account the fact that girls' schooling needs special protection. Most of the time, the responsibility for improving and maintaining safety has been passed to the school administrators. This has exacerbated the hardship and general chaos. In some cases, criminal proceedings have been initiated against teachers and school principals for failing to put in place security.

Despite hundreds of attacks on teachers, students and educational institutions, the Pakistani government has in most cases failed to hold the perpetrators accountable. These failures came into the spotlight in June 2015 when it was revealed that eight of the ten people charged with the attack on Malala Yousafzai and who had stood trial for their involvement had been acquitted.

The Pakistani central government is to work with the provincial authorities to develop a mechanism to react quickly to attacks against schools. In particular, the facilities should be quickly repaired or rebuilt and destroyed teaching materials replaced so that the students can go back to class as quickly as possible. During the reconstruction work, the students are to receive alternative offers so that they can continue their schooling. If necessary, they should also receive psychosocial support.

Pakistan is also expected to sign the Declaration on the Protection of Schools, a non-binding political agreement that states have been able to join since an international conference in the Norwegian capital of Oslo in May 2015. If governments support this statement, they pledge that they will restore access to education if schools are attacked. They should take action against students, teachers and schools from being attacked in the first place. Potential perpetrators should be deterred from such attacks by investigating and prosecuting school-related crimes. In addition, the military use of schools is to be minimized in order not to turn them into targets.

"The Pakistani government should do everything in its power to prevent future attacks on education, starting with improving school safety and providing the public with reliable information about dangers," Sheppard said. “Attacks on education not only harm the directly affected students and families. We cannot yet foresee the negative long-term consequences for Pakistani society. "