Blast claims no victims but reflects radical Islam’s tightened grip.
ISTANBUL, October 14 (Compass Direct News) – Taliban militants bombed a Catholic-run girls’ school in Pakistan’s war-torn Swat Valley as part of a larger effort to subvert women’s status in society through Islamic law, locals say.
On Wednesday (Oct. 8) the Islamic terrorist group bombed the Convent Girls’ School in Sangota, run by the Presentation Sisters, a Catholic religious order that has opened girls’ schools around the world. Militants have threatened the school frequently for offering education to females.
No one was injured in the attack. The school had closed a few months earlier due to deteriorating security in Swat, a source told Compass. Students and faculty left in July following threats.
“The Taliban said, ‘We have asked you so many times to close down the school but you are not listening. We are going to set it on fire,’” said Yousef Benjamin, a Lahore-based peace activist.
Militants had already attacked or blown up and forced the closure of many girls’ schools in Swat, said Cecil Chaudhry, executive secretary of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. They told the nuns they would destroy their school if it weren’t closed. Following the bombing the militants ransacked the school’s adjoining convent.
The high school enrolled approximately 1,000 female students, nearly 95 percent of them Muslim.
The Santoga school has faced threats from Islamic extremists before. It closed its doors in September 2007 after received a threatening letter from extremists that demanded all teachers and female students wear the burqa. The letter claimed the faculty was working to convert Muslim students to Christianity.
The Taliban has not singled out the school for its Christian ties but instead wants to clamp down on all girls’ schools, which they believe encourage female participation in society, government officials claim.
In the last two years it has indiscriminately targeted more than 150 public and private girls’ schools in northwest Pakistan.
“For them it doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian school, government school or a private school,” Benjamin said. “Last week I was in [the northern city of] Peshawer and the Taliban told women to not even go to the market.”
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001. They severely curtailed women’s rights, barring females from education, employment or traveling outside of their homes without a male relative.
“A few years ago the Taliban government in Afghanistan did not even allow women to be seen outside their houses, and that’s the version of Islam the Taliban promotes,” Chaudhry said.
Located near the Afghanistan border, Swat has been a flash point between the country’s security forces and Islamic militants. The area used to be a thriving tourist haven with hotels and a ski resort but came under complete control of Taliban militants in September 2007.
Government security forces cleared out the Taliban from the valley in recent months, but the area came under their control once again three weeks ago.
With their re-asserted control, the Taliban has forced all Swat residents to live according to their strict lifestyle guidelines, whether Muslim or Christian.
Men have grown beards and adopted Islamic dress. Women are required to wear burqas and sit in the back seat of their own vehicles. Advertisements cannot feature pictures of women.
“The Taliban wants to create a culture of terror, insecurity and they want to impose a self-created system of sharia [Islamic law] inspired by the system in Afghanistan,” said Shabhaz Bhatti, a National Assembly member from the Punjab province and chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.
The 70 or so Christian families scattered in the valley occupy the lower class, working as laborers and street sweepers.
Since July 2007, militants and followers of Muslim cleric Maulana Fazlullah have pressured the tiny community of Christians to accept Islamic law.
Islamic militants have stepped up attacks across Pakistan in recent weeks. Last Thursday (Oct. 9) a suicide bomber injured eight people in an attack on an Islamabad police station. In September another suicide bomber killed 50 people at the Marriott Hotel.
Motivations for the surge in attacks could be political as well as religious. Pakistani forces have been cracking down on militants in the nation’s tribal areas as the government has resolved to fight domestic terrorism.
The Pakistani military launched a three-week-long air strike operation in Afghanistan in August and killed more than 400 Taliban militants. Pakistan declared a cease-fire in September during Ramadan.
The militant attacks could also be in retaliation to recent U.S. bombings against Taliban targets within Pakistan, a source told Compass.
Inter-Services Intelligence Director Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha told Pakistan’s parliament on Wednesday (Oct. 8) that the Taliban had gained complete control over certain districts of the country. The military has attempted to regain control in a bitter struggle that has claimed the lives of 1,368 troops since 2001, according to the Pakistani Daily Times.
While Christians are worried about their safety, they stress that the Taliban is a threat to all Pakistanis, regardless of religion.
They urged fellow Christians to pray for the surging violence within the country to ebb.
“We ask a special prayer for peace in our country and that the terrorist elements who believe in violence would not succeed in killing innocent people,” Bhatti said. “Pray for Pakistani Christians – may God protect them and give them courage to remain strong in their faith and witness.”
Report from Compass Direct News