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2/29/04 - SCHOOL BURNINGS IN PAKISTAN - 2004-03-01

Efforts to educate Pakistani children in the remote Northern Areas bordering Afghanistan have suffered a major setback. Eight girls’ schools have been destroyed by bombings. A ninth school, this one for boys, was burned to the ground. Pakistani authorities believe Muslim extremists are to blame.

According to Jamil Ahmad, the education secretary in the Northern Areas, orthodox Sunni Muslims opposed to the education of girls may be responsible for the destruction. As Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf recently pointed out, the Koran should not be misused to subjugate women.

Women make up half the human race. President George W. Bush says that protecting their rights is critical to development and progress:

“The future of Muslim nations will be better for all with the full participation of women.”

Pakistani police have arrested some twenty extremists suspected of involvement in the bombings. Home Secretary Saeed Ahmen Khan said several of the suspects under detention belong to religious extremist groups, and others are outright terrorists.

Pakistani officials report that among the chief trouble spots is Darel, where religious extremists fear they are gradually losing ground after the opening of schools in their area. Mr. Khan said these fringe groups have little support among Pakistanis. He said the government had set up the schools in Darel in response to the demands of local leaders.

The United States has helped build schools and train teachers in Pakistan through grants to the World Bank, as well as through direct assistance programs. Clearly, schools are desperately needed in Pakistan’s remote Northern Areas. According to a 1998 census, the overall literacy rate is thirty-three percent, with a twenty-one percent literacy rate for women.

At a recent conference, Sehba Musharraf, wife of the Pakistani president, announced the creation of a fund for the advancement of rural women. She said, “We seek partnership with all those who are struggling to eradicate poverty and contribute towards the cause of empowerment of rural women.”