I have such fond childhood memories of summer holidays in the Swat Valley in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, a place well known among Pakistanis for its breathtaking views, cool summer climate and lush fruit orchards. But today the Swat Valley is experiencing heartbreaking pressures, as the Taliban strike with disconcerting regularity and, among other atrocities, impose a ban on the education of girls.
Even before this ban was put in place on Jan. 15, more than 100 schools for girls in Swat, as well as more than 150 such schools in the greater Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), had been shut down, many after being bombed or torched, leaving approximately 100,000 girls out of school. Radio announcements warned girls that they could be attacked with acid if they dared to attend school, and teachers have been threatened and killed. Last Monday, five more Swat Valley schools were bombed.
The attacks and threats have not been confined to schoolgirls. Women and girls have been ordered to wear full veils. Directives have been issued requiring that women be accompanied by male family members in public places and forbidding women from carrying compulsory government identification cards displaying their photographs. About a dozen women have been shot for “immoral activities,” including Bakht Zeba, a 45-year-old social worker committed to advancing girls’ education. The area seems to be in competition with Afghanistan over which will establish the worst record on women’s rights.
The Pakistani and Afghan governments have responded similarly to the Taliban’s penchant for terrorizing the population. A few months ago, Afghanistan sought to enter into negotiations with the Taliban, a precondition of which would be the imposition of sharia (Islamic law). While those talks have not yet gone forward, Pakistan seems to be on the brink of accepting enforcement of sharia in the FATA territories. Reports indicate that more than 70 Taliban courts already operate in the Swat Valley, a first step toward implementation of the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia. That the government is open to negotiating on this issue shows that it has no regard for what such a move would mean for Pakistani women.