February 27th, 2021
The education of girls continues to be mired in difficulties in Swat as elders again demand government vacate buildings of institutions in use of security forces for the last 12 years.
Girls could not go to schools at the height of Taliban insurgency in the scenic valley of Swat, dubbed the Switzerland of the East. Girl students stayed home as the Taliban targeted girls’ schools in the valley. Many buildings of educational institutions in Swat remain under use of security forces.
As peace has returned to the region, tribal elders in Khwaza Khela tehsil recently held a jirga to demand the provincial government immediately vacate educational buildings in use of the security forces for the resumption of education especially that of girl students.
Rahat Shah, a resident of Khwaza Khela, said the degree college in his hometown is in use of the security forces. “Boys and girls from around 60 villages in the area used to study in the college,” he said. Most of the students are from impoverished families and daily commuted on foot to the college, he added. “We have held numerous jirgas and repeatedly called upon the government to vacate the college building from security forces so that local students could resume their education but the building has not been vacated yet,” he said.
Mukhtiar Khan, founder of Swat Qaumi Jirga, said assurances from administration and military officials about vacating educational institutions have not been honoured in the past. In 2018, the Malakand Commissioner had sought a meeting with Swat Qaumi Jirga over use of educational buildings by the security forces in Swat, he said. “Military officials had then assured tribal elders of vacating all educational buildings by June of 2018 in the meeting, said Mukhtiar Khan, adding that the buildings still are in use of security forces to this day.
Mukhtiar Khan said thousands of students have signed petitions to the administration over the issue but even this has failed to move the authorities in getting the buildings vacated for resumption of schooling.
Upper Swat is considered a backward and underdeveloped region of the valley. The continued occupation of educational institutions by security forces in the area is hampering education of girls here. According to Shamshir Khan, an educationist, close to 50 percent of girl students have dropped out of schools and colleges in the region since the insurgency. “I have seen parents not sending their daughters, who were in high school and colleges then, back to institutions out of fear,” he said.
Some educational institutions were vacated by security forces as peace resumed in the valley. However, many buildings still remain in control of security forces. Residents have demanded the government honour commitments made to them and vacate buildings so that students can resume their education.