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By Ashfaq Yusufzai
MARDAN – An attack on the Government Girls Degree College Lund Khwar in Mardan District March 1 that injured 35 students is a grim reminder that the Taliban are still in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
“Our college’s teachers have been receiving threats from militants, but the administration had not taken them seriously. It would scare the majority of the students from attending the college,” Samin Bibi, 18, a 4th- year student, said from the Civil Hospital Lund Khwar.
The students were leaving a party at the college March 1 when their bus was attacked with hand grenades, Bibi, said.
“Two militants riding motorbikes fired shots with pistols in the air and lobbed two hand grenades on the bus in front of the college,” Zamir Khan, a Lund Khwar policeman, said. The attackers then fled the scene, he said.
Most of the wounded are being treated at local hospitals. The most seriously injured student has been sent to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.
Lala Baha, principal of the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Par Hoti, Mardan, received letters from militants in 2008 demanding students wear burqas or the school would be blown up.
“... And now a majority of the 1,000-plus pupils wear veils,” she told Central Asia Online by telephone.
This is the latest in an aggressive campaign by militants against education, especially for girls.
“We have tightened the security around the schools because we know the people will feel fear while sending their children to schools,” police Deputy Inspector General Mardan Abdullah Khan told Central Asia Online. “All 24 police stations in the districts had been instructed to provide security to the educational institutions.”
Soon after the bus attack, administrators closed the college as most of the students were very afraid.
“We have assured the college’s administration (they could remain open and) we would deploy more police,” Khan said.
“We do not want our children to be attacked and demand the government to secure the educational institutions,” said Jafar Khan, whose daughter sustained leg injuries. Jafar said he wanted to educate his children at any cost.
“I am not deterred by such attacks and would go to the college as usual when I leave the hospital. Education is vital for us,” said Zeenat Bibi, a student who received injuries to her right elbow. “Who are the Taliban and what do they want from us?”
KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who visited the injured students at the hospital, assured them that security around their college would be enhanced.
The Taliban oppose women's education and have destroyed hundreds of schools and colleges to deprive women of that prospect. In addition, they have sent written threats to schools and broadcast warnings by radical clerics on FM radio to frighten students and their parents.
“It’s the height of ruthlessness,” Fareeda, a teacher at the college, said by phone. “The trend of discouraging girls from education would hammer the last nail in (the coffin of) the development of women in this male-dominated society. Urgent measures are required.”
The female literacy rate in KP is 30%, and only 3% in FATA, compared to an overall nationwide literacy rate of 54%. According to official reports, female enrolment in schools in the KP is 3.8% and 1.3% in FATA, while only 22% of girls nationwide complete primary schooling.