By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A key government official has pledged to re-open Christian schools and other education institutions for girls in Pakistan’s troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP) after they were attacked by Muslim militants.
NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told BosNewsLife, that “all the schools destroyed by the insurgents would be reopened and renovated.”
It came amid concern Wednesday, February 4, that more Christian girls schools and colleges in Pakistan’s volatile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) would be attacked by Muslim militants after several blasts in recent weeks, police and government officials said.
Local sources speaking on condition of anonymity told BosNewsLife that militants linked to the terror groups Al-Qaeda and the Taliban blew up several girls’ schools after issuing a January 15 deadline to halt all education to girls and women in the area.
Besides educational institutes, churches and Christian homes are also under threat of attacks, officials said. The United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, said that before the latest attacks, terrorists already destroyed over 170 schools in NWFP, most of which girls’ schools, including some run by Christians.
Among those attacked in recent weeks was the ‘Jesus and Mary Convent girls high school’ in Mardan, some 55 kilometers (34 miles) south-east of the province’s main city, Peshawar.
In addition, Islamic extremists bombed five schools in the Swat Valley, January 19, as part of what Christians and advocacy groups describe is “a campaign against girls’ education.” No one was killed or injured in these blasts because schools were closed for the winter break, locals added.
However are concerns that the situation in NWFP could become the same as conditions were in neighboring Afghanistan under Taliban rule, when education for girls was banned and most of the women were forced to abandon their jobs and stay at home, Christians said.
Local Police Chief Dilawar Bangash said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife that it was not immediately clear if the Jan 19th school attacks were in “direct response to the government’s recent pledge,” to continue education programs for girls.
The Pakistani government asked the Pakistani forces to protect the schools against attacks by militants.
There have been reports that Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants may “allow” the girls’ schools to teach up to the level of grade 4, however officials have made clear that such an offer would be unacceptable.
Minority Christians in NWFP have expressed concerns over growing Islamic extremism in the area and attempts to impose strict Islamic law in the region.