'Taliban torched over 200 Swat schools in 2 yrs'
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'Taliban torched over 200 Swat schools in 2 yrs'

Taliban militants have burnt down more than 200 schools in Pakistan's restive Swat valley in the last two years and made all out efforts to prevent girls from receiving education, a media report in Pakistan said on Sunday.

world Updated: May 24, 2009 12:22 IST

Taliban militants have burnt down more than 200 schools in Pakistan's restive Swat valley in the last two years and made all out efforts to prevent girls from receiving education, a media report in Pakistan said on Sunday.

The militants told the residents in the valley that if they were good Muslims they would stop sending their daughters to schools, 'The Sunday Times' said in a report from Mingora, the capital of Swat.

"Every evening (Taliban commander) Maulana Fazullah, nicknamed 'Radio Mullah', broadcasts the names on the radio of girls who had stopped going to school - it would be, 'Congratulations to Miss Kulsoon or Miss Shahnaz, who has quit school.' Then he warned others if they continued with their education they would go to hell," the paper said.

The Taliban have torched over 200 of Swat's 1,500 schools in the last two years, it said. The military offensive against the militants resulted in what Martin Mogwania, the acting UN humanitarian coordinator, called "the most dramatic displacement in the world."

According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, more than 1.7 million people have been rendered homeless in just three weeks. On Friday, the UN appealed for 340 million pounds, while officials urgently tried to find new sites for camps.

The newspaper also gave a graphic account of the havoc created by Taliban in Swat. A 22-year-old medical student from the valley had secretly catalogued the horrors of life in Swat under the Taliban.

The burning-down of schools, bodies hanging upside down, public lashings and decapitated heads with dollars stuffed in their nostrils and notes reading, 'This is what happens to spies,' were all captured on the student's mobile phone at great personal risk, the report said.

The paper noted that Fazullah in December announced a deadline of January 15 for all girls to stop attending school.

The medical student's account was corroborated by Ziauddin Yusufzai, who ran two schools in Swat and was spokesman for the private school association until he fled the bombing three weeks ago.
"Once, my wife went shopping in a market popular with women and a man with long hair and a gun came and terrorised them and shouted, 'Haven't we warned you women not to come to shops? Next time we'll kill you.'"

Yusufzai, too, admitted that Fazullah won widespread popularity early on. "Fazlullah used his radio to spread venomous propaganda," he said.

"He was winning the support of many people. The whole town would go to Friday prayers and he would arrive on a horse, his long hair flowing, as if he were the prophet."

Fazlullah's call for the restoration of Islamic law was broadly supported. The Taliban were also seen by many as a class movement - occupying the homes of wealthy residents. Yusufzai estimated that by the end of 2007 the Taliban controlled 30 per cent of Swat.

Two army operations intended to remove the Taliban merely tightened their grip, the paper said. "The army would tell people to leave their villages, but instead of clearing them of militants it seemed they were cleared for militants."

It was the combination of international pressure and the militants' proximity to the federal capital Islamabad that finally persuaded the army to act. "They're not going to salute a Mullah Omar, no way," explained President Asif Ali Zardari in an interview to the newspaper.

"It was fine when the militants were just tools but now the tools have come to threaten the masters. It's a different fight," he said.

Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, said: "We had a choice: either we hand over the country to the Taliban or we fight, and we have decided to fight. We will not stop now until we have cleared them all."

About 15,000 members of the security forces are fighting between 4,000 and 5,000 militants in Swat. According to the army, more than 1,000 militants and 50 soldiers have been killed, though the lack of media access to the area meant it was impossible to verify those figures.

According to the Interior Minister, Fazullah's forces have been receiving help from Al-Qaeda. Malik said that among those captured in Swat were four Saudis, a Libyan and an Afghan, all currently under interrogation.

First Published: May 24, 2009 11:18 IST