09 October 2008

Taliban destroys Irish-run School in Pakistan

A group of fighters from the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban movement has attacked and destroyed a girls' school run by Irish Presentation Sisters in the Swat district (on the map coloured yellow) of North-West Frontier Province (tinted grey) in Pakistan.

Fortunately no-one was killed or injured in the onslaught, and it is understood that during the time of the attack none of the Irish sisters were actually present in the compound.
There were both Muslim and Christian students enrolled at the school, which was established by the order of Catholic nuns in 1965 and had in more than 40 years not encountered any hostility.

But this unprecedented aggression against a western and Christian institution highlights the increased tension in Pakistan, whose government is an uneasy ally of the West (and in particular the USA) in the fight against its own radical Muslim groups, most of which have their bases in the semi-autonomous and traditionally unruly North-West Frontier Province.
This area on the border to Afghanistan is populated by various mountain tribes that have - since the days of Alexander the Great - never accepted the full authority of any central government. During the British Raj in India the region was a constant source of rebellion and instability, and this has not changed since the partition of India and the foundation of Pakistan in 1947.

Analysts have observed that significant numbers of Taliban fighters have moved into this area since they are under regular attack by US, British and NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. Some intelligence services even believe that Osama bin Laden might be living in hiding there, though so far no evidence for that assumption has been found.

The Taliban movement of radical Islamic scholars originated in Pakistan during the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989) and received massive funding as well as military training and weapons from the USA (and further support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia).

In 1990 their fighters moved into Afghanistan and participated in the civil war that erupted after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. By 1996 the Taliban controlled most of the country and formed a new fundamentalist Islamic government in Kabul. At that time they still received political backing, substantial funds, weapons and military support from Pakistan and the USA.

But in 2001 - after the terror attacks of September 11th - their American allies turned against the force they helped to create and began to call the Taliban fighters "terrorists".
Their regime was defeated by US troops and forces of the 'Northern Alliance' of tribal warlords in late 2001 and has been fighting back ever since.

Ideologically the Taliban are radicalised fundamentalist Muslims. During the time they ruled Afghanistan (1996-2001) they imposed a medieval Islamic regime, which forced all men to have long bushy beards and all women to wear the full-body cover known as the Burka. They closed most libraries and bookshops, forbade the playing of and listening to music, and closed all schools for girls. Employment of women and education of girls became illegal, and breaches of that law were punished by death. This archaeic and violent ideology explains the destruction of the girls' school in Swat, though it does of course not justify it.

Micheál Martin (photo), Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, has described the attack as "an enormous setback for the girls and families of the area around Sengota and in the whole Swat district".

Given the current political instability in Pakistan and the insecurity in the area it is doubtful that the school will be rebuilt any time soon. One has in fact to admire the determination and courage of the Presentation Sisters to establish the school at all in such a dangerous and volatile area.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Should the americans be running around loose supporting one regime or another perhaps they may take into consideration protection of human rights and especially that of children.

Post a Comment