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Wednesday, February 28, 2024  
17 Shaban 1445  

Don’t mess with Gilgit-Baltistan’s girls and their schools

Diamer people start immediately rebuilding after arson attack
Local community members and government employees work together in the restoration of the Girls Middle School in Darel Tehsil of Diamer district. Photo via author
Local community members and government employees work together in the restoration of the Girls Middle School in Darel Tehsil of Diamer district. Photo via author
Local community members and government employees work together in the restoration of the Girls Middle School in Darel Tehsil of Diamer district. Photo via author
Local community members and government employees work together in the restoration of the Girls Middle School in Darel Tehsil of Diamer district. Photo via author

The men in masks may have succeeded in setting fire to a girls school in Gilgit-Baltistan last week, but they failed to accomplish what terrorists used to in this region: terrorize. In fact, the people of Diamer just rolled up their sleeves and started rebuilding. We’ll have it back up in 72 hours, they said.

This is why the GB chief secretary, Mohiuddin Wani, says this time it is different. Sure, there was a history of terrorist attacks in this area. The group almost always claimed responsibility and they usually had political backing. But “No one is owning this incident,” Wani said. “And there is no political backing that’s why I am saying it is a little different.” He was speaking on Dawn News’ show Zara Hat Kay Tuesday night.

Wani had described the attackers as a group of six to seven “cowards” who came under cover of darkness with covered faces to burn the school after taking the gatekeeper hostage at around 2am on Friday. He believes they are not a “big group” but petty criminals who wanted to test the nerves of the administration and police. This assessment does, however, contradict the Babusar Top standoff on October 8 when senior GB minister Col (retd) Obaidullah Baig was held hostage by some “militants”. He was released after negotiations with the group, which had given a 10-day ultimatum.

Nevertheless, the government and people (a jirga and ulema) both condemned the arson and decided that the school would not only be rebuilt within three days, but be bigger and better than before. The girls would get their IT lab, library, and sports facilities.

The Girls Middle School is one of the six government schools in the tehsil. It runs from nursery to Class 8, has around 60 students and opened two months ago on land donated by the community.

Thousands of girls from the area protested in public on Thursday to show support to their fellow students, becoming an inspiration for the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was attacked by the militants in 2012 for advocating girls education in Swat.

“Remember, your dreams are worth fighting for. It is heartbreaking to hear a girls’ school has been burned. I hope it is rebuilt soon and the students can return safely,” she said in a tweet.

The Diamer Youth Movement held demonstrations in the city on Wednesday as well.

 The Diamer Youth Movement protest against the Darel incident in Chilas on Wednesday. Photo via author
The Diamer Youth Movement protest against the Darel incident in Chilas on Wednesday. Photo via author

“We the people of Diamer strongly condemn the action to burn the school and demand of the government to uncover these miscreants and such elements and punish them,” it said in a statement.

The FIR was registered on Tuesday at Gumari Darel police station under sections 6 (terrorist act) and 7 (punishment for Terrorist Act) of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Sections 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees), and 431 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.) of the Pakistan Penal Code have been added to the report.

The FIR was registered by headmaster Rehmat Ghani himself. The message this time is clear: this is not the Gilgit-Baltistan you knew in 2005 and 2018.

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