Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Pakistan's Swat Valley, Boys - and Girls - Crack Open Schoolbooks Once Again

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Pakistan's Swat Valley, Boys - and Girls - Crack Open Schoolbooks Once Again

Article excerpt

Hundreds of boys and girls returned to school in Pakistan's Swat Valley this month, returning to their lessons after being forced to flee fighting between the Army and Taliban. Even girls, who had been banned from school by the militants who dominated the area until April, showed up.

After nearly two years of Taliban rule and a destructive three- month military offensive, their attendance marks one of the first, tenuous signs of a return to normalcy in this northwestern area.

Many children don't have schools to return to. Instead they are studying in tents, under trees, or amid the rubble where their schools once stood. They have no desks, chairs, tables, or shade. At a middle school in Maniyar, just outside Mingora, girls used bricks from the demolished buildings as seats.

According to Fazal Ahad, an education official in Swat, 220 girls' and boys' schools were damaged or destroyed, along with 130 more in neighboring Buner and Dir districts, where fighting also took place. The total cost of damage in Swat - including of hospitals, roads, bridges, hotels, and private property - may total $2.5 billion, says Wajid Ali Khan, a provincial minister.

Refugees return - warily

Despite the damage, Swat residents are steadily returning from refugee camps and neighboring towns.

Ali, a resident of Swat whose brother was shot dead by Taliban in Mingora a few months ago, says the militants have been dealt a serious blow and will not be able to return and challenge the writ of the government.

Many are more skeptical, though, as reports swirl of Taliban sightings in Swat tehsils (subdistricts) such as Kabal, Charbagh, and Matta. The offensive killed some key Taliban leaders, such as Shahi Dauran, who had become a dreaded figure in Swat, and forced others to flee. But residents say they want to see top commanders, like Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah, arrested or killed. …

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