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Report on sectarian killing in Balochistan

Dec 14, 2010

Their Future is at Stake: Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, the report by Human Righst Watch looks into the killing of school teachers and students by extremists. The report assesses the motive behind such attacks and their impact on education in the region.

Their Future is at Stake: Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province

Teachers, professors, and school administrators have found their lives increasingly under threat in Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan. Between January 2008 and October2010, suspected militant groups targeted and killed at least 22 teachers and other education personnel in the province. Militants have also threatened, bombed, or otherwise attacked schools, resulting in injuries, deaths, property damage, and curtailed education for Balochistan’s children and youth. In 2009, government schools were open for only 120 days, compared with around 220 days in the rest of Pakistan.

Fearing for their safety, many teachers—particularly ethnic Punjabis and Shiite Muslims and other targeted minorities—have sought transfers, further burdening what is already the worst educational system in Pakistan. Since 2008, more than 200 teachers and professors have transferred from their schools to the relatively more secure capital Quetta, or have moved out of the province entirely. Nearly 200 others are in the process of making such transfers. New teachers are hard to find, and replacements often less qualified than predecessors. In Baloch areas of the province, schools are often under or poorly staffed, and many remaining teachers say they are so preoccupied with declining security their teaching has been adversely affected.

Killing people of a certain ethnicity or religion who have dedicated their lives to teaching only undercuts opportunities and outcomes in a province already struggling to educate its populace and achieve greater development, making a bad situation even worse. There is no acceptable justification for targeted killings of teachers and other education personnel, or attacks on schools. Beyond the killings’ simple unlawfulness, the militant groups that are responsible demonstrate disturbing willingness to make the education of the province’s children a pawn of their armed agenda.

Education falls in the crosshairs of three distinct violent conflicts in Balochistan. The first is a nationalist conflict, in which militant Baloch groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) seeking separation or autonomy for Balochistan have targeted Punjabis and other minorities, particularly in the districts of Mastung, Kalat, Nushki, Gwadar, Khuzdar, and Quetta. The second distinct conflict is a sectarian one, in which militant Sunni Muslim groups have attacked members of the Shia community, especially members of the Persian-speaking Hazara community. Such sectarian attacks appeared to increase in 2009, and occur mainly in Quetta and its neighboring districts. The third conflict involves armed Islamist groups attacking those who act contrary to their interpretation of Islam. Armed Islamist militants have increasingly committed violence in opposition to the content and manner of local education, particularly that of girls and young women.

This report, based on interviews with teachers, government officials, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and school children, describes attacks on Balochistan’s educational facilities, teaching personnel, and students as part of broader political, religious, and cultural divisions. It also considers the consequences of such attacks for education in the region, including pervasive fear, fewer school days, and hemorrhaging of qualified teachers.

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