Teachers targeted in southwest Pakistan
Quetta - Nationalist, sectarian and Islamist networks are killing teachers, damaging education and limiting development in one of Pakistan's most deprived areas, a US-based rights group said on Monday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said at least 22 teachers and other education professionals were killed by suspected militants between January 2008 and October 2010 in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Since 2008, more than 200 teachers have transferred to the relatively more secure provincial capital, Quetta, or moved out of the province. Nearly another 200 are in the process of transferring, the group said.
Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, has this year seen a surge in separatist Baluch violence, sectarian attacks on Shi'ite Muslims and killings blamed on the Taliban and other hardline Islamist groups.
"To educate or to seek education in Baluchistan today means risking your life and your family's," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"By perpetrating such atrocities, Baluch nationalists are harming Baluchistan's development instead of advancing it," he added.
Killing teachers, harming students and targeting schools "only increase Baluchistan's problems and deprive its youth of the benefits of education", HRW said in its new 40-page report documenting dozens of attacks.
Fear for their safety
"Fearing for their safety, many teachers have sought transfers, further burdening what is already the worst educational system in Pakistan in terms of education opportunities and outcomes," the report said.
The provincial government in Baluchistan said the situation was beginning to improve and that fewer teachers were asking to transfer.
"But I think we still need some sort of confidence-building among teachers so that they return to their areas and resume their duties," Akbar Hussain Durrani, head of the provincial home department, told AFP.
University academics said the killings were political and said the answer would only lie in the government addressing their core concerns.
Hundreds of people have died since rebels rose up in 2004 demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region's natural oil, gas and mineral resources.
HRW said the education sector was targeted disproportionately because militants view them as representatives of the Pakistani state and symbols of perceived Punjabi military oppression.
"The government must address their (Baluch youth) grievances and build an atmosphere of confidence for teachers," Mehmud Ali Shah, head of political science at the University of Baluchistan, told AFP.
"A lacklustre approach to resolving the issue will ruin the education system in Baluchistan."
In ethnic Baluch areas, schools are often understaffed, so any further loss of teachers severely jeopardises children's chances of an education.
HRW also said that many teachers who stay on the job complain about being so preoccupied with security that their teaching has been adversely affected.
In October, Amnesty International called on Pakistan to investigate the alleged torture and killing of more than 40 Baluch political leaders and activists against a backdrop of Pakistani military activities in the province.