ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Suspected Taliban militants bombed five schools in Pakistan's Swat valley Monday as part of a campaign against girls' education in the country's lawless northwest.
Militants — who have blown up or burned down more than 170 schools in their campaign — had ordered all girls' schools in the area closed by Jan. 15.
The school attacks are a throwback to conditions in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, when education for girls was banned and most women forced to stay home.
The attacks early Monday morning came hours after government spokeswoman Sherry Rehman vowed that all schools in the area would reopen by the end of the school holidays in March. Schools in the Swat valley, including some 1,600 government-run establishments with a quarter-million students, are closed for the winter vacation until the end of February.
But an association representing 400 private schools for boys and girls in the valley said last week that all of its schools would remain closed after the winter break because of the threat from militants.
A permanent shutdown would threaten education for tens of thousands of students, especially girls.
Dilawar Khan Bangash, the police chief in the troubled valley, said it wasn't immediately clear if Monday's attacks were a direct response to the government's recent pledge, but militants appear to be targeting schools indiscriminately in a bid to prevent them from reopening.
Monday's attacks destroyed three schools for boys and two for girls, Bangash said.
The Swat valley was a major tourist attraction before militants began their anti-government campaign there more than a year ago. The valley lies close to the tribally governed belt along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan where the West worries Al Qaeda leaders have found refuge.
Residents complain that the valley's local administration, including the police force, has collapsed over recent months as officials and lawmakers flee in fear. Relief workers say thousands of residents have also moved out of militant-held areas.