(Islamabad) - Militant groups in Pakistan's Balochistan province should immediately stop killing, threatening, and harassing teachers and other educators, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Attacks and bombings by various nationalist, sectarian, and Islamist armed groups have damaged schools and universities, killing and wounding students, and severely harming education in Balochistan.
The 40-page report, "‘Their Future is at Stake': Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan's Balochistan Province," documents the killing of at least 22 teachers and other education personnel by suspected militants between January 2008 and October 2010. The report - based on interviews with teachers, students, victims' families and friends, and government officials in Balochistan - describes these attacks and their consequences for the quality of education in the province.
"Militant groups' grievances against the Pakistani state are no excuse for shooting teachers dead," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "By killing teachers, harming students, and targeting schools, militants only increase Balochistan's problems and deprive its youth of the benefits of education."
Education falls in the crosshairs of three distinct violent conflicts in Balochistan: militant Baloch nationalist groups seeking separation or autonomy for Balochistan target Punjabis and other minorities; militant Sunni Muslim groups attack Shia Muslims; and Islamist armed groups attack those who act contrary to their interpretation of Islam.
Although killings and other abuses by militants have been directed at individuals from all professions, education establishments, personnel, and students - particularly ethnic Punjabis - have been disproportionately targeted because militants view them as representatives of the Pakistani state and symbols of perceived Punjabi military oppression.
In one example, the Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the shooting death of Anwar Baig, a teacher, in Kalat in June 2009, because he supposedly opposed recitation of the Baloch nationalist anthem and hoisting the nationalist flag, instead of the Pakistani flag, in his school.
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. Since 2008, more than 200 teachers and professors have transferred from their schools to the relatively more secure provincial 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 are often less qualified than their predecessors. In ethnic Baloch areas of the province, schools are often understaffed, so any further loss of teachers severely jeopardizes children's opportunities to receive an education. Many teachers who persevere at their posts say they are so preoccupied with security that their teaching has been adversely affected.
"To educate or to seek education in Balochistan today means risking your life and your family's," Hasan said. "By perpetrating such atrocities, Baloch nationalists are harming Balochistan's development instead of advancing it."
Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with Pakistan's government, in large part due to issues of provincial autonomy, control of mineral resources and exploration, and a consequent sense of deprivation. During the rule of General Pervez Musharraf, from 1999 to 2008, the situation deteriorated markedly. Two assassination attempts on Musharraf, in 2005 and 2006 during visits to Balochistan, resulted in a crackdown on Baloch nationalists by armed forces and Military Intelligence, its lead intelligence agency in the province. The recent surge in killings can be traced to the 2006 assassination of the prominent Baloch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and 35 of his close followers, and the murders of three prominent Baloch politicians in April 2009 by assailants believed to be linked to the Pakistan military.
Since 2005, Pakistani human rights organizations have recorded numerous serious human rights violations by security forces, including extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, and excessive use of force against protesters. This is the first of two Human Rights Watch reports on the situation in Balochistan. The second report will document the pattern of involvement by Pakistan security forces in the enforced disappearances of ethnic Baloch in the province.
Accounts from Balochistan:
The most affected ethnic group currently is the Baloch because it is they who are losing teachers. It is their children whose education is affected, and it is their future that is at stake.... Of course the settlers, and Punjabis particularly, have [also] been directly affected.... It is their people being killed.
- Senior provincial government official
A total of 10 teachers have left [the school] so far.... Six people from this [school] have been assassinated since 2006 - most of them during the last 12 months.... My profile has all the required characteristics to be targeted: teacher, Shia, and a settler. It is better for me and my family that we leave as soon as possible.
[He] loved teaching and for decades he remained associated with this profession. He wanted to stay in Quetta and continue teaching.
- A close friend of Fazal Bari, principal of Tameer-e-Nau High School in Quetta, who was gunned down by the Baloch Liberation Army on March 22, 2010
I ran to the schoolyard as soon as we heard the explosion. The classroom windows were shattered. Many students were already in the yard. Many of us didn't know what had happened. I saw smoke ... I heard many children screaming. I think some of them got light injuries because of falling on the pieces of glass when they were running in chaos.... Several teachers were injured. I got really scared when I realized it was a bomb explosion.
- Teenage student