The Taliban’s main fear is not drones but educated girls

Apparently, Pakistanis don’t need the Taliban to destroy their schools any more – they can do it themselves. Last week, a girls’ high school was set ablaze in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore. And no, the Taliban were not the culprits. A mob, enraged after allegations of blasphemy against a teacher, carried out the attack. Instead of taking action against them, the police arrested the school’s 77-year-old owner.

The accused teacher, who allegedly committed blasphemy by photocopying the wrong page of a book for homework, is in hiding. Pakistan may have declared an “education emergency” earlier this year, but it still fails to protect the schools it already has. How did we get here?

“They have shut down girls’ schools,” I told a childhood friend who was effusively praising the Pakistani Taliban after its temporary takeover of the Swat valley three years ago. Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani peace activist shot last month by the Taliban, was a bored 11-year-old schoolgirl then. My friend lived about 350 miles away from Swat, and had three daughters. His reasons for liking the Taliban were simple: they were local heroes who had decided to take things into their own hands. “If only people in our area had the same courage,” he said. “Would you like a Taliban-type system here in your city?” I asked him. Yes, of course, he would.

Every morning, my friend drove two of his daughters to school and was pretty certain that one of them would go to medical school. “But the Taliban don’t allow girls’ education. What will happen when they shut down your daughters’ school?” I asked. My friend was puzzled, but only for a moment. “They wouldn’t do thathere. What they did in Swat is their culture, Pashtun culture.”

Not educating girls is not the only myth about Pashtuns: Pashtun mothers produce sons so that they can send them to war; fathers will shoot their daughters if a stranger sees their faces. Of course, as the myth goes, they also don’t want to send their daughters to schools. And why do they need to send their sons to school anyway, if they are born soldiers in an eternal jihad?

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