PESHAWAR: Thousands came out in protest on Tuesday in Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a day after unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a school van, killing the driver and injuring one student.
Though the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) have denied involvement, the attack was reminiscent of the 2012 TTP attack on Malala Yousafzai, who was targeted, aged 15, for defying the militant group with her outspoken views on women’s right to education.
TTP insurgents took partial control of Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2007, before being ousted two years later in a major military operation hailed as a telling blow against militant violence. During this time, militants unleashed a reign of terror, killing and beheading politicians, singers, soldiers and opponents. They banned female education and destroyed almost 200 girls’ schools.
In recent weeks, there have been widespread reports of a return of militants to the valley, amid a stalled peace deal with Islamabad and drawn-out negotiations that began last year.
Last month, a bombing claimed by the TTP killed eight people, including influential anti-Taliban leader Idrees Khan, in what was the first major bombing in the area in more than a decade.
On Tuesday, political activists and members of civil society and the public came out on the city’s main intersection chanting slogans against Monday’s attack and calling for the restoration of peace.
The protest was organized by the activist group, the Swat Olasi Passion, and the ethnic rights Pashtun Tahafuz Moment (PTM).
“The protest was organized to condemn several incidents of terrorism that have been reported during the last few weeks in Swat,” Mazhar Azad, one of the organizers of the priests, said. “The protest has been organized after several attacks on local people.”
A participant in the protest and the spokesperson of the Swat Qami Jargi, Ahmad Shah, said the protesters wanted “justice done” and the suspects in Monday’s attack arrested immediately. He called for the state to ensure peace in Swat.
Former senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan raised slogans of “We don’t accept this!” referring to reports of the return of the Taliban to Swat.
“Fencing has been done, the army is guarding the border,” he said, referring to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “[Paramilitary] Frontier Corps, the police are there, then how have the Taliban come [back] to Swat?”
Khan said the family of the deceased driver had no personal enmities.
The head of the PTM, Pashteen, questioned if the Taliban were returning to Swat as part of a deal made during ongoing talks. The military and the government have in the past denied this.
Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesperson for the TTP, condemned the attack on Monday and said that the group was not involved.
Sawab Khan, president of the Private Schools Management Association, told The Associated Press that all 1,300 private schools in the Swat Valley were shut Monday and Tuesday. From Wednesday, private schools would observe a partial strike and teachers and staff would hold a demonstration.
“The government is not taking the issue seriously,” Haider Ali, a social activist who was among the protesters, told local media, saying the suspects should be arrested immediately.
“We have now given 24 hours to the government to meet our demands,” he warned, “or else we will march to Islamabad.”