Pakistan will push to quickly reopen girls' schools destroyed by Islamic militants in the country's lawless northwest, the information minister said Sunday.
The militants' efforts to deter girls from attending school in Pakistan are darkly reminiscent of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which banned education for girls and forced most working women to return to their homes.
Speaking to reporters in the commercial hub of Karachi, Sherry Rehman said all efforts would be made to ensure that classes in the Swat valley resume in March following the winter break.
"We will try our best to reopen girls' schools and we will try to give the girls confidence. We have to show them a ray of hope," Rehman said.
Reopening the schools will be largely contingent on restoring security in the valley, which lies just outside Pakistan's tribally governed belt along the Afghan border. The West is concerned that al-Qaida leaders have found refuge in the area.
Taliban guerrillas have been waging a bloody war against security forces in the valley for more than a year, prompting local police and government authorities to flee.
In recent months, militants have blown up or burned down some 170 schools, most of them for girls, and demanded in December that all schools for girls be closed by Jan. 15. An association representing 400 private schools has said they would remain closed after the winter break because of the threat.
Since their 2001 ouster, the hard-line Islamist movement's followers have been blamed for scores of arson attacks on schools in Afghanistan, many of them built with Western aid. An acid attack by Taliban insurgents last year maimed several girls.
The rise of Taliban groups in neighboring Pakistan has brought similar violence.