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Militants in Pakistan bomb five schools

Militant attacks killed a Pakistani soldier near the supply route to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Monday, while militants bombed five schools in a nearby valley in their campaign against girls' education.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Militant attacks killed a Pakistani soldier near the crucial supply route to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Monday, while suspected Taliban militants bombed five schools in a nearby valley in their growing campaign against girls' education.

Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters hold tremendous sway in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but both attacks illustrated how the threat from militants is growing beyond the frontier region.

The attack by suspected insurgents that killed one soldier and wounded 14 near the famed Khyber Pass caused yet another temporary closing of the supply route to Afghanistan, adding urgency to efforts to secure alternative supply lines as about 30,000 more U.S. troops head to Afghanistan this year.

Critical supplies
Afghan-based U.S. and NATO forces get up to 75 percent of their supplies via routes from Pakistan. The trucks that carry the fuel, food and other goods face constant threats of violence, while growing militant activity has led to attacks on terminals in the nearby city of Peshawar.

Pakistan has dispatched paramilitary escorts for supply convoys and cracked down on militants in Khyber, but attacks persist.

In the latest attack, suspected militants fired eight rockets at a Pakistani military camp in the Landikotal area early Monday, killing one soldier and wounding 14, said Fazal Mahmood, a senior government official in Khyber tribal region.

A daylong curfew was imposed while security forces hunted down militants in neighboring Khugi Khel area. Ten were eventually arrested, Mahmood said, and the curfew was lifted. The Khyber Pass was reopened in the early afternoon, Mahmood said.

U.S. and NATO officials insist the militant activity so far has had a minimal impact on their operations. Still, NATO acknowledges other routes, possibly through Central Asia, are under consideration.

Campaign against girls' education
Elsewhere in the northwest, suspected Taliban militants bombed five schools as their campaign against girls' education continued.

Militants — who have blown up or burned down more than 170 schools so far — had ordered all girls' schools in the area closed by Jan. 15.

The 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 early morning attacks in the scenic Swat valley came hours after government spokeswoman Sherry Rehman vowed to reopen all schools in the area by the end of the school holidays in March.

It wasn't immediately clear if the attacks were a direct response to those remarks, although militants appear to be targeting schools indiscriminately to prevent them from reopening, said Dilawar Khan Bangash, the police chief in the troubled valley.

Monday's attacks destroyed three schools for boys and two for girls, Bangash said.

Threats close hundreds of schools
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.

In an address to Pakistan's lower house of parliament, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said his government was working on a political solution to the crisis in Swat.

"I believe that force is not a solution to every problem. Military action is not a solution to everything," Gilani said.

Gilani said he would seek to involve political parties and lawmakers in a resolution, but gave no details or a timetable.