- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | Suspected Taliban militants bombed five schools in the Swat Valley in their growing campaign against girls’ education as militant attacks killed a Pakistani soldier near the crucial supply route to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Monday.

Al Qaeda 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 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.

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 were forced to stay home.

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

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,” Mr. Gilani said.

Elsewhere in northwestern Pakistan, 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.

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.

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