By Ophelia Benson

In February the Pakistani army signed a truce with the Taliban in Swat, the once popular tourist region an hour's drive from Islamabad. The Pakistani government claimed that the truce in Swat would free up the army, reduce civilian suffering, and appease popular dissatisfaction with the local judiciary, but the result has been a strengthening of the Taliban's theocratic rule.

Last December the Taliban in Swat issued an "official" ban on education for female students, which is to say they issued orders backed up by threats. They said girls must cease going to school no later than January 15, after which any schools still educating girls would be blown up. The Taliban had already destroyed more than a hundred schools in Swat.

Sher Afzal Khan, the district head of the education department, told the BBC in late January that in the last twenty months 187 schools had been destroyed by bombs; 121 of them were girls' schools. The principle of a private school in Mingora told the Pakistan Times, "This is the question of the future of our children. The Taliban decision will throw more than 40,000 girls out of schools." Other sources put the figure at more than 125,000 girls denied education.

Agence France Press spoke to one ninth grade girl by phone. Her dreams of becoming a doctor are over, despite her parents' support. "My mother told me I can do anything, but my inner soul is shattered," she said. One 42-year-old woman with two children now risks her life to teach girls at a private school in Mingora. "We are not safe even at home. We fear the Taliban all the time. Life is becoming worse and worse for women in Swat," she told AFP.

In late March the Taliban told all NGOs to leave Swat because their activities are un-Islamic. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told a UN-run news network, "NGO is another name for vulgarity and obscenity. They don't want us to remain Muslims and want to take away the veil from our women." He added that "NGOs hire women who work alongside men in the fields and in offices. That is totally un-Islamic and unacceptable."

Now, in a further turn of the screw, the Taliban is refusing to allow health officials to vaccinate more than 300,000 children against polio. Clerics have used mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations to claim that the vaccinations cause infertility and are part of a US-sponsored anti-Muslim plot. Muslim Khan told the Telegraph "It's a US tool to cut the population of the Muslims. It is against Islam that you take a medicine before the disease."

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