The Swat valley has more than 600 state-run schools and about 400 private schools but many have been closed since anti-government fighters began a campaign of attacks against the local authority.

'Challenging the government'

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's information minister, said on Sunday that all girls' schools in Swat and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) would be reopened by March.

"From March 1, all closed schools in Swat and NWFP will be reopened after the winter break," she said in the southern city of Karachi.

"The non-state actors are challenging the writ of the government in the name of Sharia, but Islam does not allow to close down women's schools."

"The ground reality is there's no safety"

Ziauddin Yousafzai,
president of teachers' association 

Followers of Maulana Fazlullah, a local leader who has reportedly has links to Pakistan's Taliban movement, have destroyed 173 schools, 105 of them for girls, since security forces launched a military operation in the region in 2007, according to Sher Afzal, an education ministry official.

Local pro-Taliban fighters see the schools as symbols of government authority and have accused the army of posting soldiers in them.

Shaukat Yousafzai, a senior government official in Swat, said teachers were refusing to work.

"I try to convince them but they're scared. They doubt the government's ability to protect them," he said.

The president of a Swat teachers' association said his members would only go back to work if the government restored peace and shut down a radio station run by anti-government groups.

"The ground reality is there's no safety," Ziauddin Yousafzai said.

"If they're destroying schools during a curfew, they can do anything. Even if the authorities announce schools are open, nobody will go and parents won't send their kids."