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Pakistan's new superhero: Burka Avenger

Meet Burka Avenger: a mild-mannered teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a flowing black burka to hide her identity as she fights local thugs seeking to shut down the girls' school where she works.

Sadly, it's a battle Pakistanis are all too familiar with in the real world. The Taliban have blown up hundreds of schools and attacked activists in Pakistan's northwest because they oppose girls' education.

The militants sparked worldwide condemnation last fall when they shot 15-year-old schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai in the head in an unsuccessful attempt to kill her. Action in the "Burka Avenger" cartoon series, which is scheduled to start running on Geo TV in early August, is much more lighthearted.

The bungling bad guys evoke more laughter than fear and are no match for the Burka Avenger, undoubtedly the first South Asian ninja who wields books and pens as weapons.

The Urdu language show is the brainchild of one of Pakistan's biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon Rashid, known to many as simply Haroon, who conceived of it as a way to emphasise the importance of girls' education and teach children other lessons, such as protecting the environment and not discriminating against others.

This last point is critical in a country where Islamist militants wage repeated attacks on religious minorities. "Each one of our episodes is centered around a moral, which sends out strong social messages to kids," Rashid told The Associated Press in his first interview about the show. "But it is cloaked in pure entertainment, laughter, action and adventure.

" The decision to clothe the superhero in a black burka, also often spelled burqa, a full-length robe commonly worn by conservative Islamic women in Pakistan and Afghanistan, could raise eyebrows because some people view the outfit as a sign of oppression.

The Taliban forced women to wear burkas when they took control of Afghanistan in the 1990s. The version worn by the Burka Avenger shows only her eyes and fingers, though it has a sleeker, more ninja-like look than the bulky robes of an actual burka.

Rashid, who is certainly no radical Islamist, said he used a burka to give a local feel to the show, which is billed as the first animated series ever produced in Pakistan. "It's not a sign of oppression.

She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes," said Rashid. "Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn't have worked in Pakistan." 

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