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Educating the Frontier


Nasser Yousaf

Students at a girls school in Chiniot.— Photo from APP/File

THE recent spate of suicide attacks that has claimed scores of precious lives once again forced the closure of educational institutions in the NWFP. Earlier, the operation in Swat had necessitated the recent closure of educational institutions.


The terrorists seem to have won the day again, albeit temporarily, as one pictures them laughing all the way back to their dens, blanketed irredeemably in ignorance.


This, perhaps, is the ugliest facet of the terrorists’ war on the people and land of the Frontier, as revealed by their consistent hostility to centres of learning.


Such perverse behaviour on the part of those claiming to be waging a holy war unflatteringly brings to mind former US president George W. Bush’s words. ‘They are jealous of our freedom,’ was the common refrain of the former president in his speeches. There could be no other motive than the basest degree of jealousy that provokes the terrorists to blow up educational institutions and convert young boys and girls into creatures craving for human blood.


The much lampooned Mr Bush hence stands vindicated when seen in the backdrop of the terrorists’ manifest hatred for education. If the NWFP’s malfunctioning education system — vulnerable no less to natural disasters — could incite such frenzied jealousy, one could well imagine the extent of fury directed at the West.


It is no secret that terrorists draw inspiration from their mentors, who act as agent provocateurs by fomenting anger and then wish to be seen as mediators. One such mentor-in-chief turned mediator is presently in Central Jail Peshawar. With his face turned away from the camera, ‘Maulana’ Sufi Mohammad, of the many infamous uprisings of Malakand, revealed his utmost contempt for education to a television interviewer just before the onset of the operation in Malakand.


‘I detest the idea of education for girls,’ the old curmudgeon was heard saying. ‘And what if women fall sick; is it allowed to take them to a male doctor?’ a visibly perturbed interviewer asked him. ‘Such a situation could be likened to eating pork when Muslims dying of hunger are permitted to eat the meat of the forbidden animal,’ Sufi declared while unabashedly rationalising his opposition to girls’ education.


God forbid if Sufi is remembered as the leader of the Pakhtuns in the annals of history; history must do justice by presenting him as the man responsible for leading thousands to their death in the aftermath of the US attack on Afghanistan in 2001.


Any self-respecting people will take up the senile mullah’s outpourings as a challenge to their collective sense of shame. The fact that Pakhtuns did not do so does not suggest that they have taken leave of their sense of propriety; it does, however, prove that the rate of literacy in the Frontier is mournfully low to understand and register an effective response to the mullah’s taunts.


One must appreciate the way Punjab ridiculed the suggestions of possible Taliban training camps on its soil. Unfortunately, the Frontier is not educated enough to react in the same fashion: the few who are and have access to the media would rather own the Taliban by calling them Pakhtuns who do not surrender.


But the facts speak for themselves. With a population of 17.7 million, the 1998 census reported a mere 28 per cent literacy rate in the Frontier. The literacy rate among females was an abysmal 13 per cent, dropping down further to 10 per cent in the rural areas. The survey indicated that nearly 75 per cent of the people spoke Pushto. Eleven years after the data was published, the state of education in the province substantiates that those vital statistics were made little use of.


True, the prevalent grievous situation could not be wholly attributed to the neglect of education. In fact it looks quite a paradox pleading a case for more and quality education to rid the Frontier of the curse of militancy. The hardcore militant’s fast emerging hi-tech face presents him as a force tutored in war games and equipped with diabolical gadgets. The militants appear to have the services of computer geeks, doctors and communication gurus at their disposal. The tactics employed and the level of resistance thus far witnessed reveals the strength of the ideologically-motivated combatants.


The sad saga of the last 10 years or so reveals that Pakhtuns have allowed themselves to be used as cannon fodder. They now need to be tutored to stop responding to the call to arms and listen to the voice of reason. And reason must be explained in the language of science.


The apologetic criteria used to determine the rate of literacy must now be discarded to see the real picture, which is even more gruesome. Those who can only read and write their names can, in reality, read and write nothing. The present provincial government, with its avowed secular credentials, must take the bull by the horns, removing distortions from the history books to lessen the burden both on the shoulders and on minds.


Pakhtuns need space to accommodate science. And the place that needs science more than any other is the seminary. With cellphones buzzing on silent mode in their pockets, students in the seminaries have already voted in favour of science. They must learn now how to earn their livelihood and raise and support their families by producing the gadgets that they are fascinated by.

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

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