As the military offensive in South Wazirstan wages on and violence continues to strike the country’s major cities, it is apparent that Pakistan is under siege, both literally and figuratively. Given that this is as much a war of ideas as it is a tangible conflict, the issue of what has allowed militant ideology to flourish should also be tackled. Below, Bilquis, a consultant in Lahore and a regular contributor to CHUP, delves into the parallel step that must be taken in this war:
On Facebook and various blogs site, I’ve seen numerous friends cite Imran Khan’s passionate rhetoric advocating for negotiations with the Taliban/militants. According to him, because we can’t tell them apart from civilians, the government must not attack Waziristan or any other area. We need to negotiate or else there will be more mayhem. As I clicked through Dawn’s photo archives of terrorist suspects captured in the past week, I couldn’t agree with him more. How do we tell them apart? Who is with us and who is against us?
At the same time, I feel Imran Khan’s negotiation strategy is a decade too late. I’m not saying our strategy should be ‘Wham bomb thank you Ma’am’ – that was the half-hearted strategy of the past military rule. Nor am I happy to see innocent civilians become collateral in this military offensive and hear of the rising death toll. What we need during this war is not the next step, but the parallel step. We need to address what has led to all of this, and by we, I don’t mean our inept politicians and pseudo- military-personnel-turned-rulers. I believe we refers to Pakistan’s citizens, the next generation, you and I.
As many of us know, what has driven militancy is a combination of factors – poverty and a lack of education and development that has been exacerbated by an extremely narrow ideology. Our past apathy towards the two most under developed regions of Pakistan—Balochistan and Waziristan—has been the most damaging. These areas have a weak basic infrastructure— mud roads, ghost schools, dilapidated hospitals, lack of law and order, and hardly any human rights—which makes them an ideal breeding ground for extreme ideologies.
Many scholars and politicians, particularly Imran Khan, have argued that the people in these areas have lived in traditionally lawless societies for centuries. Given this ground reality, they say, we must respect their traditions and work within this context. I disagree.
As T.S Elliot aptly noted, “A tradition without intelligence is not worth having.” These traditions ignore issues that have allowed a zealous ideology to mushroom all across Pakistan, especially in rural Punjab. Take the the young girl who was flogged by the Taliban in Swat, for example. Do we want these traditions? Do we want men/women/girls being bartered to resolve disputes? Do we want our people to see a continuously distorted narrow vision of what the world is? I certainly don’t.
Therefore, as the war wages on, and our President, Prime Minister and senior opposition leaders hide within their mammoth securities barricades, it’s time to leave aside our materialistic lifestyles and work towards changing our country.
I’m not talking merely of monetary donations for social development; I’m referring to one simple thing — Education. Look around you; most of us have people working in our households. A question to ask is whether their children go to school. Do we know whether they can afford their education? And most importantly, do we know what they are being taught? Many of us will unfortunately say yes to only one of those three questions. So go and approach the man working in your house and ask how many of his children attend school. Help him finance their education. More than 75 percent of our country is illiterate and less than 2.5 percent of Pakistan’s GDP goes towards education. To stem the growth of militancy, we can start by educating our people.
Although the government has pledged to allocate seven percent of the GDP towards education by the year 2015, there is still a long way to go. The current state of the much touted National Educational Policy (NEP) will not bring about change. As Naveed Ejaz noted about the NEP 2009, “Apart from the odd cursory analysis or two, it seems as if educationalists, academics, politicians and the media are largely uninterested in the contents of the document. The silence of this group is puzzling and criminal in itself!’”
We must push the government to reform the educational system by focusing on improving public system education and madrassa reforms. Ask any real or pseudo politician and he will say that education overhaul is an expensive process. I think that they really don’t know what they are talking about. We don’t need them to reinvent the wheel, just mimic a good one. For instance, the Cuban education model is an excellent one for us to imitate. Not only is it simple, but it is also low-cost and provides incentives for all:
- The Cuban state has a monopoly on all aspects of production of educational materials – design, publishing, and distribution. As a consequence, the state is able to keep costs low, address the learning needs of the poor, and distribute all educational materials free.
- As the Cuban education model operates within a tight budget, to deal with shortages, schools work hard to maintain books and schools in good condition. According to The Cuban Education System: Lessons and Dilemmas, “Students continually rebind books and repair other learning equipment and school furniture as part of their weekly ‘labor education.’ Exercise books are often used several times: students write with a pencil and when they complete the exercises, erase the book for reuse. Thus in Cuba, teacher and student initiative and creativity appear to compensate, at least partially, for the lack of resources.”
- There is an emphasis on properly trained teachers, which accounts for most of their educational budget, rather than an experimental teacher model.
- The Cuban national curriculum is continually reformed and adapted to local realities. All school calendars vary according to local production schedules. This allows flexibility and avoids dropout rates in schools.
- In addition, the Cuban model also promotes technical and vocational learning in secondary school that allows students to learn about certain professions.
Perhaps in order to expedite this reform, Pakistan will need additional funding, but I believe it is a small price to pay in order to stem existing or future ideologies. Therefore, if we make the government take this parallel step amidst our current conflict, we will transform our incumbent education system in the years to come and subsequently create a new “liberal” ideology that enlightens and drives our country forward.
The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.