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Militancy trumps education on Pakistan frontier

  • 25 September 2012

The state of education in Pakistan has been grim ever since the nation's inception, and with the onset of militancy since 2001 the situation has become worse. With militants firmly holding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the already low literacy rate of 29 per cent has nosedived to 17 per cent in the region.

Pakistan has, time and again, been included in the list of developing countries, but unlike its competitors, it has an abysmally low literacy rate. Only one quarter of the adults in Pakistan are literate. The measly 2 per cent GDP spending on education reveals the level of seriousness among policy makers regarding this issue. Although Pakistan has had to face various crises over the past decade, education was never given due consideration.

The current spate of militancy and violence in the FATA and its implications on stability, especially of the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) province, has drawn the attention of the world. This wave of terror that hit KP, FATA and other parts of Pakistan after September 11 not only damaged the economy but also the education foundations.

The province, which used to be a land of hospitality, became a breeding ground for militants. Schools were blown up and students threatened not to pursue 'worldly' education — i.e. any form of education other than Islam.

The roots of the deteriorating state of education can be traced back to the 1980s when President Zia's regime supported the US war against Soviet expansion. Religious schools, madaris, were transformed into Jihadi training institutes. Rural students seeking education in madaris were indoctrinated as guerilla fighters in the name of religion and war against the infidels (communists).

The curriculum developed for madaris propagated militant Islamic Jihad and contributed to the evolution of militancy. Even today, madaris are perceived as places of affordable education by common rural dwellers, while to the outer world, they remain breeding grounds for militancy.

This suspicion to some extents holds correct as most of this religious schools are unregistered. (With registration, the curriculum is regulated by state officials, who help keep a check over the activities.)

The fear of terrorism halted all recreational activities in educational institutes from 2003 to 2011. Female students felt pressured to use veils to avoid negative consequences from the Taliban.