WE ARE now more than
six months into a federal government formed by the PTI. The party disrupted the
emergent tradition of two main federally operative parties: the PPP and the
PML(N) have now to contend with a powerful entrenched third factor.
Today, the PTI’s voice resonates as the
country’s. Apart from a reiteration of the conviction that the PPP and the
PML(N) are entirely responsible and answerable for each and every ill that
besets Pakistan; what is it saying for us and to us? And what is it doing to
treat those maladies or to dispel political and socio-cultural misgivings as
felt and voiced by the people themselves rather than presumed or ascribed to
The tables have turned. The Taliban, the militants who sheltered the 9/11 attackers and earned the wrath of America, are now meeting their arch-nemesis in Doha, Qatar. Conducting the talks is Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior diplomat of Afghan descent who is currently serving as the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation.
Since August 2018, the two parties have met five times. Last Tuesday,
Ambassador Khalilzad tweeted: “Just finished a marathon round of talks
with the Taliban in Doha. The conditions for peace have improved. It’s
clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept
things on track and made real strides.”
It had been hoped that the peace talks would reach some positive
conclusion by spring and a cease-fire announced. This has not happened.
Ambassador Khalilzad has returned to Washington for further
What is holding up the negotiations? The special representative
touched on this issue when he identified four major points on which
agreement was essential for further progress. They are:
Withdrawal of U.S. and NATO-affiliated troops
A comprehensive cease-fire
In the February-March round now adjourned, an agreement has been
reached on the draft of the first two questions only. It is obvious that
these are the less complex issues on which anyone wishing to end the
17-year war in Afghanistan would agree readily. As it is, both sides, as
well as Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, are now feeling uneasy and
anxious about the intensely unstable situation in South and Southwest
U.S. President Donald Trump is also keen on reaching a consensus, as
he has promised his people that he would bring American troops home.
Since the agreed-upon draft has not been revealed one cannot comment on
it, especially on the nature of the assurances regarding anti-terrorism.
The Taliban are expected to pledge not to allow anyone to launch a
9/11-like attack against the U.S. again. What safeguards will be offered
to ensure this is not known—neither has any time schedule for troop
withdrawal been revealed.
The last two issues are trickier still, as they will determine the
future political structure of Afghanistan. It requires no knowledge of
rocket science to understand that the Taliban are negotiating from a
position of strength and want to translate their military strategic
advantage into political control over the country. This is a test case
for the U.S.
So far, the Taliban have been adamant about having no truck with the
Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul. It is dubbed an “American puppet.”
There is no doubt that Ghani cannot survive in office without U.S.
military backing. Today the Taliban control over 30 percent of Afghan
territory. The capital is still held by Ghani thanks to America’s
military presence. As U.S.and NATO forces have gradually been pulled out
of Afghanistan, the Taliban have gained in strength. America’s attempts
to train the Afghan army and arm it with modern weapons have not
succeeded in converting it into a strong fighting force capable of
defending the country.
If the Ghani government is sidelined to allow Khalilzad to make a
deal in Doha, it would amount to Washington’s political surrender to an
enemy it has fought for 17 years. The American electorate could well ask
their current and former administrations to explain the loss of over
6,000 American lives in a prolonged and deadly war which failed to yield
any political or strategic gains.
Taliban authority is inevitable if the leadership in Kabul is kept
out of the talks. Without his government’s participation, Ghani would
have no say in the implementation of the final settlement and the
power-sharing arrangement that is worked out. Moreover, once the U.S.
forces are out of Afghanistan, it would be a walkover for the Taliban.
Taliban leaders have already been discussing their future plans.
Theirs would be an Islamic state, but they have moderated their tone
somewhat, not wishing to revive memories of the ideological state they
created from 1996 to 2001. Yet their extremist anti-female and
anti-culture stance and militancy invites skepticism given their past
record while in power.
They have also promised to cultivate cordial and friendly relations
with Islamabad. This is to be expected. After all, Pakistan has been a
friend that has provided them support and helped them break out of their
isolation. Islamabad’s role in paving the way for the Doha talks has
been acknowledged by Washington.
These developments have profound implications for Pakistan’s
geopolitical prospects, which currently appear to be bleak. Taliban
policies are bound to evoke a reaction from their rivals in the north of
Pakistan. To begin with, it is feared that as soon as the U.S. leaves
Afghanistan, in-fighting will break out, leaving Pakistan to cope with
the mess that is bound to be left behind. That has happened before, and
it will happen again. Pakistan lacks the capacity to address the ensuing
crisis. It might complicate matters further. The U.S. withdrawal will
create a vacuum if an agreement with firm international guarantees is
not drawn up.
Pakistan will be back to square one—but in a worse regional scenario
than ever before. The situation as it has emerged today has Russia and
China eying the happenings in Afghanistan closely.
Since 2014, various forums have been set up to tackle the Afghan
crisis. These have included Russia, China, the Taliban, Ashraf Ghani’s
rivals, India, Pakistan, Iran and even the U.S. itself in various
combinations. It was Trump’s categorical announcement about pulling out
of Afghanistan that triggered the Doha framework that was firmed up by
bringing Khalilzad into the negotiating process.
Even before the fifth round of negotiations ended on March 12, the
world faced another crisis of grave dimension. India and Pakistan came
to the brink of war on Kashmir. Considering that those two states are
now nuclear powers, a full-fledged war between them would have led to
nuclear havoc in South Asia.
Sherry Rahman, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S., reminded
readers in an article published in Dawn that in the four wars India and
Pakistan have fought since 1947, they have suffered a combined death
toll of 22,600.
She cited a study by the International Physicians for Prevention of
Nuclear War that says in a nuclear confrontation in South Asia, 21
million people could die, and it could cause global famine resulting in
the death of two billion people worldwide.
Rahman’s article was a powerful reminder that Kashmir had re-emerged as a dangerous flashpoint which should not be ignored.
At this stage, Kashmir will cast its long shadow on the talks in
Doha. Though neither of the two nuclear powers are interlocutors in the
Afghan negotiations, Kashmir will remain in the backdrop. Afghanistan,
India and Pakistan have had a complex triangular relationship since
1947, when the British departed from the subcontinent.
Now we know more about the happenings in the region last month. The
newspaper Dawn has revealed after due investigations that it was the
Trump administration that played a key role in preventing the sparring
between the two neighbors from spiraling out of control into a conflict
of serious magnitude.
The goings-on behind the scenes will certainly have an impact on the
Doha talks when Khalilzad returns to Qatar at the end of March
THE road that takes you to the Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Karachi, is
a steep one. It has been an equally uphill drive for Shehzad Roy’s
Zindagi Trust to transform the institution it adopted in 2015.
The school was in a shambles a few years ago like all peela schools I
have visited. They have huge buildings and expansive playgrounds
testifying to the vision of their founders from the early years of
Pakistan. But lacking maintenance and good governance, they have fallen
THERE is bad news and there is good news for our environmentalists,
agriculturalists, healthcare givers and all those who care for the
welfare of Pakistan. First, the bad news.
In January, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Cargill, the
global food and agricultural producer with an annual revenue of $114.6
billion (2018), will be investing $200 million in Pakistan in the next
two to five years. This announcement came after two top-ranking
executives of Cargill met Prime Minister Imran Khan. It seemed
innocuous, at least to people who know little about biotechnology
One of them, Monsanto (now merged with Bayer), fathered the
genetically modified organism (GMO) in 1983 which did terrible damage to
numerous crops and farmers all over the world. As a result, we saw a
spate of high-profile lawsuits in which the company admitted to having
bribed officials abroad. At least 35 countries have now banned GMOs.
shall begin this paper by listing five myths which have dominated our
collective thinking on language in education in Pakistan. This thinking also shapes
the narrative on education in many other countries that were decolonised less than a century ago.
has no bearing on a child’s education, Irrespective of which language is used
in the classroom, it is the quality of teaching that determines the quality of
A DISCUSSION on libraries always leads to the chicken-and-egg debate. We have few libraries because there are no readers. Or people do not read books as there are no libraries. In Karachi, both are in inadequate numbers.
Belonging to a literary family, the newly appointed commissioner of
Karachi, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, has rightly decided not to get trapped
in this debate. He has proceeded to address the issue of the state of
libraries by setting up a Council of Karachi Libraries comprising 12
members. These councillors have been tasked with the “restoration,
revival and revamping” of the public libraries of the city and upgrading
them. For this, the members will visit every library and prepare a
report on its working. Hopefully, they will also make suggestions on how
libraries can promote the book culture in our society.
ALTHOUGH many factors affect the quality of education in Pakistan, textbooks are a major culprit. It is rightly said that children learn what they experience in the classroom. The two agents of learning at this stage are the teachers and the textbooks.
In my last post I had drawn a gloomy picture of the teachers whose impact on the young child’s mind is profound. What about the textbooks?
They can be described in a single word — appalling. More can be said about them. They are gender biased. They are anti-peace. They promote prejudice, anger and hatred. Above all they do not promote tolerance and love or teach children to think critically as good books do. Numerous analysts, agencies such as Unesco and educationists have pointed this out.
Two years ago, a National Party Senator created a furore in the Upper House when he read out a passage from a textbook being taught in the colleges in Punjab and Sindh. In this the Baloch were defined as an “uncivilised people who remain busy fighting and killing”. He told the house that in another book, it has been written that the “Baloch were those people who lived in the desert and looted caravans.”
Wouldn’t children reading this start hating the Baloch? What an unwise and irresponsible thing to write when the Baloch are already under siege in Pakistan.
Then there is the gender bias that permeates our text books. Unesco, in a study that included 194 textbooks from four provinces of Pakistan for six subjects found that “the national curriculum reflected a significant gender bias towards males in at least three of these subjects.”
The report added, “In the analysis, only 7.7% of the personalities in the textbooks were found to be female, with most of them relating to Muslim history, and the rest were male. In the textbooks on the history of the subcontinent, only 0.9% of the historical icons mentioned were females.”A sentence very often quoted as an example of misogynist writing is: “A hundred sons are not a burden but one daughter bows our heads.”
All this no doubt reinforces the patriarchal tendencies in boys and accentuates gender disparity in society.
Our religious identity is another aspect of our national life that finds strong mention in our textbooks. The approach adopted is summed up by Tahira Abdullah in a review of KP textbooks as one that glorifies war, ‘otherises’ non-Muslims, takes a uni-dimensional view of reality, distorts history and stereotypes women.
This is not a positive style of writing on any sensitive issue, least of all for students who imbibe quickly what they read. These examples make clear why we should not surprised that militancy has taken root in Pakistani society. This has been promoted by a nexus between the “militant, extremist, jihadist and pro-ideology” elements who have come to dominate the education sector in all provinces.
As a result, efforts to revise and reform the curricula under American pressure in the post 9/11 years have yielded no result. Violence has also been used to drive away progressive forces from the reform process. Take the case of Bernadette Dean, a liberal educationist working on the revision of textbooks in Sindh, who was forced to flee the country when banners and posters came up overnight in Karachi declaring her to be “wajibul qatl” (worthy of the death penalty). She fled the country when the IG Police told her that he couldn’t guarantee her safety. A few weeks earlier another non-Muslim woman educationist had been attacked by militants.
Article 25-A speaks of compulsory education for all children 6-16 years of age. The need of the hour is not just to make education accessible to all children in Pakistan but also to ensure that the textbooks teach them what they need to learn.
The elections are the right occasion to ensure that textbooks receive the attention they deserve.
Last week’s elections in Pakistan yielded predictable outcomes, which could take the country in an unanticipated direction. Preliminary results announced Friday by the Election Commission of Pakistan give the victory to Tehreek-e-Insaf (also known as the PTI, or Justice Party) of the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. Although his party missed a clear majority in the National Assembly, it should be able to easily woo a few independents to its side to form a stable government.
If there is an unpredictable factor, it is the reaction of the major mainstream parties after their emergence as the losers, especially the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He and his daughter are now in prison after being found guilty of graft in a property case. A multiparty conference of the main losers (in which the Pakistan Peoples Party did not participate) has rejected the results of Wednesday’s voting and demanded new, transparent elections. Will they pay the PTI in its own coin by staging sit-ins to disrupt life in the country, as Imran Khan did in the years following the 2013 elections?
Even prior to last week’s elections, it was widely alleged that the “Miltablishment”—-the country’s military leadership—was creating conditions that improved the prospects of the PTI. Khan is viewed as the darling of the generals. The military establishment’s move to selectively push graft cases against his rivals on the pretext of accountability while turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of Khan’s cronies was seen as a one-sided attack on the corruption pervasive in Pakistan’s politics.
In the weeks preceding the elections, there were protests from the media as well as from some members of the judiciary against interference from “hidden hands.” What seems to give credence to these charges now is the preliminary statement issued Friday by the EU Election Observation Mission. While praising the Election Commission’s role in the conduct of the polling, the statement categorically said that the “electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.” It spoke of the playing field not being level and of “lack of equality of opportunity” for all contestants.
The U.S. State Department shared the EU observers’ concerns and questioned the fairness of the voting. Pointing out flaws in the elections, the State Department spoke of constraints placed on freedom of expression and on association during the campaign period.
Meanwhile, the PTI’s Khan has promised the people a naya (new) Pakistan. His victory speech, delivered even before the results were officially confirmed, was widely hailed as a statesmanlike and conciliatory piece of oratory.
The 65-year-old prime-minister-to-be said all the right things in a calculatedly correct tone. This was refreshing after the vitriolic outbursts from all sides during the election campaign. Attributing Pakistan’s problems to corruption and the collapse of governance, Khan promised to rebuild all national institutions and root out graft. He assured the nation that he would create a welfare state to lift up the poor and the underprivileged. He promised to try corrupt officials and apply accountability across the board.
This was music to the ears of the people of this country of 208 million, ruled for decades by status-quo forces that have failed to pull most of them out of poverty. But such promises have been made before. The only difference is that the PTI is at the helm for the first time.
What is significant is the refrain one hears from political observers and analysts: We must wait and see whether the promised reform will actually happen. Skeptics are abundant, but the young, savvy and educated who hold privileged positions are euphoric and say the new leadership should be given a chance.
Many people are tired of the turbulence and violence that often occur when political parties stage protests and rallies. Near the end of the campaign for this month’s elections, three suicide bombings killed three candidates and 180 people. Then came another bomb attack on election day, killing 31 people in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.
What should interest foreign powers is the line the prime minister-elect will take on foreign policy. In his victory speech, Khan spoke about that policy ambiguously. He didn’t mention his views on defense and security, which could have stirred controversy. He was vocal about bringing peace to the region—without saying how he will treat militant elements, some of which he has expressed admiration for in the past.
Khan mentioned his goals regarding six other countries, but he adopted such an unspecific, broad stance that he succeeded in not stepping on any toes, including those of Pakistan’s defense establishment, which is firmly in control of foreign policy. He said he would seek to:
• Strengthen relations with China
• Bring peace in Afghanistan (to help bring peace in Pakistan) and have open borders between the two countries
• Develop mutually beneficial relations with the United States
• Build stronger ties with Iran
• Help Saudi Arabia resolve its internal tensions
• Improve relations with India, if its leadership agrees; end the blame game between Pakistan and India; stop human rights violations in Kashmir.
The speech was a safe statement of intent; it called for no specific commitments that might be controversial. But a closer look at some of Khan’s previous statements shows him to be anti-U.S., to have reservations about China’s economic practices, to be more pro-Saudi Arabia than many Pakistanis would prefer, to be a hard-liner on India, and to have a soft spot for militants—be they in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Kashmir. Weave into this narrative the military’s own concealed agenda and you will be left guessing as to what the future might hold.
Pakistan, especially its army, has had close ties with China since the 1950s. Islamabad and Beijing have provided each other with unequivocal support—military, diplomatic, economic and political. Sino-Pakistan friendship, said to be as high as the Himalayas and as deep as the Indian Ocean, has benefited both nations in their conflicts with India. Pakistan has used its relationship with China to neutralize the U.S. when the need arose. Today, a time when Pakistan is in deep economic crisis, China’s One Belt and One Road initiative, with its promise of $900 billion infrastructure aid for 65 nations, is a boon for Pakistan, which has yet to become self-reliant.
Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have seen ups and downs since the war in Afghanistan began, but they have never before reached the current low, demonstrated by President Trump’s 2017 announcement of his “fight to win” policy in Afghanistan, a declaration in which he accused Pakistan of providing havens for terrorists. Then, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump said the U.S. “had given it [Pakistan] more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”
Trump also strengthened the hawks in the Pakistan army when he invited Pakistan’s historical enemy India to “help us more with Afghanistan.”
Islamabad’s relations with India have worsened since 2008 when terrorists suspected of coming from Pakistan attacked Mumbai. The previously intermittent dialogue between the two countries remains suspended.
Many believe that in the coming months the new government will make compromises to get everyone on the same page. Khan’s ex-wife, Reham Khan, a television presenter, said in an interview that Khan was known for his “U-turns.” Others—with less of a personal history—agree. Najam Sethi, the editor of The Friday Times, a political weekly published from Lahore, wrote, “Imran Khan … is a different kettle of fish. He may have embraced the Miltablishment as a tactical move but sooner rather than later he will begin to challenge the conventional wisdom of the national security state handed down to him. That’s when all bets will be off.”
The only conclusively reassuring feature of these elections is the failure of the numerous candidates from terrorist groups. Not one of them won. That was the people’s verdict.
When I was working on my book The Tyranny of Language in Education I would visit Orangi quite frequently to study the methods of pedagogy in the schools there with reference to the language of instruction. Those were the days when there was much talk about ghost schools.
One day I requested Abdul Waheed Khan, the founder of Naunehal Academy in Baldia, and a very fine man who was shot dead in 2013, if he could show me a ghost school. He agreed willingly.
The very next day he took me to a Peela School, as government schools are referred to. Their buildings are painted yellow. It appeared to be huge with a big compound as most public sector schools in Karachi are. The gate was bolted from the inside. Waheed knocked and banged on the gate till someone came and let us in. To my surprise the place was deserted. There was not a single child to be seen on the premises though it was mid-morning when we landed there.
On enquiring, we were informed by the person who had received us that the children were not there but the headmaster who was taking a shower would soon receive us. We strolled around as we waited and it became clear to us that there was no evidence of the school being functional.
When the headmaster made his appearance with a towel round his waist, he informed us that the children had gone home. I was intrigued by the absence of furniture in the school. The upper storey was occupied by the headmaster’s family as we could make out from the curtains fluttering from the window. I didn’t think it appropriate to inspect his home though I was certain that some of the missing furniture would be found there.
The headmaster had the temerity to ask me for a donation! It seemed to be a cruel joke. How could anyone cheat little children of their right to education, I thought? Later, I saw in the Sindh school census report (for the year 2010) that Sindh had 9,000 such institutions. Other provinces also had their share of ‘dysfunctional’ schools, to use the term the government preferred.
In Sindh the phenomenon of teacher absenteeism was also dubbed the visa system. It meant that the absent teacher had succeeded in getting a job abroad and had left the country subletting his position to a junior not qualified for the job.
In another case the headmaster had been sent on deputation to mind the kitchen of the local wadero (landlord). One feature common in all such cases was the connivance of the education department. Without its cooperation, no teacher can take the liberty the teaching staff is known to take.
For long the erroneous belief was that teachers have been degraded — they are poorly paid, they don’t enjoy any respect in society and are not properly trained. But these are myths. Hefty pay increases — most who have long years of service earn six digit monthly salaries — quick promotions and their jobs being conditional on teachers’ training should have given them the status in society they have always yearned. That has not happened.
The fact is that most teachers in Pakistan lack motivation. Corruption is rife and inefficiency is the norm. The good teachers are in a minority and are overshadowed by the incompetent majority lacking integrity.
One may well ask how they get away with it. The fact at the heart of this greatest farce of education is the government’s concern for the teachers’ interests. The rulers care for the teachers not because they care for the education of the children. Rulers only care for themselves and in this age of democracy when teachers do election duties they are the favourites of the rulers. They count votes. They guide the voters. They can make or break governments.
Demands have been made in the past that teachers should not be engaged in election duties. But no party has made the move to end the practice. Stakes are high. Even rules barring the transfer of ‘reliable’ teachers during election times to sensitive areas where they can be trusted to safeguard their master’s political interest have been violated with impunity.
Training is another problem. Facilities are not adequate in quantity and quality. Training facilities are needed not just for teachers of the future. The existing lot also need in-service training. If teachers are not improved the students’ output can never be improved. With so little support from their homes — nearly 80 per cent of the parents of low-income students are illiterate — the workload of teachers is indeed heavy. So is their responsibility.
OVER the years we have appointed a gatekeeper in our education system who is pretty stern and manages to frustrate the dreams of many underprivileged students.
This gatekeeper is the English language. Every examination board in the country has made English compulsory and no one can obtain his Matriculation certificate without clearing this paper. Maleeha Sattar, who teaches at a private university in Islamabad, did research on the language issue for her MPhil thesis. Her finding was that a third of the students who appeared from the Rawalpindi Board of Intermediate and Secondary Examination in the previous five years had failed in compulsory English and had to discontinue their studies. The tragedy is that Pakistan doesn’t even have teachers who are proficient in English and can teach it correctly to the students. Continue reading Language: Conudum in Education→