Little done to reform education in Pakistan, says US report
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Despite claims to the contrary, little has been done to reform either the madrassas or “failed public schools,” according to a long report in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday.
Two of the newspaper’s reporters who dateline their story Islamabad write, “Terrorists can be defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but if nothing is done to end the intolerance and the teaching of hard-line Islam in classrooms, militants will have a never-ending supply of new recruits. Nowhere is this more evident than in Pakistan, whose schools were described as ‘incubators for violent extremism’ by the Sept. 11 commission.”
Like most all foreign reporters doing a stint in Pakistan, these two, one of them a Muslim American woman, the other a non-Muslim woman, found their way to the Darul Uloom Haqqania, where, according to them, “Maulana Samiul Haq still preaches the same anti-American rhetoric and praises al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.” The Maulana, who never fails to deliver what he believes he is expected to say, when foreigners come visiting, told the two from Chicago when the inevitable name of Osama bin Laden came up, “He is a brave and courageous man.” As for government reform of the madrassa, he declared, “We will remain here no matter what.”
The two reporters found that at public schools in Karachi, children as young as 5th graders still learn about the “glories of jihad and martyrdom in textbooks the government approves.” One 9th-grade student told them that he dreamed of going to fight in a jihad when he grows up, if he could get his mother’s blessing. However, the report does concede that Pakistani leaders - though “under enormous American pressure” - have not sat idly since 9/11 but arrested more than 600 suspected al Qaeda members and flushed out terrorists and their local allies from cities and tribal areas. Earlier this year, they add, Gen. Musharraf called on Muslims around the world to replace extremism with an ideology of “enlightened moderation.”
Describing religious affairs minister Ijaz-ul-Haq as the “son of a legendary Pakistani President,” and a man with “considerable political skills and credibility”, the team found him to be reluctant to push hard for change. Another “port of call” for all foreign reporters in Pakistan is the International Crisis Group, said to be “specialising in conflict resolution.” The Chicago Tribune reporters were told be Samina Ahmmed, the group’s director, that the Musharraf government should be blamed for not confronting the religious lobby. Critics say Musharraf has failed to tackle extremism in public schools and has not lived up to his promises to revamp madrassas. “None of it has come true, nothing,” Ms Ahmed added.
The report describes madrassas as “secretive religious schools controlled by politically powerful clerics who advocate conservative Islam coupled with religious intolerance. They prosper on the financial donations of wealthy Muslims around the world. Madrassas are thriving, partly because they offer free room and board and partly because parents are frustrated by the public schools’ problems. In 1971, Pakistan had about 900 madrassas. Today, an estimated 20,000 madrassas educate as many as 1.5 million students a year.” The two reporters also found that “one of the few things public schools and madrassas have in common is the teaching of jihad” which in Pakistan, particularly in the madrassas, “has essentially come to mean war.”
The two reporters found students at Darul Uloom Haqqania or the “University of Jihad”, the alma mater of Mullah Mohammed Omar, “locked in a courtyard for most of the day, rocking back and forth, memorising the Koran and staring at a white wall.” The report said the students “are not allowed to talk to or look at each other.” The teachers said the boys do not understand the Arabic language they memorise and that “centuries-old textbooks are still in use, and the school’s leader, Samiul Haq, speaks with pride of Mullah Omar and his followers.” He believes the Taliban restored law and order, respected human rights, respected women’s rights and completely eliminated heroin and drug use.
The two women reporters were asked to “wear black robes and veils that covered everything but their eyes” during their visit which they obviously found good copy, but copy that has been written in exactly the same way by scores of earlier Western reporters. They were told by students – who had told the same story before to visitors like them – that they went to Afghanistan to fight US troops. While the Maulana denied it, his friend and a former student Shah Abdul Aziz Mujahid disclosed that about 1,000 Haqqania students “took off for Afghanistan.” Muhammad Hanif Jalandhry, the secretary general of a group that claims to represent 8,000 madrassas, told the reporters that his coalition had developed a syllabus and published its own textbooks in mathematics, English and Pakistan studies 15 years ago. However, the books were found to be full of jihadi teachings and “violent lessons” targeting Hindus. However, the two American reporters were more impressed with the Institute of Islamic Sciences outside Islamabad which they wrote “could be a model for the kind of madrassa reform the government envisions,” jihad being just one among the 70 subjects taught there. But some of its students, they found, still want to go and fight to defend Islam. They also believe that “America is out to destroy Islam, to crush any Muslim nation.”
The reporters found the public education system to be “a mess,” as State-funded schools are undercut by corruption and politics. Some schools are shams, existing only on paper but still eating into the limited education budget. “As a result, students have suffered. The literacy rate for adults is 41.5 percent. The state maintains iron-fisted control over every aspect of the public school system from curricula to key jobs. Critics say the lessons promote the goals of a government highly influenced by the military: Recent public school curricula instructed educators to teach that fighting India is a religious duty and that the Kashmir dispute is legitimate.”
Dr AH Nayyar told the two reporters, “If you look at Pakistan’s educational system, it encourages you to fight in jihad. It glorifies the military. It imbibes the student with the philosophy of martyrdom and jihad.” They came to the conclusion that reform of the public school sector doesn’t seem likely. “The new head of the Education Ministry is a former leader of the Inter-Services Intelligence, the feared intelligence agency in Pakistan that maintains strong ties to militant clerics. He has no experience in education.” Nayyar told the newspaper that earlier this year, the government removed some jihadi language from textbooks. But the clerics objected, and the government issued new textbooks. This time, an entire chapter in at least one textbook was devoted to jihad and “read like a lesson on jihad from the literature of banned militant groups.”
According to the report, “Today, most madrassas remain unregistered, and no national syllabus has been imposed. Pakistan claims it shut down some madrassas, although no official could identify which ones. The government has opened three model schools with about 300 students each. But some madrassas linked to banned militant groups still have been allowed to operate. Ijaz-ul-Haq’s goal is to get the clerics to accept a plan far more modest than Musharraf’s original proposals - new curriculum that includes some secular subjects. It may not be the kind of reform the Americans want, but that’s about all Pakistan can accomplish in the current political climate. ‘Everyone’s resisting,’ Ijaz says. ‘Nobody’s on board yet.’ ”