Pakistan: Education Leading Into Darkness – Analysis


By Ambreen Agha

…the education sector in Pakistan is immense, broken and resistant to change. — USAID-Pakistan, March 2008

Behind this elaborate smokescreen, however, not only have the madrassahs continued with their subversion of innocent minds, but a deeper and more sinister reality has been, till now, rather successfully concealed: the psalms of hatred are not only taught in some supposedly ‘renegade madrassahs’, but are an integral component of Pakistan’s state administered public educational system. — “Why do they hate us?”, April 5, 2004

The deteriorating quality of education in Pakistan is a result of four principal factors: the increase of hate content in school textbooks; the rise of religious schools (madrassas); the increasing militancy targeting Government primary schools in the north western region: and, the perpetual political impasse leading to irregularity in the allocation of resources to education.

The offensive content in educational material in both religious and non-religious schools in Pakistan has been forcing young minds into the fanatical cast of ‘communal unity’ and ‘loyalty’ towards Islam and an Islamist Pakistan. Little of this is new, but years of empty rhetoric have not even begun the processes of any noticeable transformation.

The findings of a report, under the aegis of the training and advocacy organisation, Peace, Education and Development (PEAD), released on April 19, 2012, revealed that the contents of textbooks taught at schools and colleges in the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) overemphasised aspects that could undermine social peace and incite violence in society. The report observed that the content of textbooks, particularly in the context of the Afghan jihad, were not consistent with existing socio-political realities, and contained controversial, discriminatory and gender-insensitive material.

Commenting on the patterns of hate doctrine and their consequences, Doctor Mehdi Hasan, Dean of the School of Media and Communications at the Beacon House National University, observed that Muslims posed a greater danger to their fellow Muslims than to non-Muslims in Pakistan. According to him the seminaries, where less than four per cent of Pakistani children studied, did not pose a greater threat than schools, where hate material was being taught to students as young as Standard I pupils.

A content analysis report published by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) on August 30, 2012, noted that hate content in textbooks used in the country’s Punjab Province has increased from “45 lines in 2009 to 122 in 2012” The study examined 22 textbooks for the academic year 2012-13 in the Punjab and Sindh from classes 1 to 10. The report, titled Education or Promotion of Hatred, was distributed at a conference, Biases in Textbooks and Education Policy, organised by the NCJP.

Distortion of, and overemphasis on some of the tenets have created a jihadi terrain within the structure of the schools. This is compounded by anti-America, anti-India and anti-minority ideologies that are a common narrative in textbooks prescribed and in use in schools in Pakistan. On May 6, 2012, the Jinnah Institute claimed that school textbooks in Pakistan had toned down the element of jihad, but conceded that they were still permeated with an undisguised anti-India and anti-minority sentiment. The effort of ‘toning down’ jihad content, under tremendous international pressure, however, doesn’t mean that this has been completely excluded from textbooks. “Passing references” to jihad in numerous text books create opportunities for course instructors, some of whom are affiliated to radical Islamist organisations, or are sympathetic to the ideology of the so-called ‘Nazariya-e-Pakistan’ (Pakistani viewpoint), to propagate extremist dogma. The Jinnah Institute report downplays the seriousness of the threat posed by the mere ‘passing references’, asserting that the connotation of violence that was associated with the term jihad had been ‘toned down’.

There has been no such cosmetic ‘toning down’ in the curriculum of the numerous madrassas (seminaries) across the country. There are a reported 18,000 to 24,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan, in addition to unnumbered unregistered seminaries. The continuous burgeoning of madrassas in lands fertile for the propagation of a militant jihadist ideology are a matter of grave concern. Increasing poverty, a crippled government schooling system and the desperation of parents pushes them hard to enrol their children in madrassas that claim to cater to their needs. The presence of foreigners aggravates such concerns. On January 30, 2012, for instance, a Federal intelligence agency urged the Punjab Government and Police to bring the Madrassa Madina Jadeed at Muhammadabad on Raiwind Road on the outskirts of Lahore District, under surveillance, as most of the students were from outside Punjab and many from outside Pakistan. The madrassa had 33 foreign students, including 30 Afghans and three Burmese; 511 from outside Punjab, including, 297 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 122 from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), 56 from Balochistan, 16 from Sindh, 11 from ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, six from Gilgit Baltistan, and three from Islamabad; and 247 from Punjab itself. Even though the visas issued to the foreign students at many seminaries have expired, they continue to live in Pakistan. According to a report titled, ‘Foreign Students Studying in Madaris of Punjab on Invalid Visa’ only 31 out of a total of 329 foreign students surveyed, had a valid visa. The current security situation in Pakistan does not permit this kind of administrative laxity. Ignoring the security threat posed by the illegal stay of madrassa students, however, the outlawed Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jama’at’s (ASWJ) ‘central secretary’, General Khadim Hussain Dhillon, asserted that visa status should not matter when it comes to religious education. Expired visas are no justification for deporting foreign students, he insisted.

It is significant that, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been at least 43,868 fatalities relating to Islamist terrorist violence over the past decade (2003 to September 30, 2012). Of these, at least 2,626 have been the result of targeted sectarian violence. Every institution in Pakistan, today, is under Islamist terrorist attack or intimidation, even as the extremists propagate their agenda and their doctrines of hate openly, often forcibly.

In the chilling case of December 12, 2011, the Gadap Town Police in Karachi, the Provincial capital of Sindh, rescued 53 children chained in an underground dungeon at a seminary, the Jamia Masjid Zakaria Kandhelwi Madrassa Arabia, situated in the Afghan Basti in the Sohrab Goth area. These children had been chained in a basement for 30 days. Unearthing tales of torture, the Police revealed that the children were being forcibly indoctrinated by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) instructors, preparing them to join the outfit’s ‘jihad’ on the Afghan front. One of the rescued students stated, “We are being made mujahedeen (holy warriors) here. We are being made Taliban here. They say you should get training… we will send you to fight.”

Subsequently, on December 19, 2011, the Federal Government decided to demolish the madrassas that were not registered with Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia Pakistan and Tanzeemul Madaris Pakistan. Unfortunately, the programme remained on paper, with no serious effort of implementation. Fearing a 2007 Lal Masjid type backlash, the Government has failed to crack down on any of the unregistered madrassas till date. The madrassas continue to nurture extremist passions, producing a blinkered generation galloping towards a political and sectarian violence unprecedented in the history of the subcontinent.

The madrassas and the ideological bias of school curricula are, however, only part of the problem. The jihadists have pursued a broad agenda against all school education, particularly for girls, and the result has been the regular bombing of schools, particularly in the North-West region of KP and FATA. According to partial data compiled by the SATP, at least 52 schools were destroyed in 33 incidents in KP in 2009; 28 were destroyed in 22 such incidents in 2010; 59 schools were blown up in 69 incidents in 2011; and 45 schools were attacked in 47 incidents in 2012. Similarly, in FATA, a total of 28 schools were destroyed in 25 incidents in 2009; 44 in 44 such incidents in 2010, 57 schools in 76 incidents in 2011; and 26 in 30 incidents in 2012 (data till September 30, 2012).

The TTP, in its systematic war against education, wants all girls to be barred from “western style” education. TTP violence and threats have led thousands of girls to quit schools. In their quest to impose Taliban-style Sharia’h, the TTP aim to reconfigure the private and the public spheres, where women would live confined within the four walls of the house without access to education. Shah Dauran, second in command of TTP’s Swat Chapter, in his daily radio broadcast in 2009, declared, “Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Report of March 2012, in its annual assessment, observed that the dropout rate from primary to secondary schools in 2011 stood at an appalling 50 per cent for the country. The then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, speaking on the “Education Emergency in Pakistan” on March 8, 2011, committed the Government’s full support to the “year of education” declaration, but little by way of follow-up is visible, and fear of an “impending disaster” linger on. Hobbled by extremist interventions, the system suffers further as a result of enormous political interferences. On July 17, 2012, a conference jointly organised by the Pakistan Education Taskforce (PET), Provincial Education Department, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) noted that the appointment of teachers and transfers and postings to key positions in the Education Department on recommendations of legislators and ministers was badly affecting the sector, and immediate reforms were needed to improve its performance. Speakers at the Conference stated that even an Executive District Education Officer, for instance, could not be appointed without the consent of a local politician in any area of Balochistan, adding that over 5,000 primary schools had only one teacher and lacked boundary walls and other facilities. The PET Chairperson Shahnaz Wazir Ali noted further that the politicisation of the Education Department made the situation worse. Pakistan’s education sector has travelled an uneasy road, beginning with the fundamental objective of ‘universalisation of primary education’, but declining, progressively, to a state of benighted ignorance and the virtual ‘death of education’.

No regime or institution in Pakistan, whether military or civilian, has demonstrated any will to confront religious extremism within the country. Dysfunctional civil-military relations, an ersatz model of democracy, the destruction and distortion of history through educational curricula at all levels, the influence of Islamist extremist sympathisers within political, bureaucratic and military structures, and increasing support to the jihadist agenda, have progressively brought Pakistan to a point of an extreme crisis of survival. Pakistan is, today, caught between a rock and a hard place, unable to sever its ties with the Islamists; and equally unable to openly forge an alliance with them.

Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *