When Pakistan sponsored terrorism raised its ugly head in Kashmir Valley during the early nineties, this place, which for centuries was fondly referred to as ‘paradise on earth’, literally became a veritable hell. With Kalashnikov toting youth who had been thoroughly indoctrinated during their training in camps established by the Pakistan army’s notorious spy agency Inter Services Intelligence [ISI] in Pakistan occupied Kashmir [PoK], Kashmir virtually became a war zone.
Due the unprecedented bloodletting and mindless violence that followed in Kashmir turned upside down and things stabilised only after New Delhi rushed in additional security forces. The gullible youth who had been trained and armed by ISI were made to believe by their mentors that they were ‘mujahideen’ [Holy warriors] who by waging ‘jihad’ [Holy war] would earn a place in paradise for themselves. However, the reality was that ISI was just using them as pawns in its proxy war against India!
While security forces brought the situation under control, the mayhem caused by terrorists had created a void that couldn’t be filled. On orders of their masters sitting across the Line of Control [LoC], Pakistan’s proxies unleashed a wave of terror on the minority pandit community killing their men, womenfolk and even children. This forced them to flee the Valley en masse and as it was the pandit community that was traditionally the backbone of Kashmir’s education setup, their exodus put the prospects of Kashmir’s education under immense strain.
Realising that lack of teaching staff and inadequate educational infrastructure would adversely impact the career prospects and future of school going children, the Indian army undertook an initiative to create a quality educational domain. The objective was to provide quality education to wards of locals belonging to financially weaker sections of society living in far-flung areas of J&K and Ladakh who couldn’t afford to send their children to residential schools in cities.
Taken up as a part of ‘Operation Sadbhavana’ [Goodwill] by Udhampur based Northern Command of the Indian army, this project has been a thumping success. Starting with just four primary level Army Goodwill Schools [AGS] in 1998, their number has, due to popular demand from locals, swelled to a whopping 45 and having an attendance of approximately 14,500 students.
Besides a significantly subsidised fees structure, AGS also provides scholarships to meritorious students from economically backwards sections of society. Creation of AGS has thus fulfilled the long cherished wish of the economically marginalised masses in J&K an opportunity to provide quality education to their children.
Though AGS provides primary level education, the Indian army is providing necessary assistance to students pursuing higher education. Besides tie-ups with prestigious institutions outside J&K, the army has also undertaken several initiatives in this regard like the ‘Kashmir Super 30’ and ‘Kashmir Super 50’ to train meritorious candidates from economically weaker sections of society for the engineering and medical joint entrance exams respectively.
The Indian army’s comprehensive approach towards education in J&K is evident from the fact that it has even catered for providing educational facilities to the children belonging to nomadic groups of graziers. For this purpose, it has established ‘Shepherd’s Schools’ in traditional grazing grounds like Tosha Maidan, Jumagund, Mandian-Kundian and Lokut bungus.
The AGS success story is the result of the Indian army’s excellent management, professional acumen and dedication of its teachers and support staff as well as hard work put in by students. The spectacular achievement of AGS have been recognised by many reputed entities in the field of education, and Bharti Foundation is one such organisation which has been adjudged as the ‘Most Committed NGO’ by UBS Forums in the 8th edition of Corporate Social Responsibility Summit and Awards 2023.
On September 2 this year, Bharti Foundation presented Mr. Mushtaq Ahmed who has been teaching in AGS Tithwal for the last 16 years with the prestigious ‘Principal and Teacher Award 2023’ for his exceptional contributions to the field of education. This is not the first time that the teaching staff of AGS has received such recognition. 23 educators from 17 Army Goodwill Public Schools across Jammu and Kashmir today received the prestigious “Teachers Innovation Award” from Bharti Foundation in 2018!
While people of J&K are extremely happy with the AGS project, its immense popularity remains a cause of great embarrassment to Islamabad as educational facilities in PoK are in shambles. Accordingly, its desperate attempts to dissuade locals from patronising AGS by ordering its proxies to spew venom against APS and even issue threats to parents, are understandable.
In 2017, senior All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] leader SAS Geelani, at Islamabad’s bidding, asked parents not to send their children to AGS. He alleged that ”[Army] Goodwill schools are part of their [Indian army’s] long-term policy to strengthen occupation,’‘ and that “They are psychologically preparing our new generation to accomplish their nefarious designs. ”He went on to lambast the overwhelming public endorsement of AGS by saying that “For petty material gains, we are losing our next generation.”
Yet the people of Kashmir outrightly rejected the separatist leader’s absurd appeal, which is not at all surprising. This is because just a year earlier, a national daily had in a news report titled ‘Kashmir Unrest: Hurriyat chairman Geelani has bandh [shut down] calendar for every school except that of his grandchild’, had already exposed his appalling duplicity on the issue of choosing schools was concerned.
In 2019, the ISI directed Hizbul Mujahideen [HM] to accomplish what Geelani, the tallest separatist leader in J&K, had failed to do. HM obediently complied with this direction and put up posters in several villages of Shopian district threatening parents of dire consequences if they continued to send their children to AGS. But the HM’s threat of bodily harm too fell on deaf ears.
What could be a better indicator of the AGS success story than the fact that it compelled Pakistan to use its proxies for dissuading and intimidating locals from patronising these schools? And, isn’t the abysmal failure of both the separatists and terrorists to do so an unambiguous vindication of the fact that this Indian army initiative is purely in public interest sans any motivated agenda?