An interesting commentary by Shujaat Bhukari (http://bit.ly/1fllBfs) that referred to madrassa education needs further analysis and understanding. How have these institutions of education and learning ended up as hate factories in Pakistan? Why is this phenomenon restricted only to Pakistan and not other countries where the same institutions are engaged in serving humanity? Are terrorists and anti-American sentiments with their links to these educational establishments primarily responsible for hatred and violence?
First, why are these particular activities of madrassas supported by civil society? As parents, none of us would like to send our children to institutions that are perceived as hate factories and known to produce suicide bombers. Why then does a section within civil society send their wards to such schools? This is where mainstream educational institutions should take the blame, for failing an entire population in Pakistan. While the situation of government-run educational systems in South Asia is generally poor, in Pakistan, the situation is worse. Corruption, failure of governance, lack of proper skills and trained teachers are killing the state-run educational system in Pakistan. In rural areas especially, there are numerous ghost teachers and even ghost schools that only exist on paper.
If the infrastructure is bad, the quality of education is worse. If a number of poorly qualified teachers enter the system with bribes, the level of training for the next generation will be anything but poor.
Members of the middle and upper classes can afford to send their children to private schoolsbut this luxury is not available to the lower middle and lower classes. Their children are sent to madrassas, which have gained prominence not because of their curriculum but because the mainstream educational structure has crumbled.
Second, successive governments including that of Musharraf’s attempted superficial changes but were unable to mainstream madrassa education, given that mainstream education was itself is in disarray. How can the collector of a district streamline the madrassa, which is self-sustained and supported by outsiders, when he is unable to streamline schools directly funded by state resources? There has also been no political pressure or directive from the governments, both at the provincial and federal levels, to fix the situation. Things are further complicated by a nexus of rulers, political parties and their multiple religious supporters.
Third, and most importantly, madrassas were allowed to become a ‘hate’ industry during the 1980s and 1990s, as they served an important foreign policy tool for the military and its ISI to host, train and recruit jihadis, who in turn became Pakistan’s proxy in Afghanistan and J&K.
Had the madrassa system been left to itself, it is unlikely to have evolved into what it is today. If one has to trace the history of their evolution, it can be observed that General Zia started the trend through the use of religious political parties such as the JUI. This served multiple purposes: to sustain the Mujahideen to fight in Afghanistan, provide training grounds, ensure a steady supply of fighters. Both factions of the JUI, led by Samiul Haq and Fazlur Rehman respectively, were more than happy to provide this service through their own network of madrassas. This in turn got them closer to the establishment and ensured substantial funding support. In return, Zia also used these religious parties for a political purpose – to keep the PPP away.
In the 1990s, the establishment’s strategy towards Afghanistan (through the Taliban) and J&K (through Jaish, Harkat and Lashkar) further abused the madrassa network. What is happening today, especially after 9/11, is the blowback of these actions. Blaming the TTP or the Taliban alone for converting this noble institution into a hate factory is a faulty conclusion.
Is this phenomenon in the past, or is it alive even today? Sincere steps to revive mainstream education were not taken under the the 2008-2012 PPP government or under Gen Musharraf’s leadership. Even today the polity is utterly confused in terms of how to deal with the TTP; the debate at the recent All Parties Conference on negotiating with the TTP clearly highlights that not everyone within Pakistan sees terrorism as an existential threat. Imran Khan has gone a step further by demanding an office for the TTP. Perhaps the next demand from him would be to reserve seats for them in the provincial and federal assemblies, for they undoubtedly represent a section, such as the great Khan himself!
The final issue is of anti-American and anti-Indian sentiments being a cause for the growth of radicalism and terrorism in Pakistan. True, India and the US figure substantially in jihadi literature, but blaming only them for the growth of terrorism and it continuance within Pakistan is utter nonsense. There is a well-planned strategy by the Pakistani state and its ISI to make the rest of Pakistan believe that the US is the main problem in the region. As if once the American troops leave in 2014, the Durand Line will free of problems and Taliban fighters will give up arms.
The earlier the polity in Pakistan realises the existing threat and impending disaster, the better it would be for its own well being and that of the region. The TTP has just begun.