The Solution to Extremism

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Postby shemrez » Fri Oct 15, 2010 10:21 am


Not just any good education

Zirgham Afridi

We need not look anywhere but to our own history to see what a syllabus, indigenously produced for the English medium schools and geared towards a sense of duty to solve the plethora of problems facing the masses of their society, can do for a nation. The Aligarh University serves as an excellent example of how a modern syllabus can be moulded to meet the needs of a society where students are whole-heartedly expected to contribute. It was an indigenous creation producing individuals to whom we can be grateful for having this country that we live in.

It is really sad to see that the trend of importing foreign syllabi to our private schools and blindly imparting it to the children of our privileged class continues unabated. It seems as if we are preparing the children of the privileged class not to serve their own country by becoming politicians, police officers, teachers, civil servants, journalists but as skilled labour for the developed English speaking countries. With the Roots School's new German language centre even the doors of German industries have opened up to our privileged labourers. When will we encourage our children to learn Chinese or Persian or the languages of the Tajiks or Uzbeks?

The O and A level system does not wholly serve the interests of our country. What can be said about a country where the syllabus being taught is imported from abroad, where the exams are marked abroad and where the examination fee paid by our Pakistani student goes to institutions abroad and all of this being a source of pride for the Pakistani schools, students and their parents? On the 14th of August 1947, we may have gained independence with the act of the British departing our country but the mental shackles of slavery still remain. And rather than break those shackles, our English medium schools, with their foreign syllabi serve to tighten them.

Ayaz also mentions correctly that the "Pakistani masses...have had little to do with the mess that has been made". He, however, does not recognise that this fact itself is part of the reason for the failure of the English-medium academies. The education of the children from the privileged class does not encourage that they mix with our 'barbaric hordes', the underprivileged majority. It does not do much to destroy the impression of the class system deeply imbedded in the fabric of our society especially in the minds of our privileged youth who consider it to be a fact of life, admittedly a sad one that Pakistani commoners are there to serve us. It does not make them realise that the simple act of destiny by which one is born into poverty does not or at least should not seal their role in our society as a servant, labourer or peasant toiling everyday for the appetites of the rich.

This is where the link between the two articles becomes quite interesting: Sadaf champions basic education for the masses while Ayaz has aptly illustrated how even the best quality of education imparted, if not moulded to the needs of our society will fail in delivering the solutions to our problems. It is a testament to the fact that Pakistani youth do not need just any education.

It requires an indigenous touch; a well thought-out syllabus drafted by our universities in collaboration with all the various stakeholders of the society such as industrialists, entrepreneurs, social workers, politicians, judges, civil servants, sportsmen, artists, keepers of law and order etc. A syllabus that prepares school-going students to realise their roles in the improvement of the lives of the impoverished masses. A syllabus that calls out for the best of our students to realise that they are required in our politics, civil services, judiciary and other state organs and discourages them becoming highly skilled workers abroad contributing to Pakistan solely through foreign remittances and acts of charity, methods that 63 years of our history have proved to have failed in bringing change to the downward spiral in our country's progress.

When Ayaz asks who should step forward to undertake the rescue job, Sadaf provides the reply that our hopes lie with the common Pakistani men and women who, already equipped with great virtues such as an unyielding 'will' and the 'wisdom and spirit to rise above problems' require 'basic education' to set forth their untapped potential in setting the affairs of this country straight.

This is unfortunately the type of reply that satisfies all good-hearted, educated Pakistani people from the privileged societies who satisfy themselves and find consolation by reiterating, time and time again, during the gloomiest and hardest of times the knowledge of what we can do if we put ourselves to it. What we are capable of doing once we really get going; the charity that we perform and the depth of untapped potential that lies within us. Courageous attempts at justifying the preservation of the status quo. Invigorating words used to hide the indifference and inaction of the privileged youth in performing our duties towards our underprivileged fellow men and women.

The writer is an Imperial College London graduate and an alumnus of the BHSS Pakistan.

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Postby Ahsan Waheed » Sat Oct 16, 2010 9:44 pm


How to defuse a human bomb: Rescuing the Taliban's teenage recruits
In Pakistan, young boys are being recruited as suicide bombers by the Taliban. Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy visit a new school that offers these brainwashed children a different future

Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
The Guardian
Saturday 16 October 2010

A group of teenage boys draw the landscape near Pirano in the Swat Valley during an art therapy class. Photograph: Charla Jones

The boy comes into view on the CCTV footage for just a few seconds, long enough to see that he is very young and wearing something bulky under his shalwar kameez. He walks purposefully through a crowd of worshippers gathering at Data Darbar Sufi shrine in Lahore, and then the screen is filled with a flash, followed by a juddering cloud of smoke. The blast settles to reveal a soundless world of body parts, shoes and clothes. The teenage suicide bomber killed himself and 45 others, and maimed 175 more, in this blast on 2 July 2010 – a good result for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that trained him, and another tragedy for Pakistan.

Abida Begum, a mother of six, living hundreds of miles away in the Swat Valley, in Pakistan's north-west, recalled seeing the footage on TV in the village shop and feeling nauseous. Every time she heard of a suicide blast, she immediately thought of Attaullah, her 14-year-old son, who had gone missing in February on his way to school. She suspected he had been abducted by the TTP which had seized control of Swat in 2008, transforming this erstwhile idyll of trout streams and ski slopes into a wasps' nest of blood-letting and terror. Hundreds of young boys from Abida's village of Kabal and those surrounding it had disappeared, pressed into the TTP's ranks, leaving once boisterous alleys and cart tracks deserted after dusk. The Pakistani army had launched an offensive to drive out the TTP in April 2009 – and even claimed victory at the end of last year – but the militants' influence was being felt once more, with the bullet-ridden bodies of those who crossed them turning up in local fields.

Many boys went voluntarily, lured by the swagger of the long-haired Islamic fighters. Others were taken by force in the night, when heavily armed figures slunk into villages, demanding money and recruits. Some were even sold by their parents for 25,000 rupees (£180), the going rate paid by the TTP for a healthy teenager.

The families of the missing boys always feared the worst. News filtered back that most were destined to become human bombs. Rumours spread that if the army caught them, they were summarily executed, a story that gained credibility last month when a mobile phone clip emerged in Swat showing soldiers killing six young blindfolded men by firing squad. The army claimed the footage was faked by the TTP, but the human cost of the teen recruits was undeniable. For three years, a legion of these "dumb bombs", as the locals called them, had terrorised the country, claiming 3,500 lives in 200 attacks.

The night of the Lahore blast, Abida went to bed imagining Attaullah, a knockabout kid who had loved his English classes best, coerced into a nylon jacket packed with explosives and flesh-ripping ball bearings. Days later, she heard an extraordinary story from a neighbour – this woman's son had vanished, too, but after more than a year he had, miraculously, come home.

Recruited by the TTP, the boy confirmed he had been locked into a programme to produce martyrs. However, before he could be utilised, the army had busted his training camp. Rather than killing everyone in it, the soldiers had taken several boys to their base at Malakand Pass, 30 miles south-east of Kabal, putting them in a kind of reform school along with dozens more young, would-be suicide bombers. They were fed, clothed, taught English and allowed to play volleyball and cricket. Respected religious scholars patiently explained how killing civilians was wrong according to the Qur'an. Psychologists counselled them. Some were eventually allowed back home.

The neighbour's son said many other boys from local villages were still at the school. Abida made the dusty bus journey to Malakand Fort, at the southern end of the Swat Valley. Once a British-era military outpost, it was now the headquarters of Pakistan's 19th Infantry Battalion and the centre of a bold deradicalisation project.

Down a lane winding between apricot trees, three whitewashed compounds rise up against the stunning backdrop of Malakand Pass. The road to the Sabaoon school is blocked with steel barricades and razor wire, the entrance gate protected by blast walls and dugouts. Weapons are trained on visitors from the windows, roof, gatehouse and guard-posts that rise up at each corner.

Sabaoon means "first light of dawn" in Pashto. Beyond the soldiers are well-thumbed English books and Urdu dictionaries. Boys dressed in green-and-white striped shirts, cream slacks and white plimsolls huddle in shady corners.

For most of them, Sabaoon is the first proper school they have attended. Only a few weeks ago, some were living under rough blankets in a dark corner of a TTP training camp. Others were tramping the unforgiving terrain between Pakistan's tribal areas and neighbouring Afghanistan, acting as lookouts: spotting an army convoy to attack or a girls' school to bomb. Some were scouring the villages where they had once lived, in search of more young recruits. The one thing they all had in common was a belief in the righteousness of killing. All of them expected to die before reaching adulthood.

Abida finds Attaullah sitting with the school director in a counselling room with a two-way mirror. He has just been sprung from a TTP camp. The boy who died in Lahore on 2 July was someone else's son. Abida sobs into her son's neck. "Stop it, Mum," he whispers, embarrassed. "I'm OK." A would-be killer, he is suddenly transformed into an awkward kid. Abida's relief turns to anger as she learns from the school director that they suspect him of scouting for targets and recruits. She slaps him round the face. "Why did you go with them?" she cries. "You stupid boy!"

Before becoming director of Sabaoon, Dr Feriha Peracha had a lucrative career as one of Pakistan's most respected psychologists. Her practice in Defence Colony, a well-heeled suburb of Lahore, had a roster of clients from Pakistan's wealthy elite. In the shade of the school's volleyball court, her head covered with a silk YSL scarf, she recalls her journey here: "I needed to take responsibility," she says. "Things are now desperate for Pakistan. I want every child in here to see that they should not give in to life after death as the only option."

On arrival, the teenagers are assessed and classified according to the risk they present. Compound One contains the most trusted students: those who probably have not handled weapons, who do not display pathological behaviour and whose family have had no known contact with the TTP. "These boys are the most likely to have been used as cannon fodder," Peracha says. "The Taliban does not waste money or time training those it chooses to be human bombs."

The second compound takes the teenagers who may have straddled this world and that of the jihadi fighter. The third houses the high-risk, all of whom have received advanced weapons training and been subject to the most intensive indoctrination. As we walk around, we can feel snatched glances from teenagers hiding behind curtains and in doorways. "You are the first foreigners they have ever seen," Peracha says. She takes us into the art room. The work is a carnival of gore: paintings of limbless bodies, severed heads, rocket-propelled grenades.

Dr Peracha explains how Pakistan's normally conservative army devised this initiative. "In July 2009, they approached me to assess a group they had recovered from Taliban camps. They wanted to know if I thought they could be rehabilitated."

She drove up to Swat at the height of the army offensive known by its code name Rah-i-Rast, the Straight Path. "I was so afraid when I first arrived," she says. "Every building had a soldier on the roof, all the shops were shuttered, there wasn't a woman in sight." The army escorted Peracha to the court building in Mingora, Swat's capital, where she found herself confronted with a dozen dirty teenagers. "The first one had such a look of contempt when I tried to speak with him. I spent hours with him. Eventually, he bragged that he could take apart a Kalashnikov, and the story of his militancy spilled out."

A month later, Peracha was summoned to Malakand Fort to meet some more boys. "The skies swarmed with helicopters. I knew a bigwig was coming." In strode the chief of the army, staff general Ashfaq Kayani. "He was very curious about these boys," she says. "Many of them were compromised intellectually and had psychological problems. He asked me, 'Would a school help?' I replied, 'Yes' and then he said, 'This is the site. You will be the director.'"

Colonel Aamer Najam, fort commander at Malakand, enters the room. He has been fighting the TTP in Swat since August 2008. "Many were against the school," he says. "They said, 'Why bother, why waste the money? These boys are finished already.'"

But the colonel understood the significance of the experiment. Throughout 2009, his men had picked up large numbers of children from TTP camps. "Sometimes we'd apprehend them at militants' compounds, a child hiding in a cellar or arms store," he says. "Other times the militants would melt away during a fire-fight and there'd be kids left wandering around the battlefield. We had already witnessed a spree of suicide blasts over the north-west, carried out by bombers aged between 13 and 17. And they weren't doing it because they wanted to."

The colonel has two children of his own, currently living in Glasgow with his Scottish wife. "Children are very soft," he says, pulling on a cigarette. "They break down very easily. They have no idea what is right or wrong, and they are just as much victims as those killed in the blasts."

Right now, his greatest fear is maintaining security for the project. "We are tampering with the terrorists' investments. They have spent money on these boys, recruiting and training them. One day, they will come after us."

"These kids are completely brainwashed," says Dr Farooq Khan, a religious scholar and vice chancellor of Swat University, who was brought in to correct the boys' religious misconceptions. "In the camps, the TTP told them that Pakistan is run by foreign infidels, so it is imperative to wage jihad. They told them, 'Join with us to wage holy war and you will go straight to heaven.' At Sabaoon, we have to start again, right from the beginning, to explain true Islam and the Qur'an." Does he worry for his own safety? "The time of life and death is already given," he says.

A student knocks and enters. He has a counselling session with Peracha. Everyone is particularly jittery today. The day before, a teenage bomber devastated Mingora bus station, killing himself and five others, and maiming 50.

"This one is high-risk," Peracha whispers. "I feel threatened by him. Sometimes I think, 'You want to kill me. If we were in another environment and you had a chance, you would do it.'" The boy calls himself Saddam, a popular name in Swat, where Saddam Hussein is a hero. This 17-year-old is from the first intake of pupils who arrived last August, but he is unlikely to be going home any time soon.

Eleven months on, he still denies any involvement with the TTP, even though he was caught trying to attack an army convoy in a suicidal assault. His parents have filled in large parts of his story, claiming they lost control after sending him to a madrassa at the age of 11. The offer of free board, lodging and education proved irresistible, despite rumours about the seminary's extremist connections. Soon after, Saddam disappeared. "When he came home again, his father says he was completely changed," Peracha says. He was aggressive, obsessed with guns and had unexplained shrapnel wounds to his leg. "We still have a long way to go with him."

She dismisses Saddam and calls in some others.Brothers Mohammed, 16, and Amjad, 14, sit on their hands like naughty kids summoned to the head teacher. "You would think that butter wouldn't melt in their mouths," Peracha says, "but Mohammed was a handler, scouting the target and dropping the bomber off on his mission. We think his other job was to recruit young boys to wear the jackets. There are lots of Talibans in their family, so there is a lot of peer pressure."

Like these two, the vast majority of boys come from around the Mamdheri, Tal and Peochar settlements on the left bank of the Swat river. While the right flank of the valley once boasted tourist ski resorts, few outsiders ever made it to the left bank, where the roads and even the electricity fizzle out. Communities here became cut off altogether after Maulana Fazullah, the popular leader of the Swat Taliban, began building a complex of madrassas and training camps in 2007. Fazullah, a one-time ski trolley operator who found support among the poor and marginalised through nightly broadcasts on a pirate radio station, graduated into the real business of jihad after the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in July 2007, where police and armed forces stormed a mosque in Islamabad that had become a militant redoubt. Scores of religious students died and religious conservatives across the country vowed revenge.

Signing an alliance with Baitulluh Mehsud, then the overall leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a newly armed and funded Fazullah had, by 2008, established a parallel government in Swat, his followers setting about the slaughter of anyone connected to the state. By June 2009, there were only 30 serving police officers left in the valley, with more than 2,000 having fled or been killed. By the time Mohammed and Amjad disappeared from their village in late 2009, the army had destroyed Fazullah's bases and silenced his radio show, although Fazullah himself had vanished. He is said to be in hiding on the Afghan border.

There are new arrivals at Sabaoon. Peracha rushes over to Compound Three. On the way, she tells us how difficult it has been to recruit staff. The stigma of working with suicide bombers is enormous. Joining us is "Rafi", a psychologist from Peshawar, who has not even told his family of his work here. "When I came, I was so frightened. I arrived in the dark to face all these suicide bombers, expecting them to be wild-haired and crazy, but they were just kids," he says. Rafi has become a father figure to many of the children here, who call out for him at night when the nightmares begin. "In the day they are boastful," he says, "but by night they dream of the people they have seen shot and mutilated." Many dwell on friends who were taken off one day and never returned. The camp commander would choose his boy, take him off for a haircut, measure him up for new clothes, always a size too large to accommodate the explosive waistcoat. The chosen ones were treated as if they were about to be married, fed meat and given milk or Pepsi. Then a handler took them away to board a bus to Peshawar, Islamabad or Lahore. Some would be given drugs to pump them up or calm their nerves. "A few days later, the remaining boys would hear that their friend had reached paradise," Rafi says.

He has traced some of these teenagers to their villages. "Slowly we are putting together a profile of the communities. How many militants live there? Does the family have any TTP connections? Can they afford to look after their son? Is there any local schooling? We cannot keep them here for ever." Boys who go home are kept on parole for two years, monitored by the school and army. Families have to sign an agreement that if the boy goes missing again, a family member will surrender to army detention until the child is recovered.

A boy with bad acne and a startling grin enters the room. Fifteen-year-old Sajad's father had two wives and nine children, and the family lived in a kutcha (temporary shack) near Nowergali, at the heart of Fazullah's former power base. Sajad's mother died when he was seven and he became the family's main breadwinner, bringing home 8,000 rupees (£60) a month as a labourer. At the age of 11, two friends took him to a TTP training camp. There was food, weapons and militants who talked of a better life by winning a respectable death. To Sajad, it seemed a far better option than rising at 5am to dig fields by hand. He underwent basic arms training in Orakzai Agency, a tribal area dominated by the TTP. One day, he was strapped into a suicide jacket. He and his TTP handler tried to cross into Afghanistan, but an alert Pakistan border guard spotted them and Sajad was captured. "I was very sad," he says, his fingers tensing and flexing. "I wanted to die." Peracha asks him if he would have blown her up if they had met at the border. "Why, yes," he replies. "And these foreigners, too, if they had been there?" His smile returns. "Of course," he says.

After the previous day's blast at Mingora, a calming excursion has been planned: tonight, some of the boys from Compound One are to be taken to a local riverside beauty spot where they will draw. A dozen of them pile excitedly into a minivan with an armed guard, while Colonel Aamer, Peracha and a visiting lecturer from the National College of Arts squeeze into an army pick-up. The threat of ambush is constant. Scanning the faces along the roadside, it is impossible to ignore their undisguised contempt for the military. Almost immediately, we have to stop for the soldiers to check out an abandoned car. By the time we reach the beauty spot, crowds have gathered, making the place too difficult to secure. The colonel aborts the trip and we head back towards Malakand.

Still, Peracha refuses to give in. She diverts the convoy again, to a ridge outside the colonel's fort, a place that offers breathtaking views over Swat and a safe vantage point for the army. The art teacher hands out drawing pads and pencils. Soldiers stand guard at a distance. The colonel blows smoke rings.

"Sometimes I come here to pray," Peracha says. "If I start thinking about all that needs to be done, I frighten myself, but we have to save Swat. The terrorists are not far off. They are never far off."

It begins to rain, a slow patter on Swat's scorched earth. The drops pick up pace, until rivulets form. Within a day of our departure, the entire valley is flooding. Within a week, it is cut off from the rest of the world. Within two, bridges are down across Pakistan, leaving 12m people stranded and starving, many of their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Cholera sets in. The army, fighting a war on so many fronts, cannot cope with a disaster on this scale. Nor can the government.

Soon, skimming across the muddy tide, come wooden skiffs heaped full of privately funded aid and medicines, paddled by the very people the Pakistan state has fought so hard to keep out. Here are the jihadists and insurgents, their charities and front organisations laden with gifts for the sick and the suffering. Floating by is Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of plotting the Mumbai hotel attacks of November 2008, and the TTP, too, broadcasting a threat for the government: "Do not take western aid." Rumours spread that the TTP is planning to kill foreign aid workers.

Soon, the bombings begin again, too, with more than 150 killed in the first nine days of September: Lahore, Quetta, Lakki Marwat and the tribal areas of Kurram and Kohat. On 2 October, the TTP gets Dr Farooq Khan, too, assassinating him while he's having lunch with an assistant, sending a chill through everyone who works at Sabaoon. On 7 October, two teenage bombers blow themselves up at a sufi shrine in Karachi, killing nine and injuring more than 60.

But the school survives. Even in the flood, Colonel Aamer's men have made sure the pupils are fed and classes continue. Established as a beacon of hope, the school is now an island.

All names of boys and their families have been changed to protect their identities.

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Improving primary education

Postby shemrez » Mon Oct 18, 2010 1:42 pm


Improving primary education

Samad Khurram

While in Pushtoon Garhi to distribute supplies for school children, the Khushaal Pakistan team came across a novel model for primary education: low-profit private schools. The schools charged Rs100/student/month and were the first to recover post-floods in the education sector. There were many such schools within a 10 km radius. What was more surprising was to find out that these schools constantly performed better than public schools and even public school teachers preferred to send their children to these private schools rather than the ones they taught in.

The Learning and Educational Achievements in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) study conducted by Professor Asim I Khawaja of Harvard University and others found out that private schools had a 33 per cent student share in the education sector in the 112 villages in Punjab. The study also found out that private schools outperformed public schools considerably – children of third grade in government schools take between 1.5-2.5 years to catch up with the private school children of the same grade. In addition, private schools were considerably cheaper – every Rs 1 spent on private schooling was equivalent to Rs 3 spent by public schools for the same correct test result. Student and parent satisfaction with schools and teaching was significantly higher for private schools than public schools.

What causes private schools to be more efficient and effective? The strength of this model is due to the profit-motive which forces the schools to cut costs and produce better results. Parents already have the option to send their children to free public schools the minute the private schools lose their comparative advantage of better grades or become unaffordable. The cost-cutting comes primarily through lower salaries for teachers with less credentials than those hired by the government. The schools may also use buildings part-time only, which helps reduce rental costs.

A recent study conducted by the the Pakistan Education Task Force(PETF) sheds more light on why the schools perform better and are favoured by parents. Though the study only focused on schools in five different poor areas in Karachi, inferences can still be made about the situation in other parts of the country. The study found that teacher absenteeism is half of that in public schools. Private schools generally taught in both English and Urdu, maintained lower drop-out rates and had better facilities. 98 per cent of private schools had toilets, 96 per cent had drinking water, 95 per cent had electricity and 88 per cent had boundary walls. The statistics for government schools for the above measures are: 70 per cent, 61 per cent, 49 per cent, and 66 per cent respectively.

There is still a worrying drop-out rate in private schools; only 30 per cent of grade 1 enrollments stay on to matriculate. The PETF study suggests that this is because of a lack of interest (48 per cent) or the inability to afford (32 per cent). The study also found out that non-tuition costs tend to be as high as, and in some cases higher than, the tuition cost. The average cost for admission and administrative fees, uniforms and shoes, stationery and textbooks and other associated expenses amounts to about Rs 2668/year/student.

While the low-profit private school model seems to be performing better than public schools it would be rather juvenile to assume that private schools can provide for the 42 million children who are currently out of school. The model can only run in certain conditions.

Firstly, the low costs can be maintained only if there is an ample availability of suitable teachers who have at least matriculated.
Secondly, a major cost-cutter is the use of commercial or residential buildings by private schools. The PETF study found that only 11 per cent of the private schools had dedicated buildings.
Thirdly, costs will remain down and a higher quality will come up only if there are, or potentially can be, enough competitors in the market.

This effectively restricts the application of the model to slums and villages where there is a possibility of joint-use of infrastructure as well as potential and demand for multiple schools. Remote cities or small villages cannot have good private schools and these are probably the reasons why many don’t have them by now.

In an ideal world the education needs of a country would be adequately provided by the public sector. However no country has been able to address its education needs without the help of the private sector. For a country of ghost schools and a 2 per cent budget allocation for education, creative solutions are badly needed. It is unlikely that budget allocation will increase in the near future, especially after the catastrophic floods, leaving limited funds for construction of new schools. I understand the government cannot hire people under a minimum-wage. In addition the inefficiencies of the public system, past-track record of failures to deliver on promises (e.g. people are unlikely to rent their property to the government), and erosion of funds through corruption suggest that the government will be unlikely to implement this model on its own.

The best solution in this context, in my humble opinion, is the creation of private-public partnerships which will incorporate the strengths of the low-profit private schools’ model while reaching a scale that is impossible for the private sector to reach alone. I suggest the government role be the provision of the necessary subsidy to private school students to reduce drop-outs, facilitation with the registration and documentation of all institutions, and quality control of such schools. This is in addition to the public-school network that the government operates and should continue to do so especially in areas inaccessible to the private sector. The PETF study agrees with the subsidy solution.

The LEAPS report suggests a similar role of the government as a provider of information on the quality of every school – private and public – in the country, as an actor who corrects imbalances rising from unequal access to schools, and as an innovator who comes up with out-of-the-box solutions. It also suggests the usefulness of private-public partnerships.

Private-public partnerships cannot be and should not be seen as a panacea for all education problems. Efforts to improve the public-school system should go on regardless. This partnership should be seen as a complimentary effort to improve education facilities. However given that sufficient resources will not be apportioned to education any time soon, such novel cost-cutting and innovative solutions may at least help mitigate the primary education crisis, at least in some towns and villages.

This will help the country achieve its Millennium Development Goals.

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Postby Ahsan Waheed » Tue Oct 26, 2010 10:58 am


‘In suicide attacks we trust’

By D. Asghar

We need to stop justifying these attacks and take action against terrorism.

Within hours of every terror attack that strikes the heart of a Pakistani city, you hear the holy warriors of TTP claiming responsibility for their “remarkable valour.”

It is unclear why the law enforcement agencies have not yet tackled these murderers head on.

These cowardly acts are marketed as a fitting response to the US drone strikes.

In other words, these are God-fearing mujahideen waging a war against the ‘infidels’. The term ‘infidel’ has lost its real meaning. Any and everybody can be declared an infidel at a moment’s notice by these fighters. After that conclusive declaration, no further justification for any action is required.

The sad part is that a number of the general population is sympathetic towards these beasts, because the Taliban use religion as a shield for their deeds. Let’s assume that these “oppressed and valiant Taliban” were not Muslims and these were communist rebels, resisting American invasion (so to speak). Would our sentiments still be in line with their modus operandi?

Religion as a weapon

In any war, strategy dominates the game. In this case, the TTP, or the Taliban in general, have brilliantly used religion to cover up their barbaric acts. There are educated people, in and outside Pakistan, who not only buy into all of this, but justify suicide bombings as an act of struggle against “imperial forces.” If you engage those individuals in any sane discussions, the counter-argument is always that Americans stage invasions and these acts are the repercussion.

Afghanistan, prior to the much-debated American invasion, was no symbol of peace and prosperity under the direct rule of these “self righteous and pious Muslims.” The sheer brutality and lack of human values were the hallmark of these “great visionary leaders” of the Muslim Ummah. Many would dismiss all of this as being Western propaganda, but facts from the independent and non-partisan media show volumes of incriminating evidence against these brutes.

The case in Pakistan is no different, as we have a hypersensitive religious society in action at all times. We can attract people’s attention within minutes if we use the name of religion, for better or for worse. The hardcore religious parties always have a soft corner for these beasts, as ideologically, they find common ground with the TTP and LJ and their likes.

Is Islam really in danger?

The common theme or slogan which is raised repeatedly is “Islam is in peril”. For 1,400 years or so, Islam has withstood all tests, challenges and dangers. This is an obvious fact. It should define every living and breathing Muslim’s faith. Nothing has, nor will anything ever, diminish the religion, as it is a divine message. On the other hand, it is incumbent upon Muslims, as the torch bearers of this divine message, to demonstrate the best of their character towards their fellow human beings.

In order to combat this menace, first and foremost the distinction between terrorism and holy war has to be established. The media voices its condemnation after every such incident, but it appears that all its pleas fall on deaf ears.

Time to unite

It is high time that all Muslim sects and their religious leaders collectively form an alliance to eradicate this evil. We try to follow the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in our appearance and argue with one another about minute details of how to perform salah. But do we really care about what the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would have done in this situation? What would have been his reaction to all of this? If he was the Messenger of good, then where is our goodness? Islam is not about the length of our beards and the colour of our turbans, but about how a human being submits to the will of God.

All mosques should be mandated to teach the followers the difference between the act of suicide, which is forbidden in the faith, and the true struggle in the path of the Almighty. Schools, colleges and all learning institutions should have mandatory education about this subject, so that myths can be eliminated.

Law enforcement agencies should be held to task by elected leaders to combat this menace effectively. Investigations should be transparent and must have targeted deadlines, so that future catastrophes can be averted. Prosecution and sentencing should be exemplary, so that people can get a clear and unified message of zero tolerance.

Enforcing good laws

There is this widely-held belief that terrorism cannot be eliminated completely. There is some truth to this debate; however, terrorism cannot be tolerated in its present form either. It is undoubtedly a many-headed monster, yet chopping or knocking few of its heads will go a long way.

Those who vehemently relate this to the American presence in the region should be cognizant of the fact that even if the US troops were to leave today, this menace will still loom over everyone, in and outside Pakistan. The perpetrators will always find some issue to exercise their illogical agenda.

Law makers are you listening? If not, please do, before the Pakistan we know goes up in flames.

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Postby shemrez » Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:38 am


Radicalisation of educated Pakistani youth

Ishtiaq Ahmed

A purely religious radicalisation may mean nothing more than the believers of a religion beginning to observe their religious duties strictly in accordance with some core ideas. However, if radicalisation entails politicisation of a religion, it becomes part of a power contest and evolves as an ideology

For researchers interested in keeping track of the trends and patterns pertaining to radicalisation, Talibanisation and the concomitant problems of violence and terrorism in Pakistan, the reports published by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), Islamabad, are invaluable source material. The September 2010 issue of its quarterly journal, Conflict and Peace Studies, includes among other items a sophisticated survey of the perceptions of educated youth towards radicalisation.

Pakistan had 113 mainstream universities and 1,371 degree colleges in the country in 2007, where 424,271 and 324,988 students were enrolled, respectively. The research design based on an extensive field study uses a questionnaire to elicit the views of educated youth from both rural and urban backgrounds on radicalisation. The investigation is limited to students of postgraduate colleges and universities. Using sophisticated sampling techniques, the views of students from 16 public and private universities and postgraduate public colleges across the country were solicited.

The findings are most interesting and illuminating. The respondents overwhelmingly considered religion an important factor in their life (92.4 percent), though 51.7 percent said that they do not offer prayers regularly. More than half (55.8 percent) insisted that religious values were critical to Pakistan’s progress. While 51.3 percent endorsed the country’s hybrid legal system in which shariah is one, but not the only, source of law, 28.2 percent were of the view that religion should be the only source of law in Pakistan. Some of the findings are confusing. For example, while a significant majority of the respondents from Punjab (76.5 percent) believed that religious values were critical for the country’s progress, a much smaller number of respondents from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (36 percent) and FATA (53.8 percent) agreed with them. Nonetheless, the view of 50 percent of the respondents from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 61.5 percent from FATA was that shariah must be the only source of law in the country.

With regard to whether religio-political parties should get a chance to rule the country, the respondents were divided equally: 42.6 percent endorsed the idea and 42 percent opposed it. A positive indication noted in the survey was that 77.8 percent of male respondents acknowledged that women had the same rights as men, while 95.9 percent stated that women should receive an education and 75.7 percent that they should have the opportunity to work. But most of the respondents (65.5 percent) also thought that women should veil outside their homes: males 71.3 percent and females 57.1 percent.

A majority (79.4 percent) of the respondents thought that the Pakistani Taliban did not serve the cause of Islam. Most of the respondents (85.6 percent) believed that suicide bombings were prohibited in Islam. The majority of the respondents (61.7 percent) supported military operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The survey does not offer a definition of radicalisation, taking for granted that its meaning is self-evident. That is somewhat unsatisfactory. The dictionary meaning of radical is simply “going back to the roots”. Radicalisation is, therefore, a process through which the movement towards the pristine takes place. A purely religious radicalisation may mean nothing more than the believers of a religion beginning to observe their religious duties strictly in accordance with some core ideas. However, if radicalisation entails politicisation of a religion, it becomes part of a power contest and evolves as an ideology. In such circumstances, it forfeits its claims to being purely a spiritual transformation concerned with metaphysical objectives. It becomes an ideology concerned with the distribution of scarce resources, power and status on earth and may even make tall claims to rewards in the hereafter. Such radicalisation calls for a rational critique of its consequences and outcomes.

The fact that 92.4 percent opined that religion was an important factor in their life is an interesting finding. Such personal radicalisation is unproblematic as long as it serves as a moral and ethical radar to make sense of life’s meaning and purpose. For liberals and democrats there should be no problem is respecting such radicalisation. However, as soon as radicalisation impinges on the rights of individuals and carries implications for the legal and political system, there is need to be more critical.

Perceptions are a product largely of a priori socialisation and indoctrination. There is no doubt that the phantom of General Ziaul Haq’s so-called Islamisation continues to haunt the lives of educated youth at the highest educational centres of Pakistan. Such Islamisation was contradictory and schizophrenic, and so are some of the views of Pakistan’s highly educated youth. That a majority believes that parallel systems of law should apply in Pakistan is an example of this. There is considerable scholarly material showing that legal systems are underpinned by distinct philosophical and moral and ethical values and to apply different systems is to apply conflicting moral and ethical values.

What is perhaps controversial is the PIPS report describing the findings on women as “a positive indication”! When we were at the university, students who believed that women should have equal rights were also convinced that they should work alongside men. To imagine someone veiled from head to foot working, sounded patently incongruent. That is not the case with the report under discussion. A majority of not only male students but even female students favour veiling. The report does not mention if it means that men and women should also work in segregated milieus, but I suppose that is implicit in any notion of veiled working women.

It is heartening to note that nearly 80 percent of respondents were opposed to the Taliban, and an even greater majority considered suicide bombing prohibited in Islam. Processes of higher education generally do produce enough good sense and awareness not to succumb to extremist ideas, but exceptions are always there. On the whole, higher education means that the chances of having a good life and a good income improve and thus also the value of life.

Individuals such as Aafia Siddiqui and Faisal Shahzad are an exception to the rule. Faisal Shahzad may believe he knows what awaits him when he enters paradise, but the benefits due to women in that abode of boundless plenty remain unclear. I have discussed this with many ulema, but never got a satisfactory answer. Perhaps someone can elaborate it for us in a Daily Times op-ed.


The writer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

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Postby Fatima Rizvi » Mon Nov 08, 2010 4:04 pm


Targeting schools

The only viable option is to deploy funds into rebuilding schools in the area.

The blowing up of schools in Fata has assumed such a humdrum regularity that these hideous incidents barely serve to shock us anymore. But the atrocious blowing up of two government schools in Mohmand Agency is indicative not only of the military strength of the Taliban but also of the group’s ideological drive. The fact that no life was taken in the blast may lull us into a false sense of security, but it is important to remember that 60 educational institutions have been destroyed by the Taliban in Mohmand Agency alone.

In many ways, these attacks on state institutions are more harmful to the state than outright attacks on the lives of citizens. The children who have been deprived of these schools – already the victims of a long-drawn war which has destroyed the social fabric – now have no chance of a normal life. That the Taliban are bombing not just girls’ schools but boys’ too, shows that it is not only the empowerment of women they are against, but also the enlightenment of society. The Taliban are not just making an ideological statement but transforming their backward vision of society into a reality, making it even easier for the Taliban to win local supporters. Herein lies the crux of the Taliban’s triumph. Every school that is destroyed is a manifest success for the Taliban because it cuts hundreds of children off from socialisation.

One can rail against the government in vain — with scarce resources, it is impossible to protect the hundreds of schools in the agency against attacks. As it is, troops are stretched in fighting the Taliban. The only viable option is to deploy funds into rebuilding schools in the area. This may seem quixotic, but would send out a strong signal to the Taliban of the state’s commitment to its citizens. More than anything else, it would give the children of Fata some semblance of a normal life.

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Postby shemrez » Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:18 am


Ransomed education

The Footage from an earlier video shows Ajmal Khan sitting in front of a white backdrop with two armed militants standing behind him.

The vice chancellor of the Islamia University Peshawar, Professor Ajmal Khan, has been held by the Taliban for over two months. In a second video released by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), he has read out a message, stating he will be killed by November 20 if the militant group’s demands are not met. In response, vice chancellors and teachers have agreed to keep universities across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa closed and students have been staging protests across the province.

It is unclear precisely what the TTP is demanding. The provincial government says it has received no communication from them and in the two videos put out, no details have been provided of what they seek. It is, however, safe to guess that demands include the release of militants in detention. Similar tactics have been used before. These pose a huge dilemma for authorities — giving in could encourage the TTP to resort to more such actions. Ignoring them could result in the death of a highly respected educationist. As it is, education at universities is suffering as classes remain suspended.

The kidnapping once more exposes the nature of the TTP and the degree of its ruthlessness. Abducting a man who has no role to play in policy making or governance and has dedicated his life to teaching, shows the disregard for basic norms of humanity. It would be a terrible tragedy were he to be killed. A strategy needs to be devised to determine how best to proceed. We expect our intelligence agencies to have a good idea of who the persons behind the abduction are and where Professor Ajmal is being held. They have, after all, for many years now been assigned to keep track of the TTP. Whatever method is used, the authorities must make an attempt to rescue a man who does not deserve to be undergoing the ordeal of the kind he has been suffering since September 7.

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Postby Ahsan Waheed » Thu Nov 18, 2010 10:29 pm


The Miseducation of Pakistan
Fits of the state have ill served our schools.

By Sabiha Mansoor | From the Nov. 22 & 29, 2010, issue

Marwan Naamani / AFP

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani agrees that the state seizure of schools by his party's government in 1972 was wrong. "We cannot move forward without [first] admitting our mistake," he said of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's nationalization drive. This is a welcome acknowledgement, but is there finally going to be any moving forward?

In the early days of Pakistan, most schools were either run privately or by local governments. But the state has always controlled the national curriculum. Every state tries to mold public opinion and attitudes to suit its agenda. Pakistan is no different. With varying degrees of devotion, the dissemination of ideology has been part of every national education policy since the first policy conference was held in 1947. It is this aspect of Pakistani education that has become the real challenge to our state and society.

In 1962, Pakistan's first military ruler, Gen. Ayub Khan, began centralization of control making it easier for the state under successive regimes to indoctrinate the unsuspecting. When he came to power, the populist Bhutto nationalized schools, colleges, and universities in keeping with the radical, socialist spirit of his Pakistan Peoples Party.

Bhutto had an ambitious education reforms plan. Quick nationalization would show he meant business. Between 1972 and 1974, some 3,000 schools and 175 colleges, including those run by Christian missionaries, were taken over by the state. His avowed intentions were noble: nationalization was supposed to improve access to quality education at subsidized fees or for free. But this was also a political project: staffing decisions and administrative mechanisms turned on constituency considerations; and powerful students' and teachers' unions could be co-opted and deployed to great effect in the streets, if the need ever arose. Fresh from losing East Pakistan to independence, Bhutto also introduced war studies as a high school subject.

Large bureaucracies resist change and are difficult to reform. Bhutto's nationalization of schools created a bureaucratic behemoth. The lumbering giant grew larger and presented more opportunities for corruption in the decades that followed. Today, Pakistan has one of the highest public sector nonteaching-to-teaching staff ratios in the world. State control also meant that the character of schools would change with the character of the regime in power.

After Bhutto was overthrown and hanged on trumped up charges by his Army chief, these institutions went into overdrive spewing out hate material and outrageously revisionist accounts of history. The pro-Islamist Gen. Zia-ul-Haq wanted students to know that India was the enemy. He also wanted to make better Muslims of all of Pakistan's students. Briefly during the Haq years, Arabic was introduced as a compulsory language in schools in a bid to rewrite our South Asian heritage as a purely Middle Eastern one.

But strongman Haq also allowed the private sector back into education, and encouraged investment in the sector. He was probably less concerned about state-run educational institutions having been transformed into fortresses of mediocrity, and seats of hatred, intolerance, and fanaticism than with sharing the burden. In 1968, the private sector enrolled 42 percent and 55 percent of secondary and intermediate students, respectively. With a much heavier post-nationalization burden, the state struggled to prevent schooling standards from plummeting.

All governments since Haq's have promoted private sector participation in education. In 2003, the last military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, even denationalized institutions like Lahore's Kinnaird College for Women and the Forman Christian College. Private sector enrollment is back up to over a third of the total. The World Bank's 2009 study on Pakistani education found that students in the private sector were doing better on tests, and that the schools were enrolling more students because competition had driven down tuition fees.

As Pakistan experiments with public-private partnerships and encourages investment, the balance between the public and private sectors seems to be recovering. A recent report by the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., confirms that the Pakistani state lacks the capacity to provide universal education, and understood this soon after Bhutto. Nationalization was a mistake. What needs to change now is what we teach.


Mansoor is a dean at the Beaconhouse National University and a former fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.

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An education in conflict

Postby Spearhead Research » Mon Dec 27, 2010 1:35 pm


Spearhead Analysis - 27.12.10

An education in conflict

Despite widespread commitments on paper to the second Millennium Development Goal - the provision of universal primary education by 2015 - 72 million children remain out of school. More worryingly, 39 million (54 per cent) of these children reside in conflict-affected fragile states (CAFS), where they face multiple pressures in terms of lack of access to basic rights, and an accompanying unwillingness on the part of international donors or even local governments to place an emphasis on providing education.

One in three children in conflict-affected fragile states do not go to school

As a result, one in three children in CAFS do not go to school, compared to one in 11 in other low-income countries, according to data compiled by the UK-based charity Save the Children (STC).

"It is obviously practically difficult, both logistically and in terms of safety for students and staff," says Tove Romsaas Wang, the head of STC's worldwide Rewrite the Future (RTF) campaign, which aims to prove that primary education can be provided even in the difficult circumstances presented in CAFS.

"But our starting point is that every child, whether you live in a conflict area or not, has the same right to education.

"Conflicts today may last 10 or maybe 30 years - if you don't provide education in conflict situations, you may miss out on five or six generations of primary school children."

Decimated teaching force

Undertaken in 2006, the RTC campaign has so far reached more than 10 million children in 20 countries - mainly located in Asia and Africa, and including Angola, Afghanistan, Haiti, Cote d' Ivoire, Southern Sudan and Uganda. Its aim is to both increase enrolment and improve the quality of education in CAFS, in partnership with local ministries of education, through a combination of direct investment of aid and pressuring governments to live up to aid commitments.

RTF is funded through a combination of national, private and corporate donors, the more significant of which include Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, the EC, the UN, UNICEF, the World Bank, Accenture, ExxonMobil Foundation and Ikea.

There are several challenges when it comes to delivering education in areas which are either experiencing conflict, or where conflict has recently ended, according to John Gregg, the director of the Qatar-based Education Above All NGO and strategic planner at the office of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar. With active hostilities, he said, logistics can be a challenge, but the lack of teachers can often be of even greater concern.

"Often the first wave of violence will actively target the elite, and this includes teachers - either as pro-government figures, or as community leaders. So you get situations where your actual teaching force has been decimated by the conflict."

Exacerbating existing barriers

But the lack of teachers in these areas, while a key concern, is simply the tip of the iceberg.

In areas where conflicts are either ongoing or recently concluded, it is often a serious logistical challenge to build new school structures, deliver school materials - such as textbooks, desks and writing materials - or revise curricula if need be. Moreover, in CAFS, the conflict often exacerbates existing barriers such as poverty, lack of infrastructure and discrimination in admissions policies - both economic and otherwise.

The RTF approach, Wang said, is that the actual school building itself is secondary - teaching may happen "in someone's home, or even under a tree". But while the teaching can occur in makeshift spaces, what is important, she added, is to ensure that the education that is being delivered is of a high quality.

To this end, RTF's approach focuses on training teachers, helping communities rebuild their schools and providing school materials.

"One of our key learnings [sic] was that when we manage to work very closely with the community, and the community takes ownership of the school, [it] is likely to succeed," she stressed. In this respect, STC is better placed than many other international actors, according to Wang, because of the charity's long-term presence in these states. "We have been in these countries for years. So this allows us to build trust with local communities, networks and actors."

From the ground up

But having a context-driven, flexible approach to each state is simply not enough. Resources, as ever, remain an abiding problem.

While CAFS represent 60 per cent of the current annual funding requirements for education - which stands at $16.2bn - only about 10 per cent of what they need is being committed to them, and even less actually gets to them.

"Often the priority for those who want to respond [to conflicts or emergencies]," said Gregg, "is in a physical thing. So, for instance, they say 'I want to build 70 schools'.

"Okay, that's very nice, but where are the teachers for the 70 schools, where are the desks, where are the books? How about the teacher training, or the psycho-social support for both students and teachers?

"Donors often get concerned about giving money in fragile environments, so they'd rather invest in something concrete."

The data reveal a telling picture. As CAFS tend to also be low-income countries, comparing their expenditure on education with other low-income countries is a useful indicator. While other low-income countries devote an average of 16.9 per cent of government expenditure to education, CAFS spend just 13.5 per cent, even though their needs may be far greater, given that in many cases they have to rebuild education systems from the ground up.

Funding shortfall

This shortfall in local expenditure means that foreign donors become particularly relevant in the case of CAFS. The 2010 UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report estimated that CAFS require $9.8bn in education aid. The actual amount committed, however, remains a paltry $1bn, of which less than 12 per cent ($113mn) has actually been delivered.

The issue is not just that there is a funding shortfall, but the way that global education aid is structured. Not only is the aid tied to government's domestic concerns (which have seen aid commitments from countries such as the UK, Canada and the World Bank actually decrease), but more than half of CAFS aid went to just five countries - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda.

Analysts say that this is often because these countries have a more well-proven 'track record' when it comes to aid, and also because delivery of aid to CAFS can often occur in unpredictable circumstances.

Wang, for example, pointed out that many donors would be unwilling to invest in building schools in ongoing conflict zones because there is no guarantee that the building will not be destroyed.

She asserted that this was a particularly unhelpful approach, as the structure itself was simply a starting point for aid, and that it can still be invested in many other, intangible education assets - such as teacher training or funding support for local ministries of education.

Furthermore, with the lack of coordination in aid into conflict zones, education often falls into the gaps between humanitarian and development aid, with pre-crisis levels perhaps supporting education, but emergency and post-crisis aid neglecting adequate investments in education.

'Superficial' measures

Finally, much of the aid coming in from national donors, according to Gregg, is often tied to very "narrowly defined government policy" outcomes. These measures may look good, but they can be very "superficial".

Gregg pointed to the Millennium Development Goal itself as an example of this: "It's a very shallow measure, really. Getting children into school is one thing, but is what they're getting at the school equipping them for life? Is it a quality education? That's a huge question that we're not measuring. So sometimes some of the things we set ourselves as a goal or intent as a donor [...] are a little bit superficial."

Barriers remain high and funding scarce, but Wang said: "I think we have made the point that it is possible to deliver education in CAFS. When we deliver results, that will generate funding, as it is unrealistic to expect donors to invest without a model for success to follow."

And the effect is showing, with the Netherlands and Spain both increasing their level of committed and delivered aid. The funding shortfalls, however, remain, and with education aid levels actually dropping between 2007 and 2008, it is clear that these are contingent upon domestic political realities.

With the world financial crisis, innovative financing options now need to be developed to allow money to continue to flow in in a manner that builds sustainable systems. Steen Jorgensen, the World Bank's sector head of human development in the Middle East North Africa region, for example, has called for the development of a 'human capital' market, to be run along the same lines as the carbon market.

In the meantime, children in CAFS continue to face poorly resourced schooling systems, where governments remain either unable or unwilling to make the necessary investments to provide them with access to primary and secondary education, and barriers such as poverty, lack of teachers and lack of quality education continue to exist.

With these 39 million voices out of the net, the Millennium Development Goal remains a tool for rhetoric, in both possibilities for attainment, and, perhaps, even content.

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The 'bin Laden' of marginalisation

Postby Fatima Rizvi » Fri Jan 28, 2011 7:44 pm


The 'bin Laden' of marginalisation
The real terror eating away at the Arab world is socio-economic marginalisation.

From Tunisia and Algeria in the Maghreb to Jordan and Egypt in the Arab east, the real terror is marginalisation [AFP]

Conventional wisdom has it that 'terror' in the Arab world is monopolised by al-Qaeda in its various incarnations. There may be some truth in this.

However, this is a limited viewpoint. Regimes in countries like Tunisia and Algeria have been arming and training security apparatuses to fight Osama bin Laden. But they were caught unawares by the 'bin Laden within': the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region's population.

The winds of uncertainty blowing in the Arab west - the Maghreb - threaten to blow eastwards towards the Levant as the marginalised issue the fatalistic scream of despair to be given freedom and bread or death.

Whose terror?

The gurus of so-called 'radicalisation' who have turned Islam into a security issue have fixed the debate, making bin Laden a timeless, single and permanent pathology of all things Muslim.

It is no exaggeration to claim that since 9/11 so-called radicalisation has replaced new Orientalism as the prism through which Western security apparatuses view Middle Eastern youth and societies. Guantanamo Bay, profiling, extraordinary renditions, among others, are only the tip of the iceberg.

The policing, equipment, funding, expertise and anti-terror philosophy being fed to the likes of Algeria, Libya and Morocco are geared towards fighting the 'bearded, radical salafis' whose prophet is Osama bin Laden. But, the tangible bin Ladens bracing suicide in its entirety have emerged from the ranks of the educated middle classes whose prophet is Adam Smith.

Al-Qaeda, literally "the base", may today be the swelling armies of marginals in the Middle East, not the 'salafis'.

It is not the Quran or Sayyid Qutb - who is in absentia charged with perpetrating 9/11 despite being dead since 1966 - Western security experts should worry about. They should perhaps purchase Das Kapital and bond with Karl Marx to get a reality check, a rethink, a dose of sobriety in a post-9/11 world afflicted by over-securitisation.

From Tunisia and Algeria in the Maghreb to Jordan and Egypt in the Arab east, the real terror that eats at self-worth, sabotages community and communal rites of passage, including marriage, is the terror of socio-economic marginalisation.

The armies of 'khobzistes' (the unemployed of the Maghreb) - now marching for bread in the streets and slums of Algiers and Kasserine and who tomorrow may be in Amman, Rabat, San'aa, Ramallah, Cairo and southern Beirut - are not fighting the terror of unemployment with ideology. They do not need one. Unemployment is their ideology. The periphery is their geography. And for now, spontaneous peaceful protest and self-harm is their weaponry. They are 'les misérables' of the modern world.

The 'bread compact'

The bread compacts which framed the political order in much of the Arab world came unstuck in the mid- to late-1980s.

In the 1960s, regimes committed to the distribution of bread (subsidised goods) in return for political passivity. In the 1980s, the new political fix shifted to giving the vote instead of bread.

Who can forget the 1988 bread riots that eventually brought the Islamists to the verge of parliamentary control of Algeria in 1991? The riots in Jordan at around the same time inspired state-led political liberalisation in 1989.

For Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Egypt, the impoverished Arab states, in need of the liquidity of Euro-American and International Misery Fund aid, infitah (open-door policy) was the only blueprint of forward economic management. Within its bosom are bred greed, land grab, corruption, monopoly and the new entrepreneurial classes who exchange loyalty and patronage with the political masters as well as the banknotes and concessions with which both fund flash lifestyles.

Thus the map of distribution was gerrymandered at the expense of the have-nots who are placated with insufficient micro credits or ill-managed national development funds. The crumbs - whatever subsidies are allowed by the new economic order built on the pillars of privatisation, the absence of social safety nets and economic protectionism - delay disaffection but never eliminate it.

Below the surface the pent-up anger of the marginals simmers.

'Tis the season of 'bread intifadas'

The 'khobzistes' have returned. At home they are marginals; abroad, they are largely persona non grata for being born in the wrong geography, inheriting the perfect genes for 'profiling' and being too culturally challenged for some European assimilationists. Their only added value is as objects of social dumping in capitalism's sweat shops.

Potentially, they are the fodder of chaos in the absence of social justice, culturally sensitive sustainable development and democratic mediating networks and civic channels of socio-political bargaining and

Bread uprisings have a plus and a minus. On the positive side, they act as elections, as plebiscites on performance, as an airing of public anger, they issue verdicts on failed policies and send stress messages to rulers.

The response comes swiftly: when initial oppression becomes too heavy and politically costly, bargains begin. They include promises of jobs and policy, reversals of hikes in food prices and even scapegoats in the form of ministerial dismissals.

This is where Algeria and Tunisia are today.

In Tunisia, in particular, the government has been clumsy, nervous and completely out of line for threatening the use of force and then employing it. Fatalities have been on the rise. The death toll is heavy and may already have produced irreversible tipping-point logic.

Bargains, but no democracy

On the negative side, there is no 'democratic spring' in Algeria. Bread riots come and go. But regimes stay on.

The absence of a critical mass that produces a tipping-point dynamic means that regimes know how to buy time, co-opt and fund themselves out of trouble when pushed. Genuine democratic bargains do not ensue. The states have not invested in social and political capital.

Oppositions and dissidents have not yet learned how to infiltrate governments and build strong political identities and power bases. This is one reason why the protests that produced 'Velvet revolutions' elsewhere seem to be absent in the Arab world.

The momentum created by the bread rioters is never translated into self-sustaining critical mass by opposition forces. Regimes wait until the last minute after use of force fails to kill off the momentum through the offer of concessionary and momentary welfare.

Tunisia will be the first Arab exception to this: Ben Ali is in no position to act Machiavellian and intransigent. He is weak, and the party following and army that has protected him for 24 years may be withdrawing loyalty as the crisis deepens.

The 'fishers of men'

The misery belts tightening around the pockets of affluence and opportunity from Algiers to Amman hint at the microcosm of the unevenness of global distribution.

Just as Sidi Bouzid, El-Kobba, Ma'an or Imbaba function internally in that belt of misery, so do the cities of Arab states globally. They are the periphery, literally the misery belts tightening around rich 'fortress Europe' - a Europe that is increasingly more interested in the technology of security, surveillance systems, 'radicalisation' theories, policing and the mental nets functioning as 'fishers of men' according to one study. Today the ClubMed geography is in rebellion mode.

Frontex is the EU agency that spearheads the task of constructing fortress Europe. It is at the front, fighting against the boat people that threaten the lifestyles and comfort of the EU. Its planes, frigates and patrols literally fish men from the tiny boats laden with Arab and African human cargo destined for EU shores.

These desperados weather the high seas knowing that their chance of survival is not more than 10 per cent. Many drown. Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi's act of insanity was not the only suicide. The 'harraqa', as North African boat people are called, seek exodus by stealth, and by death.

Those who do not drown are chased back to their shores of departure. Some are caught and returned to countries of transition such as Libya.

A 2009 EU agreement assigns maritime patrolling and policing to Libya so that boat people do not reach Italian ports, discarding the ethical implications of entrusting refugee protection to countries with dubious human rights records.

From Israel to Spain, fences are erected to keep non-Europeans out. They are allowed to dream of Europe ... but not of setting foot in it.

The time has come for the Arab Gulf labour markets to do more for the Arab marginals.

The 'geography of hunger'

In Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth one finds resonance with the misery engulfing Tunisia and Algeria today, where the have-nots, or the mahrumin, and the khobzistes strike back at the state and target its symbols. They fight back and thus "struggle ... and with their shrunken bellies [and humiliated egos] outline of the geography of hunger".

In this geography of hunger and marginalisation, the ruling native becomes the new coloniser. By contrast to the have-nots, the ruling natives and the economic 'mafias' are sheltered not only in mansions and villas, but also within 'a hard shell' that immures them from the "poverty that surrounds" them.

In The Wretched of the Earth one reads about the "poor, underdeveloped countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty".

To map out the "geography of hunger" is not complete without marking out the geography of authoritarianism. In both Algeria and Tunisia, the big interests and profiteers supporting Bouteflika and Ben Ali seem to fulfill Fanon's prophecy about corruption "sooner or later" making leaders "men of straw in the hands of the army ... immobilising and terrorising". It is the security forces and the army that run the show in both countries.

Fanon, the ideologue of the Algerian revolution, is probably turning in his grave at the thought that a country of "one million martyrs" sacrificed for independence is today battling for new freedoms from housing shortages, rising food prices, autocracy and overall marginalisation.

The figures construct on paper stories of growth and stability that are not matched by the reality of marginalisation.

For how long republics of paper and men of straw can withstand the hell-fire of the Algerian and Tunisian eruptions fuelled by marginalisation remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that the beginnings of a 'Tunisian democratic spring' are in the offing.

Larbi Sadiki is a senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).

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Fatima Rizvi
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