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Pakistan: Educational institutions continue to be under attack from Islamists

29 January 2016

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Bacha Khan University: Schools under attack as Taliban vows to kill Pakistan’s future leaders ’in their nurseries’

By freelance journalist Ashraf Ali in Pakistan

Updated Thu at 8:07am

An eerie cold mist now shrouds Bacha Khan University in Pakistan’s north-west.

Key points:

  • Pakistan suffers more terrorist attacks on schools than any other country
  • Hundreds of schools have been blown up
  • Teachers given pistols to fight terrorist attackers
  • Literacy rate in tribal areas at 17 per cent for men, 10 per cent for women

After last week’s murderous terrorist attack it is swarming with security personnel and closed.
Its reopening date is unknown — another victory for the Taliban, and their war on education.
One of the 21 people killed was Haider Ali, who had been studying for his final exams in the university’s hostel.
He telephoned his father to say he would leave for home after completing his English literature exam.
Shortly after, 26-year-old Ali was shot in the head and died almost immediately.
One professor and three security guards were among those killed in the assault on the facility at Charsadda, 20 kilometres from Peshawar.
Another 21 people were injured, mostly students.
Four militants were killed, others have been arrested.
Haider Ali left behind a widow and his two-month-old baby boy, Abu Bakar.
"Haider went to university only to die," his distraught father, Muntazir Shah, a local farmer, said.
"The message is clear for his baby son Abu Bakar; don’t go to school if you want to live long."

’Why not kill them in their nurseries’: Tempo of terror quickens

Those sentiments would have been welcomed by the Taliban group, led by Khalifa Omar Mansur, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
They are the same militants who were responsible for the assault on the Army Public School in Peshawar a little over a year ago, an attack which left 147 dead and more than 100 injured.
Many educational institutions are regarded as bastions of government authority and have been accused by the militants of promoting Western decadence.
"This should not be taken as an attack on the university," former Bacha Khan Education Trust managing director Professor Dr Khadim Hussain said.
"This is an attack on knowledge, intellect and critical thinking."
Security and education authorities now fear the tempo of terror will quicken.
Khalifa Omar Mansur declared in a six-minute video tape: "We will attack every educational institution that produces lawyers and judges who then run a parallel legal system — a system repugnant to the existing Law of God [Sharia]."
"We will also attack the institutions that produce soldiers — captains, majors and generals — who then fight against us.
"Why not kill them in their nurseries?"

550 schools blown up since 2004

According to the Global Terrorism Database, Pakistan has suffered the most attacks on educational institutions in recent decades, followed by Nigeria.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Secretariat said more than 550 schools were blown up by terrorists in the FATA alone since 2004.
The FATA borders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where last week’s university attack took place.
KP Education Minister Atif Ur Rahman put the number of schools destroyed in his province at 750 over recent years.
A large number of schools also remain closed in the troubled FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces due to Taliban threats and intimidation.
"The militants deliberately attack educational institutions, as they view the future’s educated [people] as a potential threat to their interests," Fazle Haq College Professor Ijaz Ahmad said.
Dr Sajjad Akhtar, who heads a government college in Peshawar, said ignorance was the friend of the Taliban.
"This is a deliberate attempt by the militants to maintain the already existing low literacy rate and find them space while banking on the enhanced ignorance," he said.

Teachers given pistols to fight terrorists

The overall literacy rate in the FATA is 17 per cent, and about 10 per cent for females.
The national average is 56 per cent.
Unsurprisingly, the militant attacks have triggered panic among parents, given the vulnerability of education institutions.
"In this case, the offensive capability of the attackers always frustrates the defensive mechanism of the state … because the threat can never be accurately measured," Brigadier Said Nazir, a retired army officer and security analyst based in Islamabad, said.
Meanwhile, the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa Government has encouraged teaching staff to arm themselves against terrorists, drawing criticism from parents and teachers alike.
"This may turn the educational institutions into a laboratory of weapons," said Nooran Shah, the father of a student wounded in last week’s university attack.
And armed teachers are rarely a match for militants.
Professor Hamid Hussain died at Bacha Khan university while defending his students with his pistol.
He joined the department of chemistry at the university only last year.

o o o


Dhaka Tribune, January 29, 2016

Why do militants attack educational institutions?
by Azeem Ibrahim

There is no bigger threat to Islamic militancy than educated young Muslims

The massacre at Bacha Khan University is the latest example of Islamic extremists’ intolerance towards education
Photo- Reuters

Just as we started celebrating Pakistan’s progress in the last year in cracking down on domestic terrorism, we hear about the attack on Bacha Khan University in the north-west of the country. In another brazen attack, carried out on January 20, gunmen killed 19 people and injured 17.

Just like the late 2014 attack on the Peshawar school, which forced the country’s leadership into the recent crackdown on militants, this attack is a highly symbolic one — targeting “Western,” as opposed to Taliban, education.

The university is named after a Pashtun nationalist leader who believed in non-violent struggle and would thus have been anathema to the militants’ ethos. The university provides education in English and teaches sciences to young people from this area near Afghanistan.

Targeting institutions providing “Western” education is a common feature for many Islamist groups. Teaching boys English and science is one thing, for example, but teaching girls anything at all is especially frowned upon. In Afghanistan, burning down girls schools has been common practice.

Malala became an international symbol as a result of this mindset. We should also not forget the other tens of thousands of girls which have been, and continue to be, affected by this problem.

At the other end of the Islamic world, in Nigeria, we see a very similar phenomenon with Boko Haram. The militant group’s name literally means (Western) books, or “Boko,” are “haram,” or prohibited. So “non-Islamic or Western education is forbidden,” especially for women.

No ideological dogma

But, for these groups this isn’t just some ideological dogma but an obvious tactical requirement.

The biggest threat to the propagation of ideas that these militants are trying to push — and to their survival in the long run — are educated young Muslims who can recognise the vacuousness and perversity of their ideology.

There is no greater threat to them than people who can read Islamic history and who know how much a betrayal of Islam this latter-day jihadism is.

These organisations can only be successful and survive if they have an unlimited supply of recruits who are uneducated and thus can be easily brainwashed into their little cults.

That was the function of some of the madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In most cases, this was the only education available to swathes of the country, especially for the children of the poorest.

I have found that this distinction does become pertinent very quickly. When I visited Pakistan almost a decade ago for some field research into militancy, I found that the leaders of some of the very large ultra-conservative groups, who openly supported extremist elements, do not advocate strict Taliban education for everyone.

After meeting them, I was surprised at two things: How good an English they spoke and how they boasted that their children are studying in the West.

One of them mentioned that his daughter was attending the University of Virginia, another mentioned Bradford in England, while another one mentioned some university in Australia.

I took away two things from these meetings: The leaders of these groups are not so keen on their own children having a “proper, Islamic” education, or indeed becoming martyrs. That honour is bestowed on other people’s children, usually those from the poorest families.

I also found it very surprising that they could afford to send their children to Western universities. Having worked as an academic in the US, I know very well that to send a couple of children to study there is not cheap, let alone for someone from a village in Pakistan.

Ultimately, it is also a profoundly interesting choice. Think how many Kalashnikovs and mortar bombs you could buy for that money to fight your “holy war.” And yet, when given the opportunity, they would choose to use that money to buy Western education. Very interesting indeed.

Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and an International Security Lecturer at the University of Chicago.

o o o


The Washington Post - January 29, 2016

Grade Point
Education is becoming an extremist battleground in Pakistan
by Tahir Andrabi and Asim Ijaz Khwaja

This commentary, by professors at Pomona College and the Harvard Kennedy School who have long studied Pakistan, argues that the Taliban’s attacks on schools and colleges there are a particularly dangerous threat to that nation’s future.

The one year anniversary commemorations of the heinous attack on a Peshawar public school were barely over when gunmen once again went from classroom to classroom killing students and staff at a Pakistani university nearby. The sickening attack confirmed that the Taliban is waging a carefully considered ideological war in Pakistan — and the nation’s more than 200,000 public and private schools are now at the front lines.

In doing so, they are attacking the one area of Pakistani society where there is clear reason for optimism, as the growth of low-cost private schools in recent decades has given more and more young people, particularly girls, access to education.

There are very visible casualties of this strategy: not only Malala Yousafzai, now world-famous and a Nobel laureate, but Aitzaz Hasan, the 15-year-old boy who died preventing a suicide bomber from entering his school in the northern district of Hangu and chemistry professor Hamid Hussain, who died while trying to stave off the Taliban gunmen so his students could escape.

[War on Education: Links between the university attack in Pakistan and threats and violence on U.S. campuses]

Raw revenge is clearly a motive as the Taliban protest against military bombings of their hideouts in the tribal areas. But the Global Terrorism Database shows something more systematic is unfolding. Attacks on all educational institutions in Pakistan have gone up dramatically in recent years: from 82 between 2000 and 2008, to 642 from 2009 to 2013. The data also seem to suggest that the Taliban are shifting tactics.

Pakistani rescuers shift an injured victim outside the Bacha Khan university following an attack by gunmen in Charsadda, about 50 kilometres from Peshawar, on January 20, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/A MAJEEDA Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

While the earlier attacks appeared largely focused on destroying school buildings, more recent attacks have resulted in more deaths: from 2010 to 2013 the number of fatalities per attack almost quadrupled. The Dec. 16 attack claimed 10 times as many lives as the next worst attack on education.

In economics terms, the Pakistani Taliban has shifted from attacking the supply side of education – the school building and staff – to attacking the demand side – the student.

The Taliban has already been successful with this approach on other fronts. Their attacks on polio aid workers have proven effective in disrupting the country’s entire public health system, causing enough doubt in the population and fear in healthcare providers that polio eradication efforts have faltered. Pakistan remains one of just three countries in the world where polio still exists, and the number of reported cases has risen.

[In deadly attack on Pakistani college, extremists take new aim at students]

Now the key area of education – where so much progress has been made – is becoming a target for similar tactics.

Together with Jishnu Das of the World Bank, we have been researching Pakistan’s education sector for nearly 20 years. During this time, Pakistan has undergone a transformation in education, with low-cost mainstream private schools now constituting a third of overall enrollment – and briskly outperforming government schools in educational outcomes.

Girls in particular have benefited from this school boom: more are in school than ever. The number of girls in higher education in Pakistan has exploded during the past decade, and there are now more girls than boys in college. And that means more children overall in Pakistan are getting an education – a particularly important fact for a developing nation where at least a third of the population is of school age.

This reality runs against perceptions in the West, where the notion that Pakistan is full of ideologically driven religious schools persists even though enrollment is well below five percent.
Research shows that the education debate in Pakistan is similar to the education debate in any other country: parents grapple with a choice of schools based on the usual set of considerations: Which of the schools nearby is best? How much should we pay? Is our child getting the best quality education?

Perhaps this very normalcy is why the Taliban is stepping up its attacks on schools.

The terror group has long gone after army installations, transportation hubs, police stations, and public services such as security and health care in an attempt to weaken the government. But education is a unique service – not only because it involves a country’s most precious resource, its children – but also because, by increasing human capital, it strengthens the state not only in the present, but in the future. The fact that this mutually bolstering interaction is one of the few things holding Pakistani society together is precisely why the Taliban wants to destroy it.

Will Pakistani citizens – and parents – maintain their growing commitment to education in the face of Taliban brutality? How much risk is too much? In surveys, we find that parents of Pakistani students are progressive, forward-looking, and don’t want religious indoctrination for their children. But if violence disrupts their mental calculus – if in addition to a school’s price, distance, and quality they add the consideration that their child could be killed – then parents may no longer behave normally, despite their preferences. Instead fear might compel them to withdraw from schools entirely.

As we speak, many schools are announcing temporary closure of facilities in the aftermath of the latest attack. The government has ominously warned that the Taliban may be winning psychologically – even as the army operation against them weakens their military capabilities.

Protecting more than 30 million children spread across thousands of locations is not something the security forces can accomplish by themselves or simply by targeting militant strongholds. Ordinary citizens must affirm by their beliefs, words, and actions in everyday life that they recognize the danger that resides among them. Until they can actualize their own agency in protecting these children, the most progressive social current in the country will be lost – and with time, so might Pakistan itself.

Tahir Andrabi is Stedman-Sumner Professor of Economics at Pomona College and a founding board member of Center for Economic Research in Pakistan. He has served as a member of the Economic Advisory Board of the Pakistan Ministry of Finance, a consultant to DFID UK and the World Bank. He has been involved in research, policy engagement and civil society initiatives in education in Pakistan for more than two decades.

Asim I. Khwaja is a Professor of International Finance and Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. He received the Tamgha-i-Imitiaz, Pakistan’s fourth-highest civilian award, for his work in education and was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship in 2009. He has published in American Economic Review and the Quarterly Journal of Economics on finance and institutions, and his work has been covered by numerous media outlets, including The Economist, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, BBC and CNN.


The above report from ABC News - 28 January 2016, an op-ed from Dhaka Tribune - 29 January 2015 and an op-ed from The Washington Post are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use