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Education Reform in Pakistan
Education Reform in Pakistan
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Pakistan’s Jihadist Heartland: Southern Punjab
Pakistan’s Jihadist Heartland: Southern Punjab
Report 257 / Asia

Education Reform in Pakistan

To combat religious extremism and sectarian violence, Pakistan must reform its education sector by boosting resources to public schools and updating the school curriculum to improve quality and remove divisive and discriminatory narratives.

Executive Summary

In April 2010, the eighteenth constitutional amendment committed Pakistan to free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Yet, millions are still out of school, and the education system remains alarmingly impoverished. The madrasa (religious school) sector flourishes, with no meaningful efforts made to regulate the seminaries, many of which propagate religious and sectarian hatred. Militant violence and natural disasters have exacerbated the dismal state of education. Earthquakes and floods have destroyed school buildings in Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab, disrupting the education of hundreds of thousands of children. Militant jihadi groups have destroyed buildings, closed girls’ schools and terrorised parents into keeping daughters at home; their attacks made global headlines with the shooting of schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai in October 2012. The public education system needs to foster a tolerant citizenry, capable of competing in the labour market and supportive of democratic norms within the country and peace with the outside world.

More than nine million children do not receive primary or secondary education, and literacy rates are stagnant. Pakistan is far from meeting its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of providing universal primary education by 2015. The net primary school enrolment rate in 2012-2013 is a mere 1 per cent increase from 2010-2011. There are significant gender disparities and differences between rural and urban areas. The combined federal/provincial budgetary allocation to education is the lowest in South Asia, at 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If Pakistan is to provide all children between five and sixteen free and compulsory education, as its law requires, it must reform a system marred by teacher absenteeism, poorly maintained or “ghost schools” that exist only on paper and a curriculum that encourages intolerance and fails to produce citizens who are competitive in the job market. Private schools, increasing largely in response to these shortcomings, account for 26 per cent of enrolment in rural areas and 59 per cent in urban centres but vary greatly in methodology, tuition and teacher qualifications.

The eighteenth constitutional amendment devolved legislative and executive authority over education to the provinces to make it more responsive to local needs. Given the scale of those needs, donors and the private sector must be key partners, but provincial governments need to become the principal drivers of reform. They should reverse decades of neglect by giving government-run schools adequate materials and basic facilities such as boundary walls and toilets. They should also tackle teacher absenteeism and curb nepotism and corruption in appointments, postings and transfers.

To counter the challenge from the private schools, and madrasas and religious schools of Islamic parties and foundations that fill the gaps of a dilapidated public education sector but contribute to religious extremism and sectarian violence, the state will have to do far more than just increase the numbers of schools and teachers. Curriculum reform is essential and overdue. Provincial governments must ensure that textbooks and teachers no longer convey an intolerant religious discourse and a distorted narrative, based on hatred of imagined enemies, local and foreign.

Islamabad/Brussels, 23 June 2014

Supporters of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamic organization take part in an anti-India demonstration to condemn the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru, Rawalpindi, 10 February 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed
Report 279 / Asia

Pakistan’s Jihadist Heartland: Southern Punjab

Once-tolerant southern Punjab has become a base for jihadist groups. Socio-economic grievances, political alienation and poor education provide a near endless source of recruits. To reverse the tide, the government must end a climate of impunity, block hate speech, improve rule of law, and refocus counter-terrorist action to target all jihadist groups.

Executive Summary

Southern Punjab must be central to any sustainable effort to counter jihadist violence within and beyond Pakistan’s borders, given the presence of militant groups with local, regional and transnational links and an endless source of recruits, including through large madrasa and mosque networks. The region hosts two of Pakistan’s most radical Deobandi groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed, held responsible by India for the 2 January 2016 attack on its Pathankot airbase; and the sectarian Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which was at least complicit in, if not solely responsible for, the 27 March Easter Sunday attack that killed more than 70 in Lahore. To reverse the jihadist tide, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s federal and Punjab province governments will have to both end the climate of impunity that allows these groups to operate freely and address political alienation resulting from other governance failures these groups tap into. 

Southern Punjab was once known for a tolerant society, but over the past few decades, state support for jihadist proxies, financial support from foreign, particularly Saudi and other Gulf countries, combined with an explosive mix of political, socio-economic, and geostrategic factors, has enabled jihadist expansion there. Bordering on insurgency-hit and lawless regions of the country and also sharing a border with India, it has long provided a convenient base where these outfits can recruit, train and plan and conduct terror attacks. Although jihadist groups still harbour a fringe minority in a region where the vast majority follows a more tolerant, syncretic form of Islam, their ability to operate freely is largely the result of the state’s policy choices, particularly long reliance on jihadist proxies to promote perceived national security interests. The absence of rule-of-law, combined with political dysfunction and inept governance, also allows these organisations to exercise influence disproportionate to their size and social roots.

With state sponsorship and a pervasive climate of impunity enhancing jihadist groups’ recruitment potential, the risks of joining are far lower than potential gains that include employment and other financial rewards, social status and sense of purpose. These are all the more compelling in Punjab’s largely rural and relatively poorly developed southern regions, where perceptions of exploitation by the industrialised central and north Punjab, referred to by southern Punjabis as Takht Lahore (throne of Lahore), are high, the result of political marginalisation, weak governance, economic neglect and glaring income inequity.

After the December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School by a Pakistani Taliban faction that killed over 150, mostly children, the civilian and military leadership vowed to eliminate all extremist groups. Yet, the core goal of the counter-terrorism National Action Plan (NAP) it developed – to end distinctions between “good” jihadists, those perceived to promote strategic objectives in India and Afghanistan, and “ bad” jihadists, those that target the security forces and other Pakistanis – appears to have fallen by the wayside.

A highly selective approach still characterises the ongoing crackdown on militant outfits in southern Punjab and undermines broader counter-terrorism objectives. While the anti-India Jaish continues to operate freely, paramilitary units use indiscriminate force against local criminal groups, and the Punjab government resorts to extrajudicial killings to eliminate the LeJ leadership and foot soldiers. Overreliance on a militarised counter-terrorism approach based on blunt force might yield short-term benefits but, by undermining rule-of-law and fuelling alienation, will prove counterproductive in the long term. 

The lack of progress on other major NAP goals, particularly reform and regulation of the madrasa sector, has especially adverse implications for southern Punjab, with its many Deobandi madrasas. The children of the poor are exposed to sectarian and other radical ideological discourse. The state’s unwillingness to clamp down on it in sectarian madrasas and mosques so as to counter hate speech and prevent dissemination of hate literature increases the potential for radicalisation in the region.

In the poorest region of the country’s richest and most populous province, where economic hardships are compounded by periodic natural disasters, including droughts and floods that destroy homes and livelihoods, jihadist groups, often with state support, their access being facilitated by the bureaucracy, are given opportunities to win hearts and minds through their charity wings. At the same time, civil society organisations capable of filling the gaps in the state’s delivery of services are often subjected to restrictions and intimidation.

Despite jihadist inroads, the vast majority in southern Punjab still adhere to more moderate syncretic forms of Islam: Sufism, and Barelvism, with practices and rituals that Deobandis and Wahhabi/Salafis portray as heretic. Yet, a general climate of impunity is encouraging extreme religious, sectarian and gender discrimination and exclusion. If left unchecked, these groups’ influence will likely spread within and beyond the region.

Lahore and Islamabad should enforce the law against all jihadist organisations, without exception. If they do not, many in southern Punjab may continue to see the rewards of joining such organisations as far outweighing the costs.

Recommendations

To end the climate of impunity 

To the federal and Punjab governments:

  1. Replace selective counter-terrorism with an approach that targets all jihadist groups that use violence within or from Pakistani territory, including by thoroughly investigating the alleged role of Pakistan-based jihadists in the Pathankot attack, extending beyond individual operatives to the organisations that sustain them.
     
  2. Focus counter-terrorism efforts on reforming and strengthening the criminal justice system, with a properly resourced, authorised and accountable provincial police force at its heart, so as to moderate reliance on lethal force.
     
  3. Investigate and monitor under the Anti-Terrorism Act or UN Security Council Resolution 1267 and its blacklist all madrasas, mosques and charities with known or suspected links to banned groups, as well as those that maintain armed militias, or whose administrators and/or members incite violence and other criminal acts within or from the country; and act first against those madrasas in southern Punjab already identified as actively training militants and having direct or indirect links with jihadist outfits. 
     
  4. Prevent circulation of hate literature and enforce laws against hate speech in madrasas, mosques and other forums, including by following through on all current cases against hard-line preachers and others accused of violating them.

To redress policy that favours a jihadist fringe over a moderate and diverse civil society

  1. Remove arbitrary official and unofficial restrictions on NGOs and other civil society organisations in southern Punjab and assume responsibility for protecting against jihadist threats.
     
  2. Repeal all legislation that discriminates on the basis of religion, sect and gender and refrain from backtracking on provincial pro-women legislation or yielding to Islamist party pressure to dilute its provisions. 
     
  3. Protect southern Punjab’s religious minorities, in particular Christians and Hindus, and take action against perpetrators of violence against women by acting through the legal system on reports of intimidation and abuse.

To redress the political, social and economic alienation in southern Punjab that contributes to recruitment opportunities for jihadist groups 

To the federal and Punjab governments:

  1. Reform and expand the public school network, including by removing intolerant religious discourse and distorted narratives glorifying jihadist violence from the classroom; and accompany education reform with assistance along the lines of the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) to help poor families afford to send their children to school.
     
  2. Increase southern Punjab’s development budget, accompanied by meaningful consultations with communities on development programs; and establish and implement requirements to hire a significant proportion of local labour for such programs and provide it related training.

To the ruling and opposition parties:

  1. Respond to the political alienation in southern Punjab by including local leaders within party decision-making processes and structures, and giving them a voice at the local, provincial and national levels. 
     
  2. Redress local grievances by addressing them in the provincial and federal parliaments, including through appropriate legislation.

Islamabad/Brussels, 30 May 2016