EDUCATION IN NORTH WAZIRISTAN
(First Published 9th March, 2013, big thanks to TAHIR ALI for writing, sharing and permitting reprint)
When someone refers to North Waziristan, issues such as terrorism, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, bomb blasts and drone strikes automatically come to mind. No doubt, North Waziristan hosts local, national and international militants and extremists roam freely in the area but the area is predominantly inhabited by tribesmen who side neither with the militants nor with the military, and simply want to live an independent life. Unfortunately they are destined to suffer both at the hands of the militants and the security forces.
Due to militancy-related issues, North Waziristan easily finds a place in the headlines of the print and electronic media− both nationally and internationally. But issues related to the common people, even if on serious themes, are hardly ever discussed in the media.
It is a common belief that the tribesmen of North Waziristan are ignorant and cannot differentiate between “evil” and “good”. But this is totally inaccurate. These people are not against development work in their areas; they want to educate their children. The continuous crises in the area have ‘educated’ them and they are aware about what is going on in the region. Ask a youngster, even if he does not go to school, about the situation of North Waziristan and his answer is simple, ‘It is a game and we are being used’.
An overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of North Waziristan wants to educate their children; but the problem is how to do this. The continuing activities of the militants and the military have paralysed the education system in North Waziristan. The well-off are sending their children to settled areas to get an education but the majority of the people are poor and can’t afford the schooling of their kids outside the area.
In North Waziristan, there is no threat to educational institutions from the militants but the social system itself is a big enemy of schooling. Unlike the rest of the tribal agencies and some settled areas of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP), in North Waziristan there is no threat to school buildings by the militants. There are no threats to teachers if they want to educate the tribal children. Journalist friends and other local sources from North Waziristan have confirmed that there was no threat to educational institutions from the militants. The threat to education here is posed by tribal chieftains, the custodians of “ghost schools” and “hujra schools”.
On paper, an umbrella of educational institutions exists in North Waziristan. In this particular agency, there are some 872 government-run and private institutions both for males and females. Regarding the number of educational institutions, North Waziristan leads in all seven tribal agencies but the question is how to make these schools and colleges functional. There is no discrimination towards women, as there are 456 institutions for males and 416 for females – the difference is not that great. Apart from a number of primary and high schools, there are post-graduate colleges, degree colleges, a girls’ degree college, an elementary college and a cadet college in North Waziristan.
Every year a large amount of money is allocated for the education sector of North Waziristan but these funds are misused as a routine. The allocation of funds in the education sector always causes a disturbance in the area; the Malakaan start fighting with each other to get the maximum share of the funds. They receive an amount for the furniture and the renovation of school buildings in their areas but do not invest the entire amount on the task. The corrupt officials of the Political Administration and the education sector never bother to go and check the development work supposed to be undertaken by these local elders. The Malakaan who own “ghost schools” and “hujra school” (schools used as guest houses) are so influential that the FATA Secretariat and Governor’s House do not interfere in their activities.
The intellectuals and other experts term lack of education and awareness as a main cause of problems in the tribal areas of Pakistan. These experts always correlate the lack of education with the existence of militants in tribal areas but the Malakaan are hardly blamed for their role in keeping the youngsters away from educational institutions. The Malakaan are aware about the importance of education, as their own children are learning in the leading institutions of the country, but when it comes to the education of poor children, these elders play the role of villains. If illiteracy is one of the main causes of militancy, then the Malakaan should be blamed instead of the Taliban for the growing extremism in the area.
By Tahir Ali is a journalist based in Peshawar and travels extensively in FATA
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”