To understand the dynamics of our present cultural conflicts we need to go back to General Zia’s way of playing politics. His commitment to a self-interpreted Pakistan ideology and his martial power in super-imposing it on his subjects –- for that is what citizens become in a dictatorship –- had a profoundly disruptive impact.
He controversialised religion, making it into an instrument for repression and domination. Thus, legislation in the cloak of Islamisation haunts us in the blasphemy laws and Hudood Ordinance. Selected religious bodies and clerics gained a new voice, latent with intrusive powers, to guide public morality and personal conduct. He formulated distinctions between shura and parliament which often took the form of a dissociation from or incompatibility with “westernis ed” political and social practice and inevitably enhanced bigotry. Continue reading Culture agonistic→
Going by the number of education policies announced in Pakistan since 1947, the volume of reports produced by commissions on this issue of direct concern to human development and the statements issued by government dignitaries pledging their commitment to universalising education, one would have thought that by now Pakistan must be heading the world education league.
What is the reality? The UNDP, which compiles the Human Development Index using schooling as one of the criteria, tells us another story. In its 2015 report, Pakistan is categorised as a Low Human Development country and ranks 147th out of 188 states. The mean years of schooling for children is 4.7 years and only a third of the population above 25 has had some secondary schooling. Continue reading Keeping them illiterate→
PAULO Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge.
Freire believed that students should do a lot of “problem-posing” and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.
Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Continue reading Textbooks of hate→
Pakistan has done many stupid things within the rubrics of foreign and domestic policy. And joining a coalition of predominantly Arab states against ‘terrorism’ where the terrorist and the nature of the activity are defined ad lib could prove one of the most regrettable. There is such a thing as rational neutrality, but it seems to be something with which we are non-aligned.
Of course we are financially indebted to Saudi Arabia (the coalition’s convener) more recently and currently than we are indebted to Iran: But that could also be because Iran has been sanctioned out of prosperity; rather the way Saddam’s Iraq was. And the coalition’s focus is on Iran and Shi’ite ‘insurrectionary’ segments or regimes Iran may be sympathising with in the very troubled Middle East and Gulf states. Iran has never taken a side that is overtly or covertly hostile to Pakistan or vice versa. Are we coalescing to create adversaries for ourselves and foster sectarian differentiations? Continue reading An erratic coalition→
SOMETIME ago, I was trying to teach Shaan, a teenager studying in a school in a low-income neighbourhood, about the rotation of the earth, the solar eclipse and the pull of gravity. After describing these phenomena, I asked him why we didn’t fall off the earth when it rotates. He very promptly replied, “Because God has willed it so.”
His lack of curiosity about natural phenomena left me thunderstruck. Then a look at the science textbooks used in our schools gave me a better insight into the disinterest of our students in science. They are required to memorise a Continue reading Magic of science→
THE Tehreek-i-Niswan and Sheema Kermani have always been at the forefront when matters of peace are at stake. Many performances by the Tehreek have been directed at protesting the brutality of violence against and oppression of women. Hence it was quite in keeping with its character that the group convened a ‘peace table’ on Oct 15, at the Karachi Arts Council. Here hundreds of women and also men assembled to reinforce the widely held, but unimplemented, belief that female involvement in peacemaking improves the chances of lasting security.
A landmark resolution (1325) was adopted by the UN Security Council 15 years ago calling for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking. It has so far made a nominal impact. The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, admits that globally “women’s participation at peace tables is still symbolic or low”. Continue reading Peace women→
ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.
Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016. Continue reading Learning from CLF→
THE census is one of the trickiest issues in Pakistan today because of its political and economic implications. Our policymakers have found a way around the problem. They adopt an ostrich-like approach thus hoping to wish away the challenge that the 190.3 million (World Population Review) people pose.
No census has been held in Pakistan since 1998 — the preliminary housing survey that was undertaken in 2011 was aborted when it became too controversial. Now it has been reported that the census planned for 2016 and announced in March is unlikely to be held.
The government cannot be condoned for its negligence. Policymaking has to go on and some numerical guidelines always help. Despite the apathy of the official sector, demographic statistics have registered an improvement — but not enough to make an impact. Continue reading Myths and reality→
CAN we hope to hear news from Pakistan that brings some light to the end of the tunnel? It is a red-letter day when we do and one such day came recently when I read about a group of creative artists who have shown the courage to counter Pakistan’s biggest existential challenge — the indoctrination of youth by religious extremists and militants.
These artists have ventured to produce rational literature which they are disseminating among young readers to inspire some soul-searching within them. The graphic novel titled Pasban is designed to encourage the readers to ask questions on basic issues of the day and help them seek sensible answers.
This no doubt will be an uphill task considering the government’s own failure to counter the extremist threat. All it was required to do was to introduce liberal values through curricula reforms. The primary need is to teach children tolerance and Continue reading Teacher in exile→
The Obama administration has decided to go slow on its troop withdrawal program in Afghanistan. A substantial American military presence is expected to remain in this strife-stricken country until the end of 2015. President Obama said that this was necessary to make Afghanistan more secure.
However, geopolitics in this region is more complex than the American media make it out to be. Now is the time to set the record straight before a new conflict erupts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) area and ill-conceived explanations are offered to confuse public perceptions. To begin with, Americans should know that many of the wars in Asia have their roots in American geostrategic shenanigans. Continue reading Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East→