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Pakistan is a normal but an unlucky country
Peshawar Continental Hotel in Pakistan Peshawar was next to the Castle Bala Hisar close to the Khyber Pass. Pakistan was again top topic at the latest news. Peshawar Continental was attacked with a suicide bomb. According to latest news, ten people were killed and over seventy people were injured. And the hotel became wreckage. However, the Swat Valley close to Peshawar was used to be called as the Switzerland of the region and remembered with its national beauty. Now, national beauty and tourism are not mentioned at all. Domestic tourism has dropped by 85 percent; no need to mention foreign tourists. Currently the hotels and the clubs at the region operate with zero reservations.[i]
Have you ever watched the drama going on in Pakistan? It is necessary to watch and try to understand the drama going on in Pakistan. Things going on at the Afghanistan border of Pakistan are a particular concern to us. Whatever happens, it happens at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Today, let us first take a quick look at what goes around in that region. Then, let us ask "Doesn't Pakistan has any chance?" Figures on the education system of Pakistan contain despair as well as hope. Let us see why Pakistan is in fact a normal but an unlucky country. Let us see why the "theological school myth" nowadays spreading at the western media does not reflect the truth.
How should Peshawar Continental attack be assessed? Let us begin with a quick summary about this issue: At the north Pakistan lies Pasthunistan. Pasthunistan is divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Taliban we all know from their experience in power in Afghanistan is in position of armed force of the Pasthun nationalism. Following the September 11 incident, Taliban activity in Pasthun regions within Pakistan has elevated. Over the last period, Taliban started to appear in Pasthun regions within Pakistan as an armed force. In February, Pakistan accepted the Nizam-e Adl regulation for the beautiful Swat Valley. This sort of shariah regime introduced to prevent civilians being stuck within military fight resulted in the spread of Taliban activity into inner parts of Pakistan. At least when the decision was made by the central organ, Pakistan government launched a military attack against Taliban deployed at the Swat Valley. Nowadays, a couple hundreds of Taliban militants are "captured dead". In the meanwhile, a horrible human tragedy has begun. As a result of the attack, a rapid internal migration from Swat Valley to Pakistan has started. The number of people which were forced to change location exceeded two hundred thousand. This is exactly why Turkey is delivering humanitarian aid for Pakistan nowadays. We have addressed the importance of the region as regards the supply line for the NATO forces at Afghanistan at this column on February 13, 2009; so we will not repeat it.
So, does not Pakistan have any chance? According to the article by Sabrine Tavernise (Yes, Sabrine Tavernise we know; the one writing this type of articles and news on Turkey) published in 3 May 2009 dated copy of American New York Times daily, Pakistan does not have any chance[ii]. Title of the article summarizes itself as a repeated version of an old and well-known narrative: "Pakistan's Islamic Schools Fill Void but Fuel Militancy". The article covers full set of the poverty in Pakistan, corruptions among the country, the tragedy of public schools, bankruptcy of the education system and religious schools that fill the space opened by ruined public schools, i.e. the madrassa myth. Then, with a rapid religion jump involving the questions "Who grow up in madrassas? They have been reading the Koran sitting on the ground; so the answer would be militants." the system retires into its shell. Thus, you have a complete Pakistan article involving no piece of hope. "Yes, Pakistan does not have much chance" image must bother the Pakistani people the most, just like the image of Midnight Express, with bended fezzes. And in fact, it bothers the Pakistani people. It bothers Asim Khwaja, and possibly for a long period of time because he thinks that Pakistan still has a chance but no one pays sufficient attention to that chance.
Asim Khwaja is a professor at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government in the USA. He offers micro economy courses and studies on development issues. He voiced his complaints recently at the web blog of Dani Rodrik, his colleague from the university, as a guest blogger[iii]. According to professor Khwaja, news taking place on the Western Media suggesting that "public schools have collapsed and number of madrassas fueling militancy have mushroomed" does not reflect the truth completely. As 2003 data suggests, among 17.5 million children going to school in Pakistan, at most 200 thousand go to religious schools.[iv] You can find the graph he uses below. It shows the number of schools opened since 1960s. Yes, each year new religious schools are opened. However, this is not the sole reality of the education system in Pakistan. First, beginning with 1990s, the pace of growth in the number of public schools starts to fall down. The period of Afghanistan war creates negative effects on Pakistan's infrastructure. See that the number of newly opened public schools fall from 6000 to 2000. This is the first point: in quantitative terms, there exists a problem; the state does not perform well. Second, it is not only the quality of the education given at these schools but also the circumstances should be questioned. Again as data suggests, more than half of the schools do not have desks. So, excuse me but, under these circumstances, children have to sit down on the floor at school, whether it is a public or religious school. But, to see whether this condition automatically raises militants you need to make a better analysis.
Graph: New Educational Institutions in Pakistan by Year of Formation (Public, Private, Madrassa)[v]
Third, as also be seen at the graph, the space opened by the problems in public schools is not filled by religious schools; i.e. by madrassas. Indeed, there remains a space as the half of Pakistan population is under the age of 17 (That is, they are even younger than Turkey's population. I guess Pakistani families have taken the 'three kids per family' thing seriously). Educational needs of the young population is tried to be met by private schools, the number of which have recently been rising rapidly. These schools do not offer religious education, but normal education in line with the technical requirements of the era. Currently, one third of the education system is constituted of normal private schools and two thirds of public schools. The fourth point: "madrassas have mushroomed" thesis is in fact just a myth. As data reveals, this applies for all regions including Pasthunistan. Fifth, according to the researcher, "private schools are not affordable for the poor" thesis is wrong. Annual education fee is around 17 dollars and is affordable for anyone. Sixth, people everywhere, including Pasthunistan, wants to send their kids to normal schools. The rise of religious schools, the number of which decreased between 1940 and 1990, in fact coincides with the period where the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan ended. The rise since 2000 seems to be closely related with the Afghanistan adventure of the Pasthun nationalism and the Bush period. Basically, political blindness generates problems.
And let us switch to the Pakistan's luck issue. The information given above must improve confidence on Pakistan. First, Pakistan does not have an evident abnormality. Parents want their children to be superior and to keep up with the era. Second, it is right that Pakistan's state finds it more and more difficult to provide educational services as a public service and of course this is an important problem. However, market mechanism itself is finding an answer for the problem. In this sense, Pakistan seems to be a normal country. What must Pakistan do? It should work harder on this answer to turn it into a more significant solution. This is what Asim Khwaja tries to tell. In our consideration, it is wise to hear it.
So, what did we say? "Pakistan is a normal but an unlucky country."
[v] Religious School Enrollment in Pakistan: A Look at the Data A.Khwaja,T. Andrabi, Pomona, J.Das, DECRG World Bank and T. Zajonc, Harvard). Comparative Education Review, Vol, 50, No. 3, August 2006
This commentary was published in Referans daily on 13.06.2009