Education and terrorism in Pakistan

Education and terrorism in Pakistan
BACK TO SCHOOL: Pakistani students attending class at a re-opened school that had been destroyed by militants in Lower Dir district, some 100km from the once Taleban-infested Swat Valley, on March 7. A war on education must be understood not as something incidental, some small offshoot of some other ideological agenda.

LATE last year, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism released a report that tabulated data from 1970 to 2013.

The purpose of the report was to study how, where and at what rate educational institutions are being targeted by terror groups. Although the report's data collection stopped at the year 2013, Pakistan was still ranked first.

Out of 3,400 attacks spread over 110 countries in the time period studied, 724 took place in Pakistan, making up close to a quarter of the entire number. This was so even without including the grisly attack on Peshawar's Army Public School in December last year.

Ten per cent of all terrorist attacks in Pakistan targeted schools. The second position was held by Thailand, which experienced 213 attacks - less than half the number of attacks in Pakistan.

According to the report, schools, educational institutions and universities were 88 per cent more likely to be targeted in the country than the world average, which stands at 69 per cent.

The majority of the attacks on schools (and, once again, this does not include Peshawar) were non-lethal and directed at educational infrastructure.

They included most frequently explosive devices, arson or incendiary devices that were pointed at primary, middle or high schools while the buildings were unoccupied.

Three-quarters of the attacks were carried out by "unknown perpetrators" even though the Tehreek-i-Taleban Pakistan took responsibility for 136 of them.

The fact that the Peshawar attack was, unlike the many hundred preceding ones, particularly intended to cause a huge loss of life represents an escalation in violence and perhaps an increased desire to target not simply infrastructure but also students - to deliberately cause the loss of life rather than simply a loss of infrastructure.

EDUCATION SPENDING IN PAKISTAN

Recently, I wrote about the dismal state of education spending in Pakistan. The latest Unesco report I quoted said that Pakistan's spending, at 2.5 per cent of the gross domestic product, is one of the lowest in the world.

According to the same report, in 2012, Pakistan had the largest number of out-of-school children in the world, numbering about 5.4 million, outdoing, for instance, India, which has a much larger population.

Just as the terrorism report reveals that girls' schools are more likely to be targeted for destruction, so the Unesco report reveals that girls are less likely to be educated and less money is spent on their education.

Destroying girls' access to education is a top priority for terrorists - providing that same access is a low priority for the state.

Together, they create a perfect collusion of ignorance, an insistence that the female remain relegated to a short life of childbearing and illiteracy.

There are, of course, concrete things that can be done. The organisation Alif Ailaan, which has done exemplary work in data collection and presentation in the education sector, recently released its 2015 district rankings.

The compilation reflects its effort to make education a basis of evaluating politicians and their commitments to the issue.

Included are rankings by politicians of how districts are faring in educational rankings in the hope of furthering the norm that those in power owe it to their constituents to augment the measly sums normally dedicated to education.

In the table provided in the report, Mian Nawaz Sharif's district in Lahore, from where he has been re-elected a whopping seven times, is placed at No. 3 among the 148 national districts ranked.

On a topic on which hope is elusive or just plain unavailable, it is perhaps a good thing that this is so.

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