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December 9, 2017

Points to ponder

Editorial

 
December 9, 2017

The message delivered by COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa about the role of madressahs in society and the need to review this role is important. As the army chief said while addressing a seminar on youth and development in Quetta, the 2.5 million madressah students in the country will be difficult to absorb in the future. The militancy pipeline in Pakistan has long tended to start with madressahs, some of which deliberately radicalise students and recruit them into the militant cause. Bajwa said the concept of madressahs needs to be revisited and children given a full education. For the army chief to point this out requires courage since the mushrooming of madressahs is directly related to the country’s security policy in the 1980s. Many of the madressah networks are still run by religious leaders who receive state support in the form of funding and money from the zakat fund.

If Bajwa’s remarks indicate a new push for reform, we need to be smart in assessing how we go about it. Any reform efforts will need to be led by parliament and the government. There are already laws requiring madressahs to register with the government and to provide a comprehensive education. What has been lacking is the will to apply these laws. Previous efforts have been derailed out of fear of incurring the wrath of the offended. There are always demagogues who paint reform attempts as being anti-religion. Leadership will be required for such a sensitive task. When the talk is about a need to revisit policies, what also needs to be looked into is precisely how the government is to act in the face of the inevitable protests from ‘religious’ leaders and groups. This becomes particularly relevant in a situation where the roles and duties of institutions are less than clear. This issue has become a point of particularly fervent discussion in recent days following events in Islamabad. To be effective, the civilian authority must be able to act without impediment and push forward policies important for the people and the state.

The COAS is also correct when he says that the civil services need to be promoted. During his speech he emphasised that 25,000 students were enrolled at army-run schools in Balochistan and that over 200 Baloch were under training at the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. But at the same time our leadership needs to make an honest assessment of how and why so much resentment exists in Balochistan. Much of this is tied in to Baloch nationalists’ opposition to the policies imposed by the federal government. A meaningful review of the Balochistan issue needs to be made if its youth are to progress and keep pace with the rest of the nation. The problems of extremism and the growth of madressahs is also linked to resource allocation and the decline of public-sector schools. All institutions will need to work together to ensure a better future for our children.

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