Many of us, too many of us, believed Imran Khan when he told us his PTI intended to bring in change, offer sound governance and usher in reforms in key sectors including health and education.
Today it is quite clear we were deluded. The PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has recently proposed granting a whopping three million dollars to the Darul Uloom Haqqania madressah in Nowshera, on the dubious basis that this will help mainstream seminary pupils. The madressah – run by Maulana Samiul Haq, a cleric known for his hardline views – lists amongst its alumni prominent Taliban leaders as well as men allegedly linked to the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhuttto. Any association with this crime has formally been denied.
Imran Khan himself has staunchly defended the funding decision, saying it was done to help the institution make reforms it had agreed to. He also apparently takes pride in the fact that Maulana Samiul Haq ‘trusts’ the PTI and has agreed to take money from it, whereas it had declined funding offered by the Musharraf administration. But should any political leader, notably one who talks of building a modern and progressive Pakistan, be proud of support from one of the country’s most orthodox religious leaders?
While launching his Mutahidda Deeni Mahaz, to take part in the 2013 general elections, Maulana Sami had as part of his political agenda put forward the suggestion that only Sunni Muslim men be permitted to hold top positions in state and government, including that of president, prime minister, chief justice and COAS. He had also said his alliance would campaign against any form of coeducation and that all men in the country should be trained for jihad.
So, are we to assume that Imran Khan has some sympathy for these views? Does he truly believe it is possible to bring about sufficient reforms through such massive funding for the madressah? The amount allocated for the seminary could have been used to restructure dozens, perhaps scores or even more public schools across KP and enable them to impart a worthwhile education, following more acceptable ideas to all children in the province.
The fact that giant madressahs have sprung up in the country has a great deal to do with the rapid collapse of the government-run school system. Had these schools been able to offer quality education, most parents would never have opted to send their children to madressahs. It is surely these factors that need to be addressed rather than helping madressahs grow in strength.
The limited research done on madressah education shows that reform is not really the issue. Even if regular subjects are taught or computers placed in classrooms, the basic ideas promoting obscurantism and orthodoxy remain the same. We need many more studies to tell us precisely what madressah students believe in.
The surveys that have been conducted, or the investigative documentaries produced by channels such as Al-Jazeera, detail how quickly pupils attending such institutions can be locked into a world where beliefs diverge from those held by the rest of society. They show how children are taught to question even their parents if they fail to don hijabs and suggest counter education imparted along sectarian lines or question other education. The efforts of such seminaries have helped produce the mindset that we now live with and the violence that stems from it.
The curious choice of funding, in a situation where tens of thousands of people require better healthcare, relief from the worst effects of poverty or at least some basic school to send children to has led to questions arising both from within the country and outside. Under the Musharraf era, there had been an attempt to reform madressahs, with Western governments encouraged to pour in money for this purpose. Few apparently realised the futility of an exercise which essentially promoted a multi-tiered system of education based on diverging ideologies.
The basic structure of madressah education dissuades creative thinking or discussion on essential problems in society. Such discourse at all levels is essential if we are to give our children a true opportunity to move forward rather than remain stranded at the place where they now stand.
Perhaps the KP government and Imran Khan should rethink quite what the funding would mean. Would they also hand out large amounts of money to other madressahs that agree to reforms? Is there any way of truly monitoring how these reforms are carried out within the hidden confines of madressahs? And can they mean anything at all even if they are implemented given the broader vision that goes into the setting up of these institutions and of the education offered at them?
There is also a need to get other things clear. Do we need madressahs at all? Yes, it may not be possible to simply swipe them away with a single stroke. But should we instead be working towards offering all children in the country a uniform education with an emphasis placed on offering them both opportunity and a means to escape orthodox ideas? This holds true for both boys and girls.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Darul Uloom Haqqania is not making any effort to make this its educational philosophy. It would be difficult to believe that Maulana Sami, nearly 80 years old, would in this stage in life be able or willing to radically change his views. Since these views include the complete ouster of women from mainstream roles in the public sphere, as well as accepting only Sunnis as legitimate Muslims, PTI leaders need to consider if this is what they want.
The lines of policy need to be clear. Allocations such as that made in the proposed KP budget simply complicate thinking and add to confusion. Any change in the funding proposal should not be made because the US is concerned or other religious leaders have asked why one institution has been singled out. The matter should be rethought for the sake of the children of KP and in the interest of safeguarding their future and that of all people who live elsewhere in the country.
We are desperately in need of a change in the present educational structure which has opened up the way for more and more madressahs to be set up across the country. The trend needs to be discouraged. Of course, every citizen has a right to religious education. But they also have a right to obtain learning in all other spheres of life and be given the same opportunities as their peers who attend other institutions.
Imran Khan had spoken strongly in the past of creating a system in which every child receives the same kind of education. He now needs to prove his government is indeed committed to this. There would be no harm in admitting a mistake has been made. In fact, this would prove the PTI to be a mature political party capable of listening to other views and then making its decisions. There have been doubts over its ability to do this in the past.
Now is the time for such questions to be removed so that we can see something resembling altered governance in the KP – and with it a change in the lives of people.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The article originally appeared on The News.
The Afghan Tribune | Kamila Hyat | Published: July 16, 2016, 12:49 AM