30 August, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 3, 1435
Parents, students and residents of Panjgur protest against threats to schools. — Photo by author
Parents, students and residents of Panjgur protest against threats to schools. — Photo by author

Wearing her traditional Balochi dress, Rabia stood tall with great poise and confidence, in a hall filled with teachers and students, at a local high school in Richmond, Virginia.

This was her twelfth presentation in one week and, by now, she was visibly confident in speaking to a foreign audience in her Balochi-accented English.

Rabia spoke about her hometown of Turbat and the culture and life of the people of Balochistan. Sixteen-year old Rabia is an exchange student in the US. In just one year, Rabia has made a mark for herself and her country; she has been on the honour roll twice already.

Zeenat is a 19 year old female student. After returning from a one-year high school exchange program in the US, she is now working towards bringing change in the lives of young girls like her in her hometown of Gwadar, Balochistan.

An excellent writer, who blogs regularly, Zeenat dreams of becoming a lawyer. In addition to working towards her undergraduate degree, Zeenat is also helping the women in her community learn the English language and gain some basic computer skills.

 Parents, students and residents of Panjgur protest against threats to schools. — Photo by author.
Parents, students and residents of Panjgur protest against threats to schools. — Photo by author.

Both, Rabia and Zeenat, can credit their achievements to their early schooling experience in Makran.

While the government wholly ignored the education sector, there were many young, often self-driven and educated, individuals from the region that moved forward to fill-in the gap.

The youth of the area has remained actively involved in community service and, most impressively, established an indigenous network of private schools and English language centers.

Although these schools are run on nominal fees, they provide the youth with their only life-changing opportunity to acquire basic education, computer and modern language skills.

Panjgur, a district of Makran bordering Iran, is home to beautiful palm trees and is an exporter of the largest variety of dates found in the region. Panjgur has a reasonably large network of small private schools imparting education to girls and boys.

The entire private education network is run by local teachers and administrators. The schools generally cater to both girls and boys, although in some schools the genders are taught separately in two shifts.

With the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa affronted by militant attacks on girl’s education facilities, Balochistan, until now, had been spared the senseless violence that has engulfed educational facilities in the north.

Balochistan’s education-based hardships have traditionally been confined to a lack of government support, access and quality issues.

While the region of Panjgur has remained at the center of the Baloch nationalist insurgency and serves as the battleground for military offensives, girls’ education system and allied facilities have never been targeted by any group.

Tragically, it seems, all of that is about to change forever.


Terror in a letter


Recently, all the private schools of Panjgur received a letter from a previously unheard extremist group called Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan.

The letter, addressed to the owners and administrators of all private schools, accuses them of corrupting the minds of young girls by exposing them to a ‘western education’.

It goes on to state that ‘all private schools must immediately disallow girls from seeking an education regardless of them being at a co-education or an all-girls facility.’

It also includes a message for van and taxi drivers in the area, ‘warning them of dire consequences if they continue to transport girls to schools’.

The note goes onto warn parents as well. It asks them to keep their daughters away from English language centers and schools.

Not surprisingly, their threat warns that ‘the mujahedeen of Al-Furqan are ready to brace martyrdom to stop the spread of vulgar, western, education in Balochistan’.

The letter ends with a list featuring names of all prominent owners of private schools in Panjgur.

To assert their writ and spread fear, the group carried an attack on a school immediately after sending out the letters.

Schools in Panjgur remained closed for several days. Soon after their reopening, unidentified gunmen set a school van, transporting female students and teachers, on fire on 14 May 2014.

Although there were no major casualties, the gunmen, belonging to this newly claimed extremist group, ensured the owner of the private school received their message loud and clear.

The owner in this instance was driving the van at the time of the attack. According to eye witnesses, to spread fear and panic, the gunmen fired multiple gunshots in the air - just meters away from a nearby stationed Frontiers Corps (FC) convoy that simply chose to ignore the proceedings.

 Unidentified gunmen set a school van, transporting female students and teachers, on fire on 14 May 2014. — File photo by author
Unidentified gunmen set a school van, transporting female students and teachers, on fire on 14 May 2014. — File photo by author

Interestingly enough, the entire Makran region, particularly Panjgur, is a heavily guarded and militarily-fortified area. Convoys and check-posts of the FC can be seen placed at all district entry and exit points and on every major road and intersection across the locality.

The security forces, who carry with them an abysmal human rights record (they have been accused by local and international human rights organisations of regularly attacking political activists, journalists and student workers), have yet to arrest any individual from an extremist group or a banned organisation.

It is also worth noting that just recently Atta Shad Degree College in Turbat was raided by FC personnel during a book fair. Masterpieces, like the autobiographies of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Che Guevera, were brandished by the FC in front of the media – the works were labelled as ‘anti-state’ literature.

Surprisingly, the activities of many religious madrassas, suspected to be recruiting centers and training grounds for extremist forces, have never been disturbed let alone investigated.

With religious intolerance and sectarian violence - an unheard of phenomenon for the secular Baloch populace - now mysteriously at an all-time high, it is alleged that the state is playing that dangerous game of curbing nationalism by stoking religious fanaticism once again. And in doing so, re-asserting its historic (and myopic) doctrine of ‘strategic depth’ – by providing tacit support to non-state actors for short-term strategic gains.

The alleged strategy, or rather the folly, has already wreaked havoc in Kashmir and KPK and resulted in Pakistan’s increased international isolation and condemnation.


Madrassas, madrassas everywhere


While it is becoming increasingly difficult for private schools to function in Balochistan (government schools are either non-existent or non-functional in most parts), the numbers of madrassas continue to increase exponentially.

According to the latest figures there are 2,500 registered and 10,000 unregistered madrassas in Balochistan.

It is pertinent to ask, if the national economy is still nudging at a sluggish rate and abject poverty haunting the average man, then where exactly are these funds coming from?

Housed in impressively built fortress-like structures and ably providing lodging and boarding facilities to hundreds of thousands of students, how exactly are these Madrassas sustaining themselves financially?

Where are the funds that are leading to their mushroom growth across Balochistan (a historically secular and pluralist society) flowing from?

These are some mysterious, not to mention uncomfortable, questions – the answers to which the government and the establishment both appear unwilling to divulge.

The Balochistan public education scenario reflects a grim picture and the future outlook, worryingly, remains equally bleak. Years of administrative negligence, insufficient funding, systemic corruption, dysfunctional curricula and poor teaching conditions have resulted in a collapsed provincial education system.

According to the latest figures, the current literacy rate in the province stands at 56 percent, this also includes people who can barely write their names.

The female literacy rate, at 23 percent, is one of the lowest in the world.

According to the British Council Pakistan’s Education Emergency Report, ‘with the existing pace of growth, Balochistan will not be able to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals for Education in even the next one-hundred years’.

It was just last year in June when the Sardar Bahadur Khan University was attacked by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi killing 14 female students.

With the culprits still at large, and rising suspicion amongst the local populace of the state’s complicity in those attacks, the people’s confidence in the government’s ability to deliver at any level stands shattered.

Since the recent warning by Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan, parents of female students in Panjgur have decided they have had enough. They have marched onto the streets and expressed solidarity with the schools and their owners, urging the local administration to take immediate action against the militants.

The district teachers association has also asked the provincial and federal government to intervene in the matter. But for now, it looks like female education is not really on the priority list of the provincial or federal government.

The prime minister, since taking charge of his office, has been busy signing deals with China on siphoning Balochistan’s natural resources to the rest of the country and beyond. His government’s grand designs include a $12 billion economic corridor extending from the Gwadar deep seaport in Balochistan to the southern-belt of China and parts of Central Asia through spanking new road, rail, air and fibre links.

Local development in Balochistan, especially in Gwadar, is heavily assisted and influenced by the security forces. It almost always excludes locals under the pretext of security concerns and instead utilizes labor and expertise from other parts of the country.

The Baloch people and their welfare is seldom discussed, let alone ever addressed. The functioning private education system, one of the last straws of hope for the girls of Makran, now also stands to be plucked and destroyed by extremist forces and their benefactors.

 In the center, former Oasis School student and teacher, recipient of prestigious fellowship who would be attending Harvard Kennedy School this fall.
In the center, former Oasis School student and teacher, recipient of prestigious fellowship who would be attending Harvard Kennedy School this fall.

With little trust in the government or the law-enforcement agencies to protect their lives and property, the local private schools association in the area has decided to shut down schools for an indefinite period.

If this current downward spiral in women’s education continues across Balochistan, disenfranchised and impoverished districts like Makran will not be able to see anymore Rabias and Zeenats in the coming future.

That would not only be a loss for Makran but, more importantly, for the province’s human development and socio-economic progress.

With not much having gone in its way, the last thing Balochistan needs is to have its girls forced to sit at home instead of the classroom.

Note: Names of the female students have been changed to protect their identity.


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The writer is a former 2012-13 Hubert Humphrey Fellow who has completed her professional affiliation with The Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education in Washington DC. She is an avid political and social commentator and can be reached at hinabaloch@gmail.com. She tweets @hinabaloch.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (36) (Closed)


guddi
May 20, 2014 04:19pm

Education is the only way forward.

atts
May 20, 2014 05:16pm

what was the language in the said threatening 'letter'....if it was english.... well then the group probably needs a dose of its own medicine

Kashif Nawaz Shaikh
May 20, 2014 05:24pm

It is very sorry state of affairs for education particularly in these areas and I fully condemn apathy shown by the Government.

I hope that Balochistan Chief Minister will take notice of this after publication by Dawn. The culprits need to be arrested at the earliest and education needs to go on.

Harmony
May 20, 2014 05:50pm

What “vulgar, western, education”!!! Do they not know “Seek knowledge even if it is far as China”? What more can one say!

Pragmatist
May 20, 2014 06:43pm

If the western education is vulgar then why do people learn English, watch TV, or go to the movies. Why there is always a mile long line of Visa seekers outside every western embassy. I can just say the so called opponents of the west are just hypocrites.

Akram
May 20, 2014 07:05pm

I sympathise with the author as regards education of women. We need to ensure this not only continues but accelerates. There are genuine issues as regards where the funding of these madrassas is coming from, when the state cannot fund its schools.

However the author is looking at the situation naively, as regards the reported 'taking' of Balochistans resources. No one will take anything, they are there utilize the resources, generate employment and industry and economic activity to generate wealth. What is better, to do something, or to sit around and do nothing?

AHA
May 20, 2014 08:34pm

I was about to pay my respects to Rabia and Zeenat till I reached the end of this post, which says: "Names of the female students have been changed to protect their identity."

So now, my deepest respects to the two unnamed girls. They are a hope for the people of Balochistan.

Jamal
May 20, 2014 08:55pm

Pray to Allah that the long drought of leadership in Pakistan ends and a leader with vision appears on the scene. Otherwise religious fanaticism, corruption and cynical leadership will surely lead to total anarchy!

catherine
May 20, 2014 09:57pm

One must ask what education is Pakistan seeking??....... If technology, math, science....Then be that technological marvel.... If you seek spiritual sustenance's, and be people of peace, diplomacy, farmers and counselors,,perhaps environmentalist, Or spiritual nurturing people.....Then seek that out...........If you wish to carry guns,,And destroy or become radicalism, or be defenders.......Then be as you wish... For only you, and God are the true dictators of your lives, and co creators of such an existences. Be wise in your choice, for every action has a reaction..... From Canada!

Sk. Maqbool Basha, Lahore
May 20, 2014 09:58pm

@Jamal - Otherwise religious fanaticism, corruption and cynical leadership will surely lead to total anarchy! That is what we are having now. The present government did not initiate a single step to reverse this trend.

M. Mushtaq Ahmed
May 20, 2014 10:24pm

I worked as a sub engineer in Balochistan from 1969 to 1971. Due to breakup of one unit, I was forced to leave and transferred to my native province. During my stay there I happen to work with local sardars and wadaras as well as government officials of different departments. I remember very well to this day that corruption was rampant in all government sectors. The political leaders seem to have no interest in improving lives of people. Above all education was never on their agenda. They had only one cause and that was to create friction between locals and people from other provinces. And, today you see the results. Education is the only answer. I hope and pray that those who are try to make change can count on peoples support.

Sarwat
May 21, 2014 01:35am

I fail to see what vulgarity are they talking about. Don't need to read about sex and or contents, Studying physics, chemistry, Mathematics, Zoology, Botany, Medicine, Astronomy, Accounting, Marketing, Advertising etc. where is the vulgarity in it. Sickness lies in ones head, one who needs to find an excuse not to study or never studied him/herself can only come up with kinds of doctrines. When Muslims were away from pleasure and into discoveries and education they ruled the world, when they left education they became trash of the world! look at all Islamic countries, all subservient to the West.

independentthinker
May 21, 2014 01:46am

You know our country is doomed, when people who are assigned to serve and protect, either show total indifference or in fact, support the factions that are out there to hurt us!

GA
May 21, 2014 02:11am

An illiterate, backward population and by extension, the entire country, is so much easier to control by militants and foreign powers alike.

Yazdan
May 21, 2014 04:26am

Eye opening to see what our agencies are doing. With no education this province will always be behind the rest. Govt and army need to bury differences and solve Baloch problems including education facilities.

Furqan (Frankfurt)
May 21, 2014 04:34am

highly informative article....if this continues we will further isolate our balouchi bros and sis. education is every girls right and terrorists can not steal it.

Liaquat
May 21, 2014 04:52am

Can there ever be peace in balochistan? not until the sardars and the security forces realize they can not win against one another and the only sufferers are the baloch people. today the girls are denied education, tomorrow the same could be asked of girls in sindh and punjab. so lets fight those responsible for this before they start ruling whole country.

Glenn
May 21, 2014 04:56am

What a terrible situation. I read every day about despicable and appalling events in Pakistan but this news is simply dumbfounding. A whole generation (maybe more) of girls in Balochistan may lose out on an education.

Sara Bilgrami
May 21, 2014 04:58am

Unbelieveable what we have become and we still want to talk to these extremists? Wake up politicians, your short-sightedness got us here and will now get us wiped out. The girls of this country are the future, they will raise the sons of tomorrow and keeping them uneducatedj wil keep whole country behind.

saimam
May 21, 2014 06:17am

@Sarwat
they are subservient to their own ignorance not the west

Zohaib
May 21, 2014 08:39am

Religion is eating into our lives. This is the outcome when you become a religious state. It becomes a Frankestein monster out to devour the Master.

think_then_speak
May 21, 2014 09:06am

Government and authorities please listen. Is this foreign hand behind the disturbance in Balochistan or your own misdeeds are pushing the people living in Balochistan to darkness and destruction?

Sara Khan
May 21, 2014 12:36pm

This guy in the last photo is Malik Siraj Akbar, who went to the US on scholarship with his green Pakistani passport and refused to come back after seeing the glit and glam of the US and applied for political asylum, which he got in no time. my request to all students going to the US on scholarship is not to follow the foot-step of this traitor. good to look for opportunities but don't be an opportunist.

khanm
May 21, 2014 01:24pm

it is the birth right of every child to have education in Pakistan.Public schools were designed as the great equalizers of our society - the place where all children could have access to educational opportunities to make something of themselves in adulthood. we have failed to provide that and the results are right out front. we have become a totally dysfunctional society..

Pedro Sam
May 21, 2014 01:53pm

I think human beings can serve the nation just by studying the religion and following it properly. People lived without Maths and Science in the past. To become a good human being you need to study religion.

Irfan Husain
May 21, 2014 02:50pm

It would seem that our spooks are playing their usual games.

JP80
May 21, 2014 04:09pm

@Pedro Sam

I think human beings can serve the nation just by studying the religion and following it properly.

Care to say how? By being subsistence farmers? After which you will always be looking for other countries to bail you out at the slightest famine.

People lived without Maths and Science in the past.

Yes. And you can once again live in the past without science and math, because that is the only place fit for people with science and math.

To become a good human being you need to study religion.

Studying sociology, history, literature and psychology makes you a lot better human being than studying any religion.

Do you know why British India, China, Red Indians and Palestinians got exploited and lived as colonial slaves? It wasn't because colonial powers were evil. It was because the above countries were outclassed or fell behind in tech. The sad reality of life is that if you fall behind in technology, prepare to be exploited and enslaved.

riehle
May 21, 2014 06:54pm

Worth Fighting for...."Battle for Freedom" Education is the only hope for a better place.

BRR
May 21, 2014 08:47pm

These same people who hate the vulgarity in the west (whatever that is) will line up for Visas to western countries, and jump at an opportunity to settle down there. Of course they will continue to hate the west even when they settle down there, and then send money back home to fund the same militants and madarasshehs.

Jamal
May 21, 2014 09:00pm

This is the result of the dual system of education in Pakistan. Modern education for the affluent, Madrassas for the poor. What they call Western education is not Western anymore. It is modern education being taught from China to Zimbabwe. People from all over the world are contributing to it. These radicals are envious of it. Hate what you don't understand. The only thing they have learnt from 'Western' education is how to fire automatic weapons and build bombs. Fie on the leadership and rulers of Pakistan who have ignored this section of the population. It has always been government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich in Pakistan!

Moby
May 21, 2014 10:37pm

@Sara Khan he got an education and bettered himself...what do you think he owes pakistan or balochistan? I say kudos to him.

StingFireband
May 22, 2014 01:04pm

Any country which disrespects women and does not allow women to have their basic rights , will not prosper and will remain slave to one or another

Shahzad Ahmed
May 22, 2014 02:38pm

I feel sorry for women state of affair in Pakistan. They are not even allowed to laugh publicly let alone giving education. Pity the nation that does not educate its masses. We don't need engineers, doctors, management but we need humanist education liberal arts since first we have to make our people human then comes the rest.

Shahzad Ahmed
May 22, 2014 02:41pm

Do not leave pakistan. Remain here and try to bring about change if you leave who is going to take care of your people. These are your people, my people we have to fight the system corrupt to the bottom.

Shahzad Ahmed
May 22, 2014 02:43pm

@Zohaib Religion teaches harmony equal rights

NARPAT SINGH
May 24, 2014 10:29pm

only high education iether in india or pakistan will abolish terrorism and will up lift of both national citizen