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Intolerance? bigotry? ignorance?

January 25, 2004

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One should perhaps be 'shocked' to read in Professor A.H. Nayyar and Ahmad Salim's report on the State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan (pub.2003 www.sdpi.org) that the intended perversion of Pakistan's education system and national curricula came about as early as November 1947, even before the death of the country's founder (whose firm belief it was that 'religion or caste or creed has nothing to do with the business of the state').

However, since we are all now immune to shock (other than the venerable leadership of this country) we accept as quite natural to learn that the practice of the distortion and manipulation of education (as is the case with the practice of corruption) started for us from day one.

In those early days, the government of Pakistan rounded up whatever educationists could be found, organized a conference, and asked them to establish guidelines for the nation's future education policies. The so-called educationists produced by Pakistan's birth pangs recommended the 'adoption of Islamic ideology as the basis of education.' This, again, could be somewhat amazing information, considering that the Objectives Resolution was not imposed on the nation until March 1949.

However, and despite this prescribed policy of the linkage of history and other subjects with an ideology, the rot was initially kept at bay and the textbooks in our schools during the 1950s and 1960s were remarkably balanced. Ancient Hindu history and culture was not ignored as if it had never existed. Our children were taught that their history started off with the ancient South Asian civilizations of Moenjodaro, Harappa and Taxila. The early Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms were dealt with factually, as was the advent of Islam to the subcontinent - so factually that not only were the ancient civilizations were praised for their great and good achievements.

Facts continued all the way down in the curricula right up to and after partition. Mahatma Gandhi, who now either never existed, or if he did, was a devil, was given due acknowledgment and appreciation for the part he played in the ending of the British raj. A healthy balance was well and strictly maintained.

Curriculawise all was kept under control until, oddly enough, the arrival as head of state of Rangila Raja Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan. One can only presume that he had matters other than education, which to him were of far more import and interest - and besides, education was hardly his forte. In those confused days, the educational policy, in contrast to the presidential policy, veered strongly towards the ideological.

Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and with the loss of half the country behind him, things worsened rapidly on the education front. Over-emphasis was placed on the two nation theory and the nation's roots were sought not in the subcontinent from which they sprung, but from Islamic lands to the west and north. Towards the self-inflicted end of Bhutto's disastrous reign, when he sought the approval of the mullah fraternity to prop up his regime, as a mullah-toadying tactic he even had the curricula and textbooks revised so as to more reflect the mullah attitudes to life.

It took Ziaul Haq to complete the transformation of the education system and the national curricula. Textbooks were rewritten to fit in with Zia's religious, social and political concepts. It was during this period that hatred of India, Indians and Hindus, and of all other things not Islamic, was firmly instilled into the minds of the young. History was rewritten. For the youth of Pakistan it started with Mohammad bin Qasim who was declared to be the first citizen of Pakistan. The sword, battle, and killing for one's faith were glorified, all in the interest of the military and the mullah. Brainwashing and indoctrination were the order of the day.

Education is the basis of nation-building. This nation has been built and raised over the past three decades on the hatred of the 'traditional enemy', India, and the infidel wherever he may be, the incitement of militancy and violence, and the exaltation of a state of war.

This policy has been continued during the four years of the rule of President General Pervez Musharraf, who time and time again has made clear his wish and intent to transform Pakistan into a moderate, tolerant and forward-looking state, following the wishes and designs of its creator. Common sense should tell him that if the young are being taught what they are now still taught, there can be no change of the mindset.

Musharraf seems singularly uninterested in education, as does his government. And his men and women in charge of education have done nothing - nothing at all - to improve matters. They are good at issuing statements, at attending seminars, and at promising betterment - they say the intention is there, they claim commitment. But from what we see on the ground they are unable, or unwilling, to implement. They have not tackled the national curricula, they have been helpless when it comes to doing something about cleaning up the madressahs and removing from their curricula the element of militant indoctrination.

As things stand, increasing the literacy rate by imposing on the young the teachings contained in the present textbooks will, in fact, only make things worse as it will raise the level of intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, hatred and propel more of our youngsters into the jihad mindset. The education minister last week, at one of the tri-weekly seminars, admitted that 50 million citizens of Pakistan aged over 10 years are illiterate. Of our 160 millions, how many millions are under 10 years of age - another 50 million perhaps? She would do well to keep this 100- million in a state of illiteracy until she drastically modifies the overturns the national and curricula or is replaced by someone qualified and competent to do so.

We do not need any more reports on what should be done. We know what needs to be done. Apart from the fact that traditionally in this country reports are not to be acted upon but merely added to the shelved collection of such publications (for example, take all the reports produced on the status of women, including the latest offering of former high court judge, Majida Rizvi). If the chairman of the Sindh Development Foundation is to be believed, were a calculation to be made of all the studies/reports, etc, that have been produced on the subject of poverty alleviation, it would amount to over Rs.1,000 million poured down the national drain (letter, Jan 23). What irony!

One vital aspect of the need for the complete revamping of education in Pakistan is the present rapprochement under way with India, the expressed desire of both countries being that peace and tranquillity and understanding should prevail. Now, if this is to be, then all our textbooks (and perhaps many of those in India as well) should be swiftly trashed so that we can both make an immediate start at raising a generation of literates who are not taught to loathe each other, who are not exhorted to kill each other, who are not instructed in the art of warfare, the economics of warfare, the geographical factors of warfare, the principles and factors involved in waging war, and in the 'defence of Pakistan'.

We have a military academy to impart this type of instruction. An editorial in the national press last week has dealt with the necessity of "the purging of lethal textbooks" and the reintroduction of "truth in a region where war would have been impossible without lying to the people."

Nothing will happen tomorrow, to wash away in Pakistan and in India the lust to fight and kill each other over a 56-year old territorial disagreement; it will not happen the day after tomorrow, nor even in the lifetime of many of us. But, if it is to happen sometime in the not too distant future, the only way is to now, right now, start working on a generation that is taught, and convinced, that peace brings far more benefits, far less torment and misery, than war. Can Musharraf comprehend this? And if he can, is he up to the task?

E-mail: arfc@cyber.net.pk