- A haunting question
“What will they become, maulvis or terrorists?”
That question posed by General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s chief of army staff last week in Quetta at a seminar about human resources development, has to be the question of the year. Speaking of the vast number of graduates being produced by madrassahs he pointed out that at the end of the day these students still did not possess an education and were therefore unfit to work. It is one of the major problems in the field of human resources in Pakistan.
The numbers are staggering. Of a country of over 207 million people, it seems that two and a half million are students at madrassahs across the country. Not taught mathematics or geography, or any of the mainstream subjects except religion, students at madrassahs are studying at a kind of Hogwarts. What are they to work at once they graduate? The COAS observed that it is not possible to build enough mosques to accommodate them if all they can do is become maulvis.
Well said Gen Bajwa, and thank you for bringing such a crucial point into the open for discussion.
General Bajwa’s question however produces a string of other questions, such as: why must a chief of army staff have to be the one to ask this question? In fact, should he ask such questions at a public forum which he is addressing as the COAS when it does not fall within the remit of his position?
And, what is the civilian government of the country, and more specifically the government’s department of education doing to allow such a situation to develop, where a multitude of uneducated graduates is produced only to join the ranks of the unemployed and or terrorists, and the matter is not addressed?
The armed forces of Pakistan are no doubt composed of several well intentioned and talented persons. But it is at the end of the day exactly that, an armed force whose job it is to defend the country from physical attack. They are not meant to indulge in education, except for military schools. But that is a futile observation, since the armed forces of Pakistan appear to find the civilian arena tantalisingly attractive, as we have seen.
Regardless, should a person desist from making such observations about a particular field even if he or she finds that that field is of crucial importance, yet it is not receiving the attention it deserves? If he or she feels that he or she has something to offer in that field, something that would make a difference? What should he or she do then?
You have to admit that the temptation is great, to meddle in civilian government matters, when the civilian government is as disorganised as it is, and as inept.
It has to be conceded that the chief of the armed forces in this country has some right to comment on the matter, given that it is his troops that are called upon to combat the results in the shape of terrorism.
Madrassahs can be brought into the mainstream if regulations are passed making it mandatory for these thousands of institutes that at present cater to the underprivileged segment of society, to teach mainstream subjects along with religious education. Even then, they can be brought into the mainstream only if that regulation is enforced. This would not just provide jobs for thousands of teachers but a more rounded education for the students. Such an education would result in more jobs being open to madrassah graduates. Not to make this move is a clear sign of apathy and short sightedness.
The citizens of a country should all be given the same opportunities as far as possible. It is unfair to throw substandard education in the path of students just because they are unable to pay for a better one. It is also unfair to give children a specialised education right from the start. If they are started off with a mainstream education and then they chose to teach religion, so be it.
The reason madrassahs survive is that mosques and schools affiliated with them receive so many donations in the shape of money and food, particularly the latter. This feeds the staff and students at the madrassahs, something that neither would be able to do adequately otherwise. It indicates a level of poverty which is of crucial importance to note.
Civilian governments need to deserve the trust placed in them. Unless they do they will always be overridden by those who observe the void.
Poverty too needs to be addressed and eliminated. Unless it is, it will be used by those who observe the desperation and use it.