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Express Tribune Editorials – 20th December 2015

The foreign funds affair

In the last year, there has been much huffing and puffing about the inflow of ‘foreign funds’ to the country, and the National Action Plan(NAP) formulated in the wake of the Army Public School massacre in December 2014 makes specific reference to the identification of sources of funding for madrassas, and if appropriate, blocking it. A year on, in a written response to a question in the National Assembly, there comes the admission by the interior ministry that 285 madrassas are receiving financial support from at least 10 countries, but the government is clueless about just how much money or other support is coming into the country.

The inflow is from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, the US, the UK and South Africa. It goes to 147 seminaries in Punjab, 95 in Gilgit-Baltistan, one in Sindh, 12 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 30 in Balochistan — a very considerable spread geographically. The sums involved are not petty cash. Two seminaries are in receipt of amounts going up to Rs2.5-Rs3 million every year, and 80 seminaries collectively receive Rs300 million a year.

Given that under the NAP, the government was committed — indeed required — to track the foreign funding of seminaries, it would appear that at best the job is less than half done. If the detail of numbers of seminaries receiving funding is known, as is the source of that funding, as well as the means by which it is transferred, both legal and illegal — then surely it is not beyond the competencies of our myriad security agencies to put a figure to the amount and thus complete the picture. A further gap is revealed with the news that “there is no tangible intelligence as to whether these (funding) countries were facilitating the seminaries in terms of training, capacity-building and curriculum development”. One might be led to wonder if the reason for the absence of such intelligence was because it had been decided, for whatever reason, not to gather it. It might also be inferred that there is an absence of sincerity in fulfilling this objective of the NAP. We will continue to observe developments on this front with critical interest.

Time to move on

It had been a blood-soaked separation. And a significant section of the population of Pakistan, to this day, regrets the excesses and injustices meted out to the people of the then East Pakistan by the country’s establishment before and during the events of 1971. Those of us who still regard our Bangladesh brethren as our own acknowledge that the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan faced significant discrimination on various fronts during the years leading up to 1971. There were vast disparities in income and economic opportunities for the people of East Pakistan were hard to come by. The bloodshed seen during 1971 is another chapter that is clearly not easy to erase from national memories.

These memories are embedded in the history of the very birth of Bangladesh. The people and the government of Bangladesh have every right to recall the events of their country’s genesis while celebrating their hard-won independence. Nobody would deny them the right to relive on such occasions the cataclysmic events that led to their country’s birth and condemn those who in their opinion had played a villainous role during the events of 1971.

But the recent decision of Dhaka University to cut all relations with Pakistan, though seemingly a symbolic gesture, does reflect a contrived national mood. Of course, it is one thing to relive the bloody memories while celebrating independence, but to continue to stoke anti-Pakistan sentiments around the year without rhyme or reason, 44 years after freedom was won, is another matter. It is time that Bangladesh, especially the Hasina Wajed regime, which could be resorting to such policies under domestic political compulsions, moved on to seeking reconciliation with Islamabad by treating history as history instead of letting it come in the way of its relations with Pakistan. Our government, too, should be aware of the sensitivities of the Bangladeshi people. We may feel apprehensions with respect to the tone the Bangladesh regime has taken vis-a-vis Pakistan in recent times, and the way the war crimes tribunals have been working in the country. However, we should continue to strive for better ties with Bangladesh.

Downsizing education

There is no shortage of statistics around the education sector that may be regarded as ‘shameful’; but even within the ranks of the shameful, some shame more than others. The latest figure for the number of school-going children in Karachi is one such. The City of Blights has less than nine per cent children enrolled in government primary educational institutions, according to the findings of a survey by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The HRCP conducts regular surveys and is generally regarded as an organisation that produces accurate figures; and viewed historically there has been a drop in enrolment that is not only startling but bordering on the catastrophic.

In 1998, there were 30 per cent of children of primary age in government schools. That dropped to 26 per cent in 2002-03 and to 24 per cent in 2005-06. A decade later it had dropped a further 15 per cent to under nine and nobody appears to have the slightest idea how or why. The secretary general of the HRCP has said that there is no organisation or mechanism to explain where the missing 91 per cent of children in primary schools are. It seems doubtful that the private sector, mushrooming as it is, has soaked them up, likewise madrassas, and the most likely explanation is that they are ‘out of school’. In 1998, there were 325,715 children enrolled, falling to 207,218 today, a catastrophic fall by any measure and one that bodes ill for a city that is the engine of the national economy. There is a vast pool of uneducated that are growing up in ignorance, have few prospects in terms of jobs beyond daily-waging and may find the attraction of crime irresistible. They are always going to be poor and marginalised, the most deprived of society, and a failure to get such a large proportion of Karachi’s children into education will diminish social capital as well as potentially sow the seeds of social unrest. Seemingly, nobody spotted a trend that is blindingly obvious, or if they did, then chose to ignore it. If so — be ashamed, be very ashamed.

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