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Malala is barely 16 years old but she has experienced more physical and mental stress than most

people several times her age. At 11 years, she had to leave home in Swat with her parents because of fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army. On her return, she won the ire of the Taliban when she started writing anonymous blogs for the BBC Urdu Service on her struggle to continue attending school. In October 2012, she was shot in the head and left for dead. She survived miraculously and then made a remarkable recovery under specialist treatment in Britain. Even today, she remains under threat from the Taliban. In Britain, she found herself suddenly in a completely alien environment but has since overcome the cultural shock. Despite all the trials and tribulations that Malala has been through, she bears few of the mental scars of her ordeal. Instead, she has developed an optimistic and positive outlook on life, a belief that she can make her dreams come true and a resolve to make a difference for the wider community and the country. This has made her a worldwide symbol of hope, courage, determination and girls rights. In her media interviews, in speeches to large western audiences and in meetings with international celebrities, she has conducted herself with remarkable self-assurance. Neither the prizes and accolades that have been showered on her, nor the charms of life in an affluent and permissive society have turned her head. She has also shown that she is not a puppet of the west. When conditions allow, she will return to Pakistan to continue her mission. What she sees as her mission came out in a remarkable one-on-one presentation last Tuesday at which she sat on a stage with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. At that meeting, as reported by a western news agency, she delivered a poised, articulate and impassioned plea for childrens education. Asked by Kim for her advice to the World Bank, Malala noted that organisations spend much of their money on health, AIDS and other programmes. But I think all those organisations must make education their top priority, she said. Such a focus, she argued, would fight child labour, child trafficking, poverty and AIDS, all at once. The message from Malalas campaign is simple and clear. It consists of three parts. First, education is not only the right of every individual, it is also the best and surest way of economic development and of fighting social ills. Second, girls have as much right to education as boys. By keeping half of the population in ignorance, denial of education to girls also hinders economic and social progress. Third, individuals and groups like the Taliban who oppose education for girls on the basis of a mistaken interpretation of Islam or of ancient cultural values are misguided. All three elements are important. But many self-styled liberals in Pakistan and the countrys ruling circles have ignored the first two parts and picked up only the third one about Talibans hostility to girls education and used it for selfish political purposes. In October last year, then President Zardari created the National Peace Prize for Youth and conferred it upon Malala. The aim was to project the PPP as enlightened, liberal and

opposed to the obscurantism of the Taliban, which it is far from being. In terms of concrete action, the Zardari government did next to nothing for education. According to a Unesco report, spending on education was reduced in 2010 to 2.3 percent of GNP from 2.6 percent in 1999. It is shameful that foreign agencies and governments are more concerned than our own leaders about the neglect of education in our country. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Pakistan in November last year as UN Special Envoy on Global Education to talk about the importance of education with the then Government. The government then announced the Waseela-e-Taleem programme, to be funded by the World Bank and the UK, to pay families for each child in school. No one knows how much of that money went to deserving families. But we do know that most of the commitments made by the government at the time were promptly forgotten. No one has heard since then of the April 2013 deadline agreed by the government to come up with a plan to provide education to all school-aged children by the end of 2015. It is not just the PPP that is indifferent, if not hostile, to education for the masses. The PML-N is hardly any better and has done little beyond paying lip service to the idea and launching some gimmicky programmes. Most of the other political parties have the same attitude. Through the 18th Amendment, they all joined hands to divest the federal government of its powers and responsibility for the promotion of education. This was done supposedly in the name of enhanced provincial autonomy. As a result, Pakistan is now the only country in the world without an education ministry and an education policy at the national level. Education is the key to development and progress for any society. But for a country like Pakistan which has a very large and fast growing population and is not very rich in natural resources, the only way to provide people with decent living standards is to invest on the human capital. This investment might not bring any short-term returns but in the long term, it is more profitable than any other. Since the provinces lack both the capacity and the resources to undertake this gigantic responsibility, the education system today is sinking deeper and deeper into a morass. To make things worse, there is no mechanism for coordination and harmonisation of education policy among the provinces. The federal list under the constitution includes inter-provincial matters and coordination and there is a Federal Ministry of InterProvincial Coordination. But this ministry does seem to consider education to be a matter on which it needs to play a co-ordinating role. The basic problem is that our ruling classes see mass education as a threat to their wealth, power and privileges. They fear that if the common man gets educated and acquires the skills to improve his economic lot, it would lead before long to a breaking of the class barriers in society on which the privileged few have thrived for so long. Our rulers, no

matter whether military or civilian, and whichever political party they might belong to, have therefore starved the state schools of funding and set up a parallel elite system for their own class. The Nawaz government, like its many predecessors, also seems to be a party to this silent conspiracy. It has been talking a lot about the energy crisis, the economic decline and the terrorism problem. But education is not on its to-do list. Nawaz has been blaming an arms race with India for the underfunding of education and other areas of the social sector. This is wrong. Actually, Pakistan does not overspend on defence, given the security challenges it faces. The social sector has instead been deprived of adequate resources because our ruling elite cheats on its taxes, steals public money and wants to deny education to the masses to keep them down. Nawaz has also sought to justify inaction on education by pointing out that it is now a provincial subject. This is unacceptable. Education must again be made a concurrent subject between the federation and the provinces. Until then, even if the federal government does not have any direct powers over education policy, it can still play a coordinating role between the provinces in accordance with the constitution. Besides, there is nothing to stop Nawaz from holding an all-parties conference (APC) on education. He called such a conference on terrorism last month, although law and order is a provincial subject. So why not an APC on education as well? The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

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