Saturday, April 9, 2011

ANALYSIS: IDP children’s right to education —Farhat Taj

Daily Times
Saturday, April 09, 2011
ANALYSIS: IDP children's right to education —Farhat Taj

True, families all over Pakistan find it increasingly difficult to spend on children's education due to the rising inflation in the country. The FATA displaced families are a different case though. This case is directly linked with the ongoing security situation in the country 

Military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Taliban atrocities in the area have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. This has led to multiple human rights violation of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), including the IDP children's right to education. I came across hundreds of IDP children who were earlier in schools in FATA but have now ended up in child labour due their families' economic hardships caused by the displacement or their families struggle very hard to keep them in schools and colleges in the places where they now live as IDPs.

Bilal, an IDP from Parachinar, is in 7th grade in school. His father, Muhammad Jan, recently died of a kidney ailment that he could not afford to get treated due to economic constraints caused by the displacement. He was an automobile mechanic linked with the office of the political agent, Kurram. Bilal has four sisters and his mother, an illiterate housewife, now does not know how to keep her children in school without any source of earning. The family needs a sustainable source of income for subsistence in the displacement. The family has received no financial assistance from the Kurram political administration that Bilal's father served for 15 years as an automobile mechanic.

Ahmed, an old displaced school student, is brother of a Taliban foot soldier who died in a US drone attack. His mother is terrified. She does not want to see Ahmed ending up with the Taliban. She wants him to study and live a normal, peaceful life as an educated man. The family is under intense financial constraints and needs help to keep Ahmed in school.

Zenaba, another IDP woman, has a daughter who is in college and needs financial help to keep her in college. Her husband is unable to earn or even live a normal life due to unstable mental health for several years. This tribal woman, Zenaba, is determined that her daughter must get higher education to be able to earn for herself.

There are many other countless stories of the IDP families from FATA who need help for their children's education. The government has ignored such families' plight to date. A case in point is the complaint of the Parachinar Reform Committee (PRC), a committee formed by the IDPs from Parachinar now based in Kohat since their displacement in 2007. Attaullah Khan, spokesman of the PRC, informs that there are about 110 students among the Parachinar IDPs who need immediate financial support to continue their education. Several of those students work after school time but this makes no significant contribution in easing the economic constraints of their displaced families. The PRC committee has been requesting the FATA education authorities as well as political administration of Kurram for years to provide monthly stipends to the needy displaced students but to no avail. Attaullah Khan as well as internally displaced parents who I met argue that the political administrations in FATA have hefty sums of money at their disposal and it would not make much difference to them if some of the money is spent to support the IDP families who want to keep children in educational institutions despite the sufferings caused by displacement. They wonder where does all the money go that comes to Pakistan from international donors in the name of FATA. The money is certainly not reaching the most needy people of the area.

True, families all over Pakistan find it increasingly difficult to spend on children's education due to the rising inflation in the country. The FATA displaced families are a different case though. This case is directly linked with the ongoing security situation in the country. They have been rendered homeless by the state in pursuit of some state agenda that led to the current security crisis in FATA. It is now the responsibility of the state to bring some normalcy in the displaced people's lives, including direct financial support to the IDPs' families with children in educational institutions. This is especially important for families like Ahmed's who may have a history with the Taliban but are now determined to break away from that history for good. The internally displaced families determined on girls' education need to be especially helped in terms of financial support since widespread women's education is necessary for FATA to counter the extremist propaganda from the right-wing religious parties, the only political forces legally allowed to operate in FATA through mosques and madrassas.

Sunni and Shia IDPs from Kurram deserve special government support in the context of the sectarian tension in this Agency and elsewhere in Pakistan. To prevent children and young people on both sides from falling into the hands of sectarian militant groups, the government must go an extra mile to facilitate their access to education through stipends to every Shia and Sunni IDP student. Several Sunni tribal leaders inform that anti-Shia militant groups approach them to offer financial help in return for a certain number of young men for recruitment in the groups. The tribal leaders say they have been politely refusing such offers because they do not want their future generation to be consumed by the sectarian fire that has already disrupted their present. They, however, express the concern that it may be increasingly difficult for them to control all young people, who are frustrated by the sufferings caused by displacement and the government's failure to restore the writ of the state in Kurram.

Education is the right of every child and besides the government, the larger Pakhtun civil society also has a responsibility to help in this regard. I have not seen any substantial efforts coming from Pakhtun civil society. Take, for example, the two Pakhtun nationalist political parties, the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). True that the two parties are under pressure from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan, but that does not mean they cannot do anything to effect some change in their biggest bone of contention with the ISI — FATA and its use as strategic space for control over Afghanistan.

A tribal leader from Kurram informs that once he told Asfandyar Wali Khan, the ANP leader, that his party must stop raising slogans of Pakhtun nationalism if the party has nothing to offer the FATA IDPs. The tribal leader has a point. There are so many rich people in the ANP and PkMAP. Why cannot they quietly reach out to the IDPs' families to support their children's education with donations? I have not seen any evidence of the ISI pressure stopping them from doing that. The avowed Pakhtun nationalists have disappointed the IDPs, just like the state authority responsible for FATA, the federal government of Pakistan.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban

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