Education and the Price we Pay

Posted on November 2, 2009
Filed Under >Ali Faateh Khwaja, Education
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Ali Faateh Khwaja

An odd pall is hanging over Pakistan. The Margallahs have been veiled with a thin film of smog.Things are simultaneously stagnant and stirring. An operation is under way in South Waziristan province; its ripples are being felt far and wide. Cities, and the people who inhabit them, have relentlessly been under attack.

With the bombing of the International Islamic University (IIU) in Islamabad, a new front opened in this War on Terror. For the very first time, an educational institution was targeted. Schools and colleges have been shut down countrywide. The effect of our nation’s descent into chaos only hit me fully last Friday when I attended a depressing security briefing session at my alma mater which, situated in the heart of Islamabad, has morphed into a nothing less than a fortress.

The principal’s address struck a depressing tone. She looked overworked and overwrought, and so did all of the other – mostly female – staff and faculty. A maternal sense of protectiveness was apparent from the intense care these women have for the children for whom they are responsible. Terrible times have engulfed us.

Simple evacuation plans are being discussed, and practised, preparing the school for any eventuality. Teams of terrorists might storm the building: the facility is to be locked down, the gates and doors shut. If and when if a bomb explodes, the students will be trained to take cover. In case of extreme circumstances, the entire school is to be evacuated.

CCTV cameras are watching every nook and cranny. The parents and staff are being issued ID cards. The mouths of the street outside are to be choked with ramparts coated with navy blue and gray, the logo still visible under the white stripes. Windows have been fitted with shatter-proof glass. The walls, iced with barbed wire, are now 8 feet high. Snipers sit atop the roofs, in anticipation of any possible murderous intruders.

Teachers are fearful that the school’s liberal, progressive outlook – one that is often magnified and exaggerated by outsiders – might put it on top of the militants’ target list (but hopeful that when choosing amongst institutions, the hell-raisers might pick one that is easily penetrable than a fully-fortified one). That hijab-wearing girls and a beards-sporting professor are also found within the bounds of this school is, unfortunately, not one of the school’s most popular motifs. Like penguins, they huddle around the lady who’s showing them around the multicoloured ‘zones.’

In the pages of The New York Times, columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote last week that if America were to vacate Afghanistan, “Pakistan would quake.” Ironically enough, Pakistan is actually quaking: two earthquakes shook the north of the country in the span of a week. Spasms of terror are cresting. A litany of ‘sinful’ corporations has been released to the papers. Telecommunication companies and American food chains have been threatened. The media, hitherto sensationalistic and irresponsible, have been told that their collective narrative is in line with the government’s, and, therefore, they shall not be spared either.

People, restive and despondent, are beginning to believe that Pakistan is in the throes of death. When the security apparatus built by your rulers is crumbling around you, when the army – another kind of terrorist organisation – cannot adequately defend themselves against the death-prophets who believe that they are fulfilling God’s will, when your nation has been manufactured into a ‘war zone,’ hope is scarce. Belief in better times is slowly fading.

Meanwhile, those who are meant to impart knowledge, tolerance to young generations are wondering what sort of world they have passed on to their children. My school’s biology teacher (who shifted back from Britain a couple of years ago) relays his feelings of paranoia and insecurity; he works part-time at other schools and says he is constantly thinking about his wife, an art teacher, and daughters’ safety.

Another teacher, who stepped into the library a bit late, whispers in my ear: “Are they gearing up for an earthquake or a terrorist attack?” The administration says both, but everyone knows why such strict measures and drills are a necessity.

As the newsreel reveals gross images of the more than 116 people, a majority of them women and children, who perished in Peshawar the day Secretary Clinton landed in Islamabad, reports of a victim of the IIU bombing succumbing to her fatal wounds surface and a brigadier is shot down in broad daylight in the capital, the city of Islam must accept that radical Islamism, and the inflexibility it espouses, has corrupted our way of life.

The war is taking its toll. The wait for peace is stretching far longer than anyone could have speculated.

Those who harbour the perception that we are a cheap Third World entity are being forced to mould their misconception: Nowhere is the price of education higher than in Pakistan.

20 responses to “Education and the Price we Pay”

  1. AMINGANI says:

    since from first day people who gave unprecedentel sacrifices for pakistan which has been established in the name of Islam,wanting to implement Islamic shariah but secular loby always deprived the people.So the frustrated are the people among them who are very firm took the agitative way but with wrong way of violance,and enemies of Islam took the benifit,now it is beyond control endangering contry’s sovereighnity.ALMIGHTY ALLAH BELSSED US ALL.MAP

  2. Omar R Quraishi says:

    very well written

  3. Shirjeel says:

    It was really sad and depressing to read this piece highlighting the devastating effects the increase of violence, extremism and militancy in our country is having on our education. I agree with the author that “Nowhere is the price of education higher than in Pakistan.”
    In a country, where pursuit of learning and acquistion of knowledge hardly gets any priority, yet our salvation only lies in educating our people, a duty that we have neglected over years. And the extreme damage that these extremists could inflict on our country is if they succeed in the closing of our schools and colleges. And for that, they must be stopped.

    I may have misunderstood, but I do not agree with one remark of the author about army being a kind of a terrorist organization. We may not agree with many things that our army has been involved in, but we must remember the sacrifices of our brave soldiers in the defence of our borders, not only in the past but even today. The term ‘terrorist’ is a strong term and certainly not appropriate to describe our army.

  4. Schajee says:

    @Ali… sorry for misreading that part and the ire that followed

  5. Ali Faateh Khwaja says:


    I was referring to the teachers as penguins, not the ‘hijab-wearing girls’ and I believe you misunderstood what I meant by the line about the girls and the ‘beard-sporting professor’ – I meant that these motifs should be as popular as the school’s liberalism: hence the ‘unfortunately’ in the middle.

    And yes, I am aware that schools and female students have been attacked by militants before, in Swat and Kohat, but never so blatantly. The Shia students who were attacked in Kohat were on their way to school; the girls’ schools in Swat Valley were targeted while their pupils weren’t actually in the schools.

    If we want to get mired in technicalities, then that’s up to us.

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