The state is under constitutional obligation to “provide free and compulsory education to all children of age five to 16 years”. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) there are nearly half a million children in this age group who do not go to school.
On the assumption of office the high-spirited new governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, thought it opportune to start off on what he presumed right foot by announcing “education emergency” in Fata. He set an enrolment target of 400,000 new students – boys and girls – in government schools.
He, perhaps, didn’t then know how problematic would it be to convince the Peshawar-based Fata Secretariat that he really meant what he said. There had been a running dispute for quite some time between the sectoral officialdom and the Fata Teachers’ Association on the issue of much-awaited upgradation of teachers. Nothing was happening; in fact the Fata Secretariat tightened its noose around teachers by closing down in Mohmand Agency any primary school which was within a distance of two kilometres of another primary school and a middle school if it was within five kilometres of other middle school.
This anti-school policy gave birth to a protest of the agency elders in front of the Peshawar Press Club. Governor Jhagra could do nothing. So some of the teachers came to Islamabad and occupied the D-Chowk on Thursday to voice their concern. How ironic it is that instead of being sympathetic to the cause of Fata teachers quite a few wondered how come they could breach the no-go space – as if in another fellow democracy, Britain, the protestors cannot march up to 10 Downing Street.
The children must go to schools, ordains our constitution. If the Fata Secretariat whose consistent state of denial forced the teachers to go on strike, doesn’t have a copy of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan the Governor’s House in Peshawar must supply.
The issue is not as simple as it is being treated – it looks as if the PTI-administered Fata Secretariat is expected to create embarrassment for the PML (N)-nominated governor. The issue has a history – when British colonial power refused to open government schools in the tribal areas the seminaries filled the space, and since then there have been a steady supply of Taliban.
You shut down government schools by refusing the teachers’ demand and the children will go to religious seminaries. The Fata is literally the fifth province of Pakistan even when its legitimate right to be treated as equal to the other four is being denied, and more so because of petty politics. We have been hearing that a commission has been set up to decide if the Fata is to be merged into the KP or declared a province, and also that a bill is ready to lift the curse of FCR.
Even if there is a little or no progress on any of the two possibilities the enrolment of children should not be held hostage to these hiccups. The concerned federal Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron) must deliver on its constitutional obligation and address Fata teachers’ lingering plight in an effective and meaningful manner. Otherwise, wait for the arrival of 40,000 protesting teachers from the tribal areas in the D-Chowk.
Source: Business Recorder