Not a minor problem: 400,000 children deprived of education in tribal districts

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Updated 13 November 2018

Not a minor problem: 400,000 children deprived of education in tribal districts

  • Lack of schools and facilities major reason for students in KP province to opt out
  • Residents urge government to prioritize measures for increased levels of literacy in the region

PESHAWAR: Staying true to his campaign and electoral promises, Prime Minister Imran Khan ensured that the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) was eventually merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. When the bill finally became a law in May this year, it gave residents ample reasons to celebrate. 
However, today, nearly six months after the merger, several complained that children were being denied their basic right to education, which continues to remain a distant dream. Tribesmen from the volatile region who urged the government to prioritize the education sector said that hundreds of children had dropped out of school as they were forced to study in the open due to a lack of properly-constructed facilities in the South Waziristan, Bajaur and other tribal districts.
Sikandar Mehsud, a tribesman from South Waziristan, said that at least 204 children study under a tree in Shereen Khel -- a small village on the outskirts of Makeen -- once regarded as the epicenter of insurgency and the hometown of former Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader, Baitullah Mehsud.
Surrounded by gigantic mountains, the Shereen Khel village boasts a population of roughly 2,000 but has no buildings for its schools. Mir Kalam, a tribesman from the area said that because of this reason he has been teaching children for the past one year without getting any incentives for his services. “I teach children voluntarily to create awareness among them and to make them responsible citizens of the country,” Kalam said.
Back in 2009, when the Pakistani military launched its operations to stamp out militants from the South Waziristan region, it triggered a mass exodus of local families. However, they have since been repatriated to their respective villages in the district, according to Sayed Umar, a coordinator at the South Waziristan FATA Disaster Management Authority. 
The children, however, continue to lack access to basic education. “Roughly, around 400,000 children are out of school in the tribal areas but plans are being implemented to enroll them,” Shoaib Khan, a senior official at the FATA Education Directorate, said.
He said that around 1,000 to 1,100 educational institutions are either damaged or non-functional across the region bordering Afghanistan, adding that the government, in collaboration with foreign donors such as the UNDP, had plans to rebuild all the schools and colleges in the area and ensure they were fully functional. 
Maulana Jamaluddin, a lawmaker from the region told Arab News that he has been apprised of the issue and has taken it up with the relevant authorities to build a proper facility for children in Shereen Khel. “I have already told the FATA Education Directorate to expedite the process to rebuild the damaged institutions,” he added.
Another example is of the 200 children who have been attending classes in the open fields of Khayati, another dusty hamlet in the Bajaur tribal district. Said Munir, a teacher at the Maktab Primary School in Tehsil Utmankhel, told Arab News that the school has no drinking water, furniture, boundary walls or washroom facilities. 
He added that the educational institution -- operational since 1985 – boasted a strength of 400 students which has now been reduced to 160 because the parents did not want their children to study under the open sky. “This school can be turned into one of the best educational institutions if the government provides us with the much-needed facilities such as buildings and infrastructure,” Munir said.
Misbahuddin Khan, a social activist from the Bajaur region said that the school has been functional for the past 20 years despite a lack of infrastructure. However, during harsh weather conditions, children often choose to skip school. “Most of the times in summer and winter, children fall ill because of the hostile weather conditions,” Khan added.
He reasoned that since most of the families have been repatriated, the government should take accelerated measures to work towards the construction of school buildings or to rebuild institutes that were damaged during military operations. Khan said that the FATA Secretariat and FATA Education Directorate have been informed about the problem, but concrete measures have yet to be taken to address the issue.
Another issue at hand, as highlighted by Mehsud, was that despite some educational institutions being housed in a proper facility, the schools or colleges remain non-functional due to a lack of teaching staff. Case in point being the Girls Degree College -- built in 2016 in the Ladha area of the South Waziristan region -- which has a sprawling building but has yet to hire teachers.
Samreen Mehsud, a college student, demanded that the government expedites the hiring process so that girls and women in the area can make full use of the facility at hand. She added that several children are either deprived of an education or forced to go to other cities of the country for higher studies.
Another school in Mamakhel, a small village located in the Orakzai tribal district, is in shambles, too. With two rooms for more than 300 students, a majority of the students were forced to attend classes conducted in tents as the rooms' roof, doors, and windows were damaged.


India delays signing Kartarpur corridor deal with Pakistan

Updated 22 October 2019

India delays signing Kartarpur corridor deal with Pakistan

  • Border crossing will give pilgrims visa-free access to holy Sikh shrine
  • Former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh expected to attend the inaugural ceremony

NEW DELHI, LAHORE: India has postponed signing a deal that will allow Sikhs to visit a holy shrine in neighboring Pakistan without a visa, a Foreign Ministry official in New Delhi was reported as saying.
The Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, in India’s Punjab region, to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan.
The visa-free border crossing will be inaugurated next month, days ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder.
Media reports said that the signing of the deal had been pushed back by a day to Oct. 24 and that C L Das, an official handling internal security at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, would meet Pakistan officials along the border to sign the agreement.
The corridor is a rare example of cooperation and diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February following a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Ties nose-dived further in August when India flooded its portion of the disputed valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.
But finalizing the corridor project has proved tricky.
Earlier this week, India’s External Affairs Ministry said it was disappointed by Pakistan’s decision to levy a $20 service fee per pilgrim.
“It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continue to insist on levying a service fee," said the ministry. "Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee. While agreeing to sign the agreement, the government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time.”
The connecting bridge at the border was also a significant issue. India favored an elevated bridge but Pakistan was only willing to build an embankment, fearing a possible breach in security.
New Delhi said all the infrastructure was in place in time for the project’s inauguration, which is expected to be attended by former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Islamabad has also invited Singh to be part of the inaugural ceremony but he has yet to accept. Despite the bumps in the road Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was upbeat about the unveiling.
“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” he posted on Facebook. “World’s largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”
Although the opening of the corridor is unlikely to lead to any kind of bilateral engagement or rapprochement between the two nations, Sikhs will be relieved that it is easier to access the shrine in Kartarpur.
The community has long sought easier access to Kartarpur, a village just four kilometers over the border in Pakistan, as it used to demand a lengthy visa and travel process.
Pilgrims will get special permits to access the shrine. Up to 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to access the corridor daily.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor, but it is unclear if he will cross into Pakistan afterwards.