Textbooks and Militancy
By Fawad Ali Shah
January 26, 2016
They killed university students this time. Brutally. Who is responsible for this massacre? The elected government or the security establishment? Could the government have taken any steps to prevent this tragedy? Did it fulfill its promises made under the National Action Plan (NAP)? These are some of the questions that have arisen in the aftermath of the attack on Bacha Khan University, and the implementation of the NAP is under scrutiny. Under the NAP, the government resolved to curb militancy, protect minorities and undertake madrasa reforms. Since then, there has been much public debate on the role of the military and the civilian government when it comes to the NAP’s implementation. It seems that it has been limited to military actions and a few attempts to curb sectarian violence and hate speech.
Many voices have been raised over the role of madrasas in creating militants. However, most people are silent on the role of government schools in this regard. The government is in a state of denial about the subjectivities and cultural identities produced by the textbooks of Pakistan. This is the reason why it has not made any firm resolve to reform public sector education. A critical analysis of the discourse narrated in the Pakistan Studies textbook makes one realise that such books create subjectivities and ideologies that are aligned with the narrative peddled by the TTP rather than that of the government. In effect, Pakistani schools are working as much as madrasas as breeding grounds of militancy. Our textbooks systematically misrepresent various events that have occurred since independence to reinforce a particular ideology, and cultural and national identity. The content is presented in a way that encourages the student to marginalise and be hostile toward other social groups. The changes to curriculum made during the Zia era are still intact. Those changes had two main objectives: 1) to reinforce a certain interpretation of Islam as the ideology of Pakistan; 2) to create ideologues who could fight against the USSR in Afghanistan and against India in Kashmir.
Subsequent democratic governments have remained in a state of confusion and denial regarding the subversive ideology that our textbooks propagate. In its official discourse, the government claims that it is working to make Pakistan an enlightened and moderate society, where people from all religions would have equal rights and where fundamentalism is rejected. For example, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a 2014 speech had promised the eradication of religious extremism as well as pledged that Pakistan would be made a place where minorities have equal rights and opportunities. However, despite a radical change in the state’s public policy towards religious fundamentalism and militants, the message in our textbooks remains unchanged. Pakistani nationalism is repeatedly defined in a manner that excludes non-Muslim Pakistanis from either being considered citizens with equal rights or even good human beings.
Our textbooks also propagate a narrative that implies that Pakistani Muslims have a different cultural identity from Pakistani non-Muslims. A certain interpretation of faith is presented and described as the country’s ideology to imply that Pakistan was created for Muslims alone. Also, religion is described as a “totalised system”, which defines our culture and nationhood, and therefore excludes non-Muslims living in Pakistan from this nationhood. There are hardly any chapters on sectarian harmony and the textbooks are silent about the contribution of various sects and communities in the country’s development.
Pervez Hoodbhoy and Abdul Hameed Nayyar (1985) had warned that if the curriculum of the Social Studies textbooks was not reformed and the otherisation and demonisation of non-Muslims was not stopped, it will result in an education system “the full impact of which will probably be felt by the turn of the century, when the present generation of the school-going children attains maturity”. They were right. It is not surprising that the Safoora Goth massacre was carried out by highly educated terrorists.
We will have to come out of this state of denial and bring reforms to the education system in addition to focusing on regularising madrasas. We cannot keep blaming General Zia and former military rulers for everything. The PPP and PML-N have been ruling this country for the last eight years. Is it not their job to bring about reforms or at least make their position clear on this issue? Our textbooks are playing as much of a role as madrasas in the creation of monsters. Unless the government realises this, we will continue to witness tragedies like the ones that occurred at APS and Charsadda.
Fawad Ali Shah is a PhD scholar at the University of New Mexico, USA