Benazir Bhutto was the first woman ever to lead a Muslim state. She was prime minister twice. Her dream was to bring genuine democracy and rid Pakistan of ignorance and poverty. She did bring democracy, but gave her life doing so. The return of democracy is a lasting tribute to Benazir. With democracy she had dreamt to empower the poor, and create an educated Pakistan with a powerful middle class.
Benazir was aware that poverty, ignorance, absence of knowledge, and wisdom in Muslim societies has led to a culture of violence and intolerance. Education was vital to humanise a culture which overtime has become violent, intolerant and racist. Quality education for the masses was her top priority. It will bring back sanity and wisdom.
How can Pakistan breakout of the poverty, ignorance and intolerance syndrome? Benazir had thought deeply about it. In her book Reconciliation, Ms Bhutto writes, “The first key is to build an educational system that allows children to rise to higher social and economic status than their parents. An educational system that delivers hope and opportunity. Good public educational opportunity is the key to the economic and political progress of the nation. Building a strong, compulsory education system requires two key elements. First, compulsory public education for all citizens, all classes and both sexes, as a priority.”
In the pervasive poverty, the neglect, corruption, extremist views and hackneyed culture in some parts of Pakistan, this indeed is a challenge. But Benazir Bhutto was not deterred. She said, “One needs more than will to make it a priority….As prime minister, I attempted to put as much funding into the social sector and education as I could. My government still built fifty thousand primary and elementary schools, especially in the rural areas. I wish our debts had been rescheduled. The fundamental constraint upon my two governments in prioritising our budget was the enormous percentage of our GNP that was diverted to debt repayment and defence.” Despite the constraints she opened fifty thousand new schools. It is in order that the fifty thousand schools built by her be modernised and named in her memory as “Benazir Bhutto Memorial – Model Schools.”
Benazir writes, “the budgets of Muslim countries be prioritised by social need, and not by outdated political or military history. In Pakistan for example, Dollars 4.5 billions is spent annually on the military. This is an astounding 1400 percent more than is spent on education! Military versus social sector foreign assistance is even more disproportionate. Pakistan has a strong military with plenty of tanks and missiles, but lacks an educated work force. The key to invest in the future is to invest in peoples educational opportunities.” The military is educated, while the masses are illiterate. With a policy of peace for the future, like the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) in China under Chairman Mao Tse Tung, one fundamental role of Pakistan Army, should be education of the masses. Committed to educate rural children, the army will regain people’s respect.
The military expenditure will have to be cut, debts will have to be rescheduled. The national and provincial budgets will have to be prioritised for education. The previous government has built up a huge foreign currency reserve, but economic indicators are disheartening. Despite tall claims, primary and elementary level education is in a mess. Chief Minister Ch Pervaiz Elahi spent millions on Para likha Punjab – educated Punjab – propaganda. The new coalition government should investigate and reveal the truth. Ch Pervaiz now Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly should clarify and come out with the truth about the budget percentage that was allocated and actually spent on education. If the money has been squandered then he should be held accountable.
During his stint as Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had unearthed thousands of ghost schools. I remember, government enquiries revealed 4500 ghost schools in Punjab, 2500 in Sindh, 2000 in NWFP and 1200 in Balochistan. These schools were built on paper. Construction funds and teacher’s salaries were embezzled. These included schools built, but not staffed, or the ghost teachers were paid part salaries, part of the salaries being pocketed by concerned officials. Hundreds of buildings were forcibly occupied by chaudhrys, waderas, maliks and nawabs for private use. Billions obviously were stolen by ruthlessly corrupt officials. With Shahbaz Sharif at the helm of affairs, such massive fraud must be investigated and the culprits brought to justice. Besides the low priority, the corruption and neglect of the provincial education departments is the cause of the shocking state of primary and elementary education. Thousands of maktabs and primary schools have no buildings. The classes are held in the open with kids sitting in scorching sun in hot summers and shivering with cold in winter. There are committed teachers, but they loose motivation, because of supervisory neglect and no amenities and zero funding. The chief ministers and cabinet ministers need to get out of Islamabad and provincial capitals to see the horrid state of schools in the rural areas and smaller towns. Quality primary and elementary education has to be started from a scratch.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in his one hundred day plan has prioritised education. But this must be followed by a clear plan, for school buildings – repair and construction. Extensive teacher training programs, recruitment of new teachers, housing and medicare facilities for teachers, preferably close to their schools, and better salaries be sanctioned. Teachers living from hand to mouth cannot be expected to give their best to their students.
Besides funds, lack of honesty, corruption and motivation are the constraints. I suspect that even from the present budgets of provincial education departments, 30 to 50 percent is wasted, swindled, and stolen. It is necessary to create inspection wings with the provincial audit departments to monitor spending on education on a daily basis. But the funding requirement for free primary and elementary education is huge. Money must be diverted from the military to education. Teachers must get jobs on merit and not on sifarish. Today thousands of teachers appointed on sifarish are either totally illiterate or have fake degrees, and do private business, while evading their duty of teaching.
Benazir Bhutto writes, “After the defeat of totalitarianism in World War II, the United States made an extraordinary commitment to freedom and liberty. It was a pragmatic calculation about the nature of humanity. A country that had bled profusely on the battlefields of Europe and seas of the Pacific courageously chose not to retreat from international responsibility. A president with a great vision recognised that the most effective way to contain the spread of communism in Europe was to rebuild the economies of that shattered continent. The Marshal Plan was predicated on the concept that people, whose social needs are being adequately addressed, will neither acquiesce to nor tolerate totalitarianism or extremism. America invested billions in rebuilding Greece, Italy, France and even arch-enemies like Germany and Japan. American help to these two fascist countries turned them into thriving democracies with strong economies. This policy eventually defeated communism.”
“The world would have been a different place if the West had made a similar commitment to build the economic, political and democratic infrastructure of the Muslim world, instead of draining its material and human resources, and thwarting the growth of democratic values. The deprived people of the Muslim world, subjected to injustice became impatient, and radicalised militants,” she further adds in her book.
Hunger breeds extremism, hopelessness and despair breeds violence. People who are deprived are impatient. And poverty and impatience give rise to militancy and terrorism. Nations with Islamic majorities remain poor and need help. They need help of the rich countries within the Islamic world, and of developed countries, which have funds to spare, knowledge and technical expertise. Pakistan has been through great turmoil, and the storm has not fully ebbed. The West, especially the United States has a short term myopic view of Pakistan. Washington does not trust Pakistan any more. Funds given by the US to the government for development or defence get stolen. Dollars ten billion given by Washington to the previous government are not traceable. Who has pocketed them? must be clarified by President Musharraf.
Recently Dr Fahmida Mirza, Speaker of Pakistan’s Parliament called upon world powers to support Benazir Bhutto’s plan modelled on the Marshal Plan to rebuild Pakistan. Addressing the fourth meeting of the World Women Speakers of Parliaments, held with the 114th Assembly of Inter-Parliamentary Union to redress global injustices, Dr Mirza said, “From the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, to the conflicts in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Jammu and Kashmir, violent extremists have taken advantage of the frustration and resentment in Muslim countries for spreading extremism and militancy. A plan needs to be developed on the lines of the Marshal Plan to help and protect the poor people, especially the women and children. To limit the growing power and influence of extremists, people be saved from starvation by food aid. Schools be built and funded for spread of quality education. Books, stationary-writing material be made available. Funds be given to buy shoes for the kids. Pakistan needs hospitals and women health care centres.” The meeting was presided by Baleka Mobote. Though impressed by Dr Mirza’s sincerity, to plead for funds and help; it is vital to set our house in order and do ourselves most of which we demand and expect others to do for us.
Benazir’s dream of an “Educated Pakistan”, would come true, only when we stand on our own feet, work from within the resources that we have, and accomplish the given task and mission of an “Educated Pakistan”, with a sense of patriotism, honesty and truthfulness. Considering our reputation, the West is unlikely to dole billions, which are likely to be swindled and stolen. God helps those who help themselves. Let us further Benazir Bhutto’s mission with the spirit of sacrifice and single mindedness.
Source: The news, 23/4/2008