Back to school

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Finally there is some good news. 179 militancy-hit schools in the Malakand Division have been rebuilt by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and are likely to become operational in coming weeks. Malakand was one of the worst affected regions during Taliban militancy. Violent extremists targeted 182 schools between the period, 2008 to 2011. Most of these schools were meant for girls. KP’s Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority reconstructed 108 schools with the financial support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Nearly 47 schools were rebuilt with the assistance of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the rest were financed with local funds. Rehabilitation work continues in schools that were affected by insurgency and the floods of 2010.
Pakistan’s battle against the Taliban insurgency began in 2004 after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan forced militants to flee across the border. Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and significant parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) were severely affected by the militancy forcing hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes. Although peace has returned following the military operations in the region, the conflict resulted in immense destruction. International development agencies and Pakistan’s friends such UAE helped the province deal with the aftermath of chaos and violence. Military operations, such as the Rah-e-Rast, Rah-e-Nijat, Zarb-e-Azb, have helped in clearing the restive areas of militant groups. However, kinetic solutions to complex insurgencies are at best short-term interventions. In fact, a direct consequence of military operations has been the internal displacement of populace from KP and FATA. The IDPs have been hosted by family and clan networks and it may take many years before all the displaced return to their homes.
Physical reconstruction is the easier part of post conflict situations. Tackling the drivers of extremism and conflict is a protracted process that requires political solutions and ensuring that local governance is improved. The recent FATA reforms were much needed but the impact of these reforms will not be realized in the short term. KP has now local governments in the province but many areas in the province are governed under hybrid arrangements. There is a need to standardize and modernize the system of administration that can restore public trust in the state and its institutions. Perhaps an even more urgent task is to tackle extremist ideologies that have taken root in the country since Pakistan decided to become part of the Afghan jihad. The state has yet to institute regulation of madrassas and prosecute hate-preaching clerics who justify Taliban style violence against civilians. The controversial decision of KP government to finance a large seminary with public funds needs to be challenged. We need to focus on public sector schools and initiate a program where madrassas can be converted into proper schools overtime. Quality education can contribute to the long-term battle against obscurantist ideas and extremism. Therefore, KP’s disaster management authority deserves commendation for its work. It is hoped that the KP government will make these schools functional at the earliest.