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The Express Tribune Editorial 20 January 2020

Education in the tribal areas


The Senate Standing Committee on States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), in a recent meeting, has lamented the state of education in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), now a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and has directed the federal government to take urgent measures to elevate educational standards there and bring them on a par with the rest of the country.
The committee has indeed touched upon an issue of vital national importance. The magnitude of the task, therefore, is such that it must be tackled on a war footing. Nothing less will do. Firstly, the region suffers from an acute shortage of qualified teachers. It is essential, therefore, for the government to both initiate teacher training programmes and provide incentives for those willing to teach in the tribal areas. Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently rightly instructed that higher education spending not be cut regardless of budgetary constraints. This is a good sign in that it shows that the government may be willing to spend funds on education in the tribal areas as well. Secondly, according to the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPM), 58 % of the tribal areas’ children from KG to Grade 12 are out of school. This necessitates not only a media awareness campaign but also awareness programmes conducted through tribal elders and the ulema, both of whom wield considerable influence in the tribal areas. Thirdly, there are daunting challenges such as lack of school buildings and science laboratories which are going to have to be addressed. In many cases, schools even lack furniture so that students may be able to concentrate on acquiring an education.
It is important to remember, however, that it will take resolve on the part of the government to allocate funds for education in the tribal areas at any cost. The government must not waver. There is too much at stake.


Bursting at the seams


Dealing with overcrowding in the country’s prisons is by no means a new problem, but it hasn’t been this bad in years as it is now. Jails are typically filled with more inmates than they are designed to hold. There appears no let-up in the disturbing trend where the prisons have been witnessing the inmate population steadily creep up. And a major contributor to this state of affairs is unsolved cases pending adjudication in courts, with under-trial prisoners put behind bars. A report by a commission constituted by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) only goes to confirm this. It says Bottom of Formthat an alarming number of prisoners who are languishing in jails across the four provinces have not been convicted and are thus a reason why prisons are bursting at the seams.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari presented the report of the commission regarding jail reforms and the situation of prisoners to the IHC. It says under-trial prisoners constitute more than half of the prison population in all four provinces. An alarming 71 per cent of all prisoners in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are unconvicted. The proportion is 70pc in Sindh, 55pc in Punjab and 59pc in Balochistan. Even though these prisoners have not yet been convicted of any offences they are languishing in prisons and contributing to overcrowding, says the report.
The report also sheds light on serious physical and mental ailments that the country’s prison population is suffering from. According to data provided by prison authorities in all four provinces which has been cited in the report, a total of 1,823 inmates are suffering from hepatitis, 425 have HIV, 173 tuberculosis, 594 mental illnesses and 2,192 are suffering from other ailments. We cannot but agree with the minister more when she suggests the inmates should be granted the right to work in prisons so that they can start their new lives upon release.


Finally, some love for local govts


Fawad Chaudhry may have been in the limelight for quite a few wrong reasons lately. Now and then, it has seemed controversy has a hard time trying not to chase the minister of science and technology.
Be that as it may, it is heartening to see a key Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf figure finally focus on a vital facet of democracy that both it and the governments that came before it have been all too eager to ignore. Fawad’s letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan may not have much to do with the portfolio he has been assigned, but the issue of local governments is one the party must solve if it wants to deliver its promise of good governance.
The minister, in his letter, pointed out that provincial authorities’ failure to devolve authority to local government representatives was not only a clear cut violation of Article 140 of the Constitution but a major cause of prevalent jadedness among citizens across the country. The ‘grossest violation’, he noted, was the ‘inequitable distribution of funds among districts’. “A strong federation demands an equitable division of resources among the provinces and thus to district level,” he stressed.
While Fawad may not always enjoy the best public perception – and while critics may feel some skepticism about his real intentions given the mention of PTI’s PML-N rival Shahbaz Sharif in the letter – the local government problem is one larger than any political point-scoring.
In all functional democracies and even many not-so-functional ones, local representatives are crucial cogs of governance. In effect, they provide citizens a direct link to governments they elect and the only pathway to ensuring the system responds to the ground level problems they face.
More importantly, local governments also serve as incubators for future leaders and inject all parties, not just the ones in power, with the new blood they need in order to keep relevant with changing public sensibilities.
Here’s hoping Premier Imran, for once, pays attention to concerns raised by Fawad.
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