education for street kids in AfghanistanThe issue of providing quality education to children in Afghanistan persists. According to UNICEF, approximately 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are not in school, including more than two million girls. Afghan children face several barriers to education. These include “a shortage of schools and insufficient transportation” as well as a scarcity of qualified teachers. Only 48% of teachers possess the “minimum academic qualifications” to teach. For girls specifically, continued antiquated cultural practices, including child marriage in impoverished areas, continues to serve as a significant hurdle. Securing education for children in Afghanistan is important since education is a proven tool for breaking cycles of poverty. Furthermore, providing education for street kids in Afghanistan is especially important because these children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty.

The Plight of Street Children in Afghanistan

The term “street children” refers to children who live and/or work on the streets. In Afghanistan, the number of street kids is rising steadily, with at least 50,000 in the capital of Kabul. Endemic poverty and parental deaths caused by decades of war have forced many children into labor. Some of these children are as young as 3 years old. According to Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian aid organization, street children earn an average of less than $2 a day through menial jobs including collecting garbage and polishing shoes. These meager wages are barely enough to survive on. As such, working on the streets has become synonymous with malnutrition, illnesses and even sexual assault. Ensuring access to education for street kids in Afghanistan is paramount if Afghan children are to break free of cycles of abuse and poverty.

Organizations Providing Education for Street Kids in Afghanistan

While the current status of education in the country and the plight of its street kids is lamentable, the work of several organizations on the ground in providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan suggests that not all hope is lost.

  1. Mahboba’s Promise. Founded by Mahboba Rawi, an Afghan refugee, this organization is committed to rehabilitating street kids in Kabul by placing them in “safe houses.” The safe houses provide the children with well-balanced meals and teach fundamental subjects such as English, math and Islamic studies. Partnering with Architects Without Frontiers, Mahboba’s Promise successfully opened the Hope House in 2007. The Hope House is a shelter for women and children living in poverty that comes fully equipped for educational and recreational facilities while serving as an oasis of safety away from the turbulent streets of Kabul.
  2. Aschiana. Engineer Mohammed Yousef founded Aschiana in 1995. He was spurred to action after witnessing the harsh living and working conditions of street kids in Kabul. At its Day-Care Center, Aschiana provides basic education and vocational training for women and children while offering art-based therapy to help children who may have been traumatized by war, among other initiatives. Aschiana also organizes “mobile library units” to improve literacy and arranges legal aid for children charged with crimes. Today, Aschiana operates in seven provinces in Afghanistan and has impacted the lives of more than 150,000 women and children.
  3. The Noor Foundation. Founder Noor Ramazan was once an Afghan street kid himself. However, he broke free from his family’s cycle of poverty and became a successful businessman. He opened a tour guide service, Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan, in 2015. Recognizing the importance of providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan, Ramazan founded The Noor Foundation early in 2021 with the hope of saving street kids in Mazar-i-Sharif from the fate he managed to escape. At present, Ramazan is concurrently working on two projects. The first, Noor’s Nest, will be a shelter for about 30 street kids. It will have comfortable lodging facilities and staff to support the children’s educational and extracurricular endeavors in a “family-type setting.” The other project, The Noor School, will accommodate up to 200 children. Street kids will receive free tuition and priority access. Ramazan intends to start constructing the school by 2022 and has obtained financial support from 264 Education, a German NGO that reached out to Ramazan after hearing about his aspirations through the popular YouTube channel, Yes Theory.

Looking Ahead

Both local and international organizations have managed to make inroads concerning education in Afghanistan. However, the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country threatens to undermine current and future progress. As the Taliban expands control of the country due to the power vacuum created by the United States, the future of education for Afghan children, especially girls, remains precarious. Without the continued provision of education for street kids in Afghanistan, there is a high risk of child recruitment by the Taliban. In a land rife with volatility and instability, prioritizing the education of children is imperative to equip Afghan children with the knowledge and tools to create a better and brighter future.

Vyas Nageswaran
Photo: Flickr

Social Change for AfghanistanWar-torn and poverty-stricken, people of the developed world seldom think of Afghanistan as a place where beauty and art bloom. But, in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, a movement is growing. Contemporary street artists in Kabul use the ruins of blasted city walls and bombed-out buildings as their canvas, slowly transforming the city from the shell of a warzone to an open-air art gallery. However, the goal of this gallery is not simply beautifying the city’s rubble-strewn streets but actually inciting social change for Afghanistan.

Conflict in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has remained in a state of almost constant conflict since 1978. The internal conflict became global news as other countries, most notably Russia and the United States, involved themselves by supporting various parties and factions. Social scientists predict that thousands of Afghani civilians died as a result of civil unrest thus far.

Since the Taliban, a violent extremist group, was forced out of their occupation of Kabul, many families who fled to seek asylum in other countries are returning. Unfortunately, just re-established as a republic, the capital city did not have the infrastructure to support the influx of impoverished and uneducated ex-refugees. The refugees who fled from Afghanistan under Taliban rule experienced widespread discrimination and restricted access to education and fair wages. Now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Kabul is home to almost six million civilians and crime and poverty are rampant.

Social Change Through Art

Decades of war destroyed much of the literature and art in Afghanistan, once a culture-rich place. But, in this tragedy lies an opportunity to bring the historically male and upper-class art world into a more inclusive space.

Street artist groups are popping up in Kabul, using colorful murals to send political messages about social change for Afghanistan. One such group calls itself the ArtLords. The organization consists of volunteers and artists seeking a future for their battered homeland. The ArtLords believe that while there are many things it cannot control, it can begin to alter the country’s narrative and express the people’s desire for peace. By visually bringing social issues such as women’s empowerment, terrorism and corruption to a public space where people cannot ignore them, artists hope to change the future of Afghanistan.

Young people who grew up watching the horrors of war right outside their doorsteps make almost all of Kabul’s street art. After seeing the effects of extreme poverty, constant war and restricted rights, it is not surprising that many seek an outlet for their voices.

These artists risk arrest and even murder to spread their messages of hope and activism to the people of the city. Through art, both men and women are able to speak out against the violence and tyranny Afghans endure. Street art in particular allows messages to reach a massive and diverse audience, ensuring that people from all corners of society are able to see and enjoy, be inspired or be incensed.

Female Artist Shamsia Hassani

Probably the most famous name in Afghanistan’s art world right now is Shamsia Hassani. The first female street artist known in the country, she is making history with her art. Growing up in Iran to Afghan immigrants, Hassani was labeled a “foreign national” in school and experienced many roadblocks to her education due to a preponderance of discriminatory laws against Afghan refugees. In 2015, her family decided the situation in Afghanistan was stable enough to return home. Never having been there, Hassani was hesitant about the change, but once they had settled in Kabul, Hassani felt she finally understood the meaning of home. No longer a foreign national, she was free to pursue a fine arts degree at Kabul University, where she now lectures. Although the city was still in ruins, Hassani declares “even if it was ruins, it was my ruins.”

Her street art style developed over a few years. She describes its accessibility to everyone draws her to the medium, although it puts her in danger every time she creates a piece. Hassani’s art does not fight against the wearing of hijabs or other forms of cover. Instead, she focuses on the need for women to have access to education and careers. She states that if women did not require hijabs but were still unable to go to school or get a paying job, it would not be true freedom or real progress.

Looking Forward

There is deep symbolism to Hassani’s signature art character, the woman with closed eyes. The character conveys sadness and pain, the desire to look away from the destruction of war and the struggle for women, in particular. But, the image also inspires joy through Hassani’s use of bright colors, the inclusion of musical instruments and the simple pleasure of seeing a crumbling wall transformed by a beautiful work of art.

Hassani is confident that art can bring about social change in Afghanistan. Like the ArtLords and many others who use art as a form of activism, Hassani is part of a generation who has never known peace. They spent their entire lives in wartime and can only dream of peace in Afghanistan. Until then, they will continue to illustrate a vision of a future in which there is peace, equality, justice and unity.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid efforts in AfghanistanAfghanistan’s evolution after two gruesome decades of immense adversity has caught the attention of countries all over the world. The South Asian nation has made breakthroughs in infrastructure, getting millions of girls in school and improving community development. Nonetheless, foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan are still crucial for the further development of the country.

Foreign Aid Skepticism and COVID-19

The world wants to see Afghanistan succeed, but despite willing donors, definitive complications hinder the level of aid that Afghanistan is severely reliant on. The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops has caused violence from the Taliban to spike while pressures of long-awaited peace talks between the two powers unfold, making donors wary of sending money that could be wasted due to corruption based on past events.

On top of that, COVID-19 is running rampant and bruising economies all over the world, cutting aid efforts in half compared to previous years.

Afghanistan’s rooted systematic issues will continue to undermine any reconstruction and development efforts unless a clear and mindful plan is made that addresses the topical concerns affecting the nation and motions toward this kind of growth are beginning to come to fruition. There are several important facts to note about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Cuts to US Forces Links to Cuts Toward Aid

To end the United States’ longest war, the Pentagon announced that a cut to U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 will be underway by mid-January 2021. This decision has already sparked vigilance and tensions between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, as there is a great concern that the Taliban will feel invited to expand its influence and interfere with hopes of peace and progress. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urges that Afghans are in “acute need” of humanitarian support, stating that nearly 300,000 Afghans have been displaced by conflict in 2020.

Deadly attacks on Afghan forces show the Taliban’s intentions during a time where peace talks are being strained after months of stagnance and it has made donors feel uneasy about whether the Taliban could abuse any funding meant for aid. Even amongst suspicions, foreign donors like Germany are still showing support, urging the international community “not to turn their backs on Afghanistan.”

Ensuring Prosperity is an International Effort

After 19 years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan will still be reliant on international support for the foreseeable future. Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations have pledged a total of $12 billion to the war-torn country over the next four years, at Afghanistan’s international donor conference held on Nov. 23 and 24 of 2020.

Germany has pledged $510 million in civilian assistance, the United Kingdom pledged $227 million in civilian and food aid, Norway pledged $72 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid and the United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid but made half of it conditional on the progress of Taliban peace talks. The U.S. was not alone in donating with specific conditions. All donors stressed that aid would only come as long as Afghanistan shows that it is committed to the peace process and that all parties to the Afghan conflict must respect human rights.

COVID-19 Causes Donation Restraints

Afghanistan is one of many countries taking an economic plunge due to COVID-19. The poverty level jumped from 54% last year to 70% during the pandemic, with more than half the population living on $1.14 a day, despite the billions of dollars devoted to the country over the last two decades.

A global pandemic combined with fragile circumstances emphasizes the need for foreign aid in Afghanistan, but with the heavy burden of COVID-19, most international donors have made significant restrictions on how much they can give. At the last donor conference in 2016, countries pledged a total of $15.2 billion for the years 2017-2020 compared to the $12 billion for 2021-2024.

Past Corruption is Obstructing Development

The U.S. government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported on October 20, 2021, that $19 billion of the total $63 billion that the U.S. has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002 was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

With corruption forming such a stain on Afghanistan’s reputation and leaving remnants of distrust amongst potential donors, it is apparent why obtaining the necessary aid for growth and development has been such a hindrance for the war-torn country. That is why it is vital to ensure that future investments being made toward reconstruction are not lost and exploited.

Prospects for Peace

The Afghan government and the Taliban have endured a three-month impasse regarding peace talks that were finally brought to a close on November 2, 2020. The Afghan government and the Taliban are now expected to implement an agenda on how they can be partners in developmental changes and advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

As the world carefully watches the peace talks unfold, there is hope for a new start. Afghanistan is ready to transform into what it has envisioned for decades, and with realistic compromises set in place, there is an assurance that donors and the international community will feel less wary about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Women in Peace and Security

In mid-June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the importance of women in peace and security, a follow-up to the Women, Peace, and Security Act (WPS) passed in 2017. This particular hearing responds to the recently published White House Strategy that sets various objectives and goals to diversify the roles women play in the peace process and increase women’s leadership by providing them with the resources, skills, and support needed to secure successful peace agreements.

The members of the committee, as well as the testimonies, emphasized the opportunity to put these plans into immediate action in Afghanistan. The U.S. has committed to peace negotiations with the Taliban but each agreement has failed due to miscommunication, stalemates, or other political reasons. Palwasha Kakar, Senior Program Officer for the U.S. Institute of Peace, stated that including Afghan women in peace and security negotiations is essential to the success and sustainability of peace and recovery in Afghanistan.

Women in Afghanistan

The Taliban government of Afghanistan held power from 1996 to 2001, during which Afghan women were stripped of natural rights–they were prevented from obtaining an education and job, showing skin in public and leaving the house without a male chaperone. Rape and violence against women were widespread until U.S. military action overthrew the regime. A driving factor of U.S. intervention 18 years ago was to protect Afghan women from threats and actions against their human rights. Despite the tremendous gains women have achieved in political, economic and social life since 2001, women still struggle to have a seat at the peace talk table.

However, Afghan women have found ways to participate at a local level. Women have brokered local deals by negotiating directly with Taliban leaders; for example, Afghan women’s communication with the wives of the Taliban helped facilitate the release of hostages several times. Second, Afghan women use their access to information to act as informants for the U.S. and its partners. Third, Afghan women mobilize the public by increasing public awareness and support for the peace process. Fourth, Afghan women have mobilized support across various ethnic lines to push for a unified commitment to equal rights for all Afghan citizens.

Impact of Women on the Peace Process

On a local level, Afghan women in peace and security positions have made significant achievements for Afghanistan and its cities. However, on a global level, women were only included in two out of 23 rounds of negotiations with the Taliban between 2005 and 2014. Yet research shows that women are a necessary asset at the negotiation table. When women are involved in peace agreements, they are 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last more than 15 years. In her testimonial, Jamille Bigio argues that women in peace and security negotiations are more likely to deescalate tensions and stabilize their communities. Therefore, closing the gender gap will improve a country’s conditions.

Four Focus Areas Outlined in the WPS Strategy

The outcome of this hearing suggests that women’s participation in Afghanistan is essential to create a stable and sustainable agreement. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to simultaneously use and revise the following four goals from the WPS Strategy to encourage multi-agency resources and support for women’s participation in Afghanistan peace talks.

  1.  “Seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in decision-making processes related to conflict and crises.”
  2. Three activities to support this goal includes: Incentivizing women to participate in security-sector programs that train foreign nationals in male-dominated courses, integrating local women’s interests into conflict prevention and resolution, and leading by example by increasing American women participation and making local women partners.
  3. “Promote the protection of women and girls’ human rights; access to humanitarian assistance; and safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation around the world.”
  4. Women are often the targets of violence, and therefore experience unique consequences of conflict. To increase the role of women in peace and security, the U.S. must identify and eliminate obstacles that generate sex-based discrimination and gender-based violence and include medical care and psycho-social support for women as part of humanitarian aid.
  5. “Adjust U.S. international programs to improve outcomes in equality for, and the empowerment of, women.”
  6. Train U.S. diplomats, military and development personnel on the needs and perspectives of women to increase their ability to prevent and mediate violence and support the involvement of women in peace and security negotiations.
  7. “Encourage partner governments to adopt policies, plans, and capacity to improve the meaningful participation of women in processes connected to peace and security and decision-making institutions.”

Women peacekeepers receive more trust from their communities and therefore have more power to increase participation among other women. Further, research shows that women are more likely to address social issues during negotiations, which helps communities recover. Women’s participation increases the likelihood of reaching a sustainable agreement.

Women are essential for achieving peace and security in Afghanistan, and vice versa. The U.S. is more likely to bring peace to a hostile environment with women’s participation. As Sen. Tim Kaine said at the hearing, “We [U.S] have incredible power to give people hope and inspiration, and I hope we will continue to do it. And I think there’s a lot of women in the world who really have grown to count on us during the years, and I hope we don’t let them down.”

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is a well-known Pakistani activist campaigning for education rights, particularly for young girls. In light of her mission and her extraordinary achievements, here are 12 facts about Malala Yousafzai.

12 Facts About Malala Yousafzai

  1. Malala was born in the Swat District of Pakistan. This region fell under the rule of the Taliban, which is a fundamentalist terrorist group that imposes highly restrictive rules on women and girls. The Taliban banned girls from attending school or receiving an education of any kind.
  2. Her father was a teacher and ran a chain of schools throughout the local region. He continuously encouraged all of his children to learn despite the societal restrictions. Malala credits her father for inspiring her to pursue further education and humanitarian work.
  3. Malala blogged for BBC for several years. In 2008, BBC Urdu journalists began looking for a young student to share private insight on what life was like under the Taliban. Despite the danger of being caught, Malala’s father recommended her for the assignment and she began blogging in secret, anonymously chronicling her life and her perspective on the rule of the Taliban. She was 11 years old.
  4. Malala started to gain notoriety from standing up to the Taliban publicly. With her father’s blessing, she openly opposed the Taliban rules set in place and began working to regain access to education for both herself and other girls throughout the region.
  5. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011 due to her activism and was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize that same year. The Prime Minister of Pakistan later renamed the award the National Malala Peace Prize in her honor.
  6. The Taliban shot Malala in the head when she was 15 years old. Her newfound popularity and voice against the Taliban made Malala a high-profile target and in 2012 she was the victim of a nearly fatal assassination attempt. She was on the way home from school when a masked gunman asked for her by name and openly fired on her and her friends.
  7. She created the Malala Fund, a charity devoted to bringing equal education opportunities to girls around the world. Malala went to the United Kingdom for medical treatment directly after the shooter’s attack where she and her family settled permanently. Afterward, she established the Malala Fund with her father. Within its first year of operation, the Malala Fund raised over $7 million and opened up multiple schools in Malala’s native Pakistan.
  8. She celebrated her sixteenth birthday by giving a speech to the United Nations. Nine months after the assassination attempt, Malala spoke at invitation before world leaders and urged them to change certain policies in regard to education and women’s rights. Since then, Malala has held audience with notable political figures such as Queen Elizabeth and Former U.S. President Barack Obama and given lectures at Harvard University and the Oxford Union.
  9. July 12 has been officially designated Malala Day. After her critically acclaimed speech on her birthday at the United Nations, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, urged all young people to speak out and let the world hear their voices. In an act of support, he declared Malala’s birthday Malala Day in honor of her courage and influential activism.
  10. She was a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. After sharing her story, Malala catapulted to international fame and she received an outpouring of support from around the world as her story spread. In honor of her efforts, she became the youngest ever Nobel laureate at the age of 17.
  11. Malala received the United Nation’s highest honor. In 2017 she received the title of U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girl’s education, a two-year appointment given to activists whose work has made an impact. The U.N. selects recipients carefully based on their future goals and past work, and the recipients engage closely with the United Nations’ leaders in an effort to make a change.
  12. Oxford University accepted Malala in 2017 where she began studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. While pursuing her own studies, she currently still works with leaders and organizations around the globe on behalf of the Malala Fund and the United Nations, fighting for equal education for all.

While these 12 facts about Malala Yousafzai cannot encompass all of her achievements and work, they show that Malala’s bravery and perseverance have proven worthwhile in the face of adversity. Her goal to provide education to the world is a necessary step in ending global poverty.

“I raise my voice not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” – Malala Yousafzai.

– Olivia Bendle
Photo: Flickr

Northwest Pakistan
As the attention of Americans is turned toward the new administration in the White House and the ongoing effects of the Syrian refugee crisis, certain problems in other parts of the world slip under the radar. The war in Northwest Pakistan is one such problem.

Here are some facts about the war that most Americans are not aware of:

  1. Another name for the war in Northwest Pakistan is the war in Waziristan, after the region predominantly affected. Located in the northwest of Pakistan, Waziristan holds three federally administered tribes — the Wazirs, the Mehsuds and the Dawar.
  2. The war began in 2004. The Pakistan Army sought to drive out al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who were using Waziristan as a home-base to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
  3. The Taliban in Pakistan is allied with but not synonymous with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both forces, along with the Afghan Haqqani network and small branches of al-Qaeda, still occupy Waziristan. Terrorism in the region is the driving force behind the fighting.
  4. An attack in 2014 on the international airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest and wealthiest city, triggered the Pakistani government to a new onslaught against the terrorist groups. The attack killed 26 people and tainted the sacred image of the city.
  5. The military operation against the suspected terrorists was code-named Zarb-e-Azb, which was the sword used by the prophet Muhammad in an ancient battle. The retaliating airstrikes killed 140 suspects in Waziristan.
  6. Pakistani forces killed 376 rebels in the first 15 days of the government’s retaliation to the Karachi attack. The number of civilian casualties was not released to the public.
  7. The effects of the war on the civilians of Waziristan are kept tightly hidden from the public. What is known thus far is this: 500,000 residents have fled the region due to the war — some fleeing as far into Afghanistan, and others to eastern regions of Pakistan.
  8. The United States has been periodically involved throughout the war in northwest Pakistan. Between 2008 and 2013, the CIA completed around 400 drone strikes in Waziristan in order “to weaken al-Qaeda and to suppress Taliban fighters.” The attacks came after Obama ordered a new round of American forces into Afghanistan in 2009. The Pakistani government approved the airstrikes.
  9. When the war first launched in 2004, Pakistani forces had suffered three times the loss than the U.S. since the 2001 Afghanistan war on terror.
  10. For years, Washington and other allies called on Islamabad to join the fight in ridding the Waziristan region of rebel militants. Until the act of terrorism in Karachi, Islamabad was resistant. But even with Islamabad’s added assistance, civilians remain pessimistic of the terrorist groups leaving anytime soon.

In 2005, when the war had only started, the local Taliban and its allies declared to be in the “fight until the last man and the last bullet.” Thirteen years later, their determination to defeat the Pakistani government has held true.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

internally_displaced_persons
As of 2015, there have been approximately 700,000 internally displaced persons in the volatile North Waziristan region of Pakistan as a consequence of Taliban insurgency. Of these 700,000, around 300,000 are children of a school-going age range. For these children, a stable education remains a dream.

In late 2009, militant threats in the northwestern tribal areas of North Waziristan escalated dramatically. After various military offensives against militants in the surrounding regions of South Waziristan and Swat, the Pakistani army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in January 2014. The military has since been conducting an extensive yet lengthy military operation against the Taliban militants in North Waziristan.

The increasingly dangerous circumstances in the Taliban stronghold has led to a mass exodus of the region’s residents. This military intervention, despite its exigent need, has created significant issues for the displaced people as well as the Pakistani government. The already financially-crippled Pakistani government is thus faced with the immense challenge of providing relief for the refugees.

The refugees from Northern Waziristan add to the almost 1 million refugees who have been displaced during the war on terrorism in the country. The cost of providing basic healthcare and resources to the refugees has been allotted $1 million from the Pakistani government, with substantial bolstering from the United States and China.

Despite the funding, the conditions in the refugee camps are less than satisfactory. As the provision of shelter and food becomes an issue, the educational needs of refugee children have taken a backseat. Temporary schools established for refugee children are in abysmal conditions and are impossibly short-staffed. Many parents are told to enroll their children in far-off government schools. However, many government-run schools are being used as temporary shelters, and not as schools.

According to UNHCR, of the 300,000 children in refugee camps, only 5% are enrolled in schools, whether public, private or NGO-run. Many students old enough to work are choosing menial jobs over continuing their education so as to financially support their families.

Prior to the refugee crisis, the literacy rates in the Northern Waziristan district were only 16% overall and a deplorable 1.67% for girls. The increased presence of fundamentalists in the region who target schools—and, specifically, female education—has adversely affected the state of education in the region.

Unfortunately, for the families returning home this summer, the conditions for education have not improved. Many of the schools have been destroyed through the course of the clashes between the army and the Taliban; others are still occupied by the army as temporary bases. As schools across the country reopen in September, students in North Waziristan continue to face an uncertain, unstable future.

The government has so far failed to come up with a successful and effective plan for the rehabilitation of these students. Recently, the higher education commission announced a stipend of Rs. 2,000 for every student enrolled in post-secondary education; however, no such plan has been revealed for the elementary, middle or high school students.

The director of education for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)—the education authority for North Waziristan—has suggested that UNICEF aid be used to establish schools in tents for IDPs who continue to reside in the camps. Additionally, the director has recommended a second shift for schools in neighboring areas, like Bannu and Lakki Marwat, specifically for IDPs. The feasibility and potential for success of both these measures have been met with criticism and apprehension from many nonprofit agencies, as well as the refugees themselves.

As the government deadline for the complete return of North Waziristan IDPs to their homes—set for January 2016—fast approaches, it is imperative that the educational authorities within the government focus on the rehabilitation of these students. The Pakistani government, with assistance from its aides, needs to make education in the region a priority in its budget. The goal of the provincial government should not be pre-2009, but to bring the region to a literacy rate at least on par with the rest of the country, especially for girls. An effective strategy and delegation of resources to educate the children of North Waziristan are crucial to the long-term stability of the region.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: UNHCR, FATA Disaster Management Authority, Aljazeera, Aljazeera, Dawn, Pakistan Today
Photo: Flickr

The city of Peshawar, Pakistan mourns deeply in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s deadliest attack to date. An estimated 132 children and nine staff members were killed in a devastating massacre targeting a school in the northwest region, where gunmen and suicide bombers inflicted damage so horrific that even the Afghani Taliban have condemned their actions. Most of the victims were children of military families enrolled at Peshawar’s Army Public School.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Army pointedly allowed numerous television crews to enter the school grounds, where they were able to observe the crime scene for themselves and broadcast those observations back to their respective audiences. Images captured by international news teams revealed the devastating extent of the brutality, showing classroom floors coated with blood, walls covered in hundreds of bullet holes, and rooms blown apart by suicide bombers.

The international community has collectively vocalized utter contempt over the massacre, and Pakistan was immediately consumed by a state of national outrage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded by declaring three full days of mourning and announcing an abrupt end to the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorist actions.

This decision by Sharif is quite significant given the country’s past responses to terrorist groups. Despite the fact that terrorism in Pakistan has taken more than 50,000 lives since 2001, there has long existed a puzzling lack of a national consensus to fight terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s massacre, politicians refrained from publicly declaring whether they thought the Taliban had been behind the attack, even though the Tehreek-e-Taiban Pakistan, or TTP, had quickly claimed responsibility. The militants describe the Peshawar disaster as an act of revenge for an army attack that they claim killed approximately 1,000 of their own people.

The Taliban has a lengthy history of attacking schools. As an extremist group that first emerged in northern Pakistan in the early 1990s, the Taliban wields its own version of Islamic law as a major justification for and motivation behind its actions. The Pakistani Taliban adamantly opposes Western education for children, especially for girls. Education activists in Pakistan claim that this opposition is the Taliban’s way of trying to exert control over the population by keeping young people in the intellectual dark. An educated girl or boy represents a threat in the eyes of the Taliban, and the terrorist group actively works to eliminate these perceived threats through violence and oppression.

The Peshawar school massacre represents a departure from the Taliban’s usual school attacks. Militants in the past typically attacked schools while they were empty at night, specifically hoping to have the institutions shut down rather than directly harm students. The Taliban has also tried to threaten Pakistan’s education system by intimidating teachers and pressuring parents to quit sending their kids to class.

Some are beginning to question whether the Peshawar attack will force Pakistan to decidedly confront the terrorist group in a way it has generally refrained from doing in the past. Pakistan has long held an ambiguous view of Taliban militants, a phenomenon known as “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” that for the past decade has baffled the Pakistani public and sent terribly mixed messages to the West. In the wake of the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced “there will be no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban,” while acting foreign minister Sartaj Aziz has described the tragedy as “our 9/11” and a “game changer.”

Shenel Ozisik

Sources: BBC 1, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, BBC 2
Photo: Flickr