The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas – Modern Diplomacy

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Societal struggles and reforms often take unexpected turns in vast swathes of land stretching from the Middle East to Central Asia.

Take education for example.

The Taliban have yet to deliver on their promise to get the girls back to school, but Afghan primary and secondary textbooks appear to be a beacon of hope amid all the pessimism surrounding the group’s regime.

It’s a bright spot that highlights the profound societal impact of decades of ultra-conservative Saudi influence in Pakistan at a time when an Israel-based NGO reports significant progress in how the kingdom’s textbooks describe non – Muslims and discuss violence in the name of Islam.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani nuclear scientist and human rights activist, concluded from a recent investigation of Afghan Urdu textbooks that they were light years from what Pakistani schools offer.

Mr Hoodbhoy argued that the Taliban was unlikely to change the textbooks in use anytime soon. The brain drain in Afghanistan includes many teachers, writers and publishers, and the Taliban cannot afford to produce a new generation of textbooks. Additionally, the group is unlikely to have any fundamental issues with the books that coat their brutal reign before the 2001 US invasion.

The science books for grades 1-12 which cover math, physics, chemistry, biology and computer science studied by Mr. Hoodbhoy were, in his words, “clear and pleasing with systematically organized graphics and illustrations. colored ”.

He noted that “Pakistani textbooks are very different. For years my colleagues and I have pleaded with our education authorities to drastically revise locally published textbooks. All are defective in their content, poor in pedagogy and poorly presented.

Already in 2015, Mr. Hoodbhoy requested revised textbooks from Pakistan.

“Please keep our students away from rotten science textbooks published by the Sindh Textbook Board (STB), an entity under the Sindh Ministry of Education. Otherwise, another generation will end up miserably ignoring the subjects they study – physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Tragically, they will see these magnificent human achievements as useless, boring and dry as dust, ”he wrote in an editorial titled “Burn those books, please!” “

Abdul Hameed Nayyar, physicist and education consultant, analyzing the Pakistani government’s troubled efforts to introduce a single national program came to a similar conclusion. “The textbooks provided by the state are of appalling quality, both in content and presentation. Pakistani school boards have repeatedly proven unable to provide good quality learning materials, ”Nayyar said.

The assertions of MM. Hoodbhoy and Nayyar are supported by a decade of independent State of Education annual report surveys that lament the quality of learning in public, private, urban and rural secular and religious schools.

Unlike Pakistani books, Afghan textbooks teach different schools of Muslim religious law separately. They also keep religion out of secular matters. “Religious textbooks are comprehensive… Special books for use in madrassahs cover common topics in math, science, English, and world history. But they’re simpler and less detailed than those in regular schools, ”Hoodbhoy said.

In Pakistani textbooks, especially those developed as part of the government’s effort to create a unique national curriculum, Mr. Hoodbhoy argued that “religious subjects permeate Urdu teaching books, English and general knowledge. Utterly foolish, the madrassahs and ordinary schools are harnessed together. While all students should know how the modern world works, 99% of madrassah students will never use math or science professionally. So why use the same books and force students to take the same exams? This means that… the government is aiming for a lower common denominator, even lower than the existing one.

Likewise, Mr. Nayyar accused the policymakers behind the unique program of “believing – contrary to all available evidence – that a greater dose of religious education will produce more honest and useful Pakistani citizens.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan affirmed the criticisms of MM. Hoodbhoy and Nayyar when he announced earlier this year education reforms that would Islamize curricula in everything from elementary schools to universities. Critics have accused religion of making up 30 percent of the program. Referring to the religious content in the first four years of primary school, Mr. Nayyar noted that “compared to the Islamism taught in madrassahs at this level, it turns out that both public and private schools will teach more. of religion than even the madrassahs ”.

Defending Islamization, Muhammad Bashir Khan, member of parliament from Mr. Khan’s ruling party, insisted that “Pakistan is an ideological Islamic state and we need religious education. I think even now our program is not completely Islamized, and we need to do more Islamization of the program, teaching more religious content for the moral and ideological training of our citizens.

Prime Minister Khan reinforced his vision this week by promising religious scholars to involve them alongside educational institutions in creating a society that builds character. Mr Khan added to this a pledge to ensure that no laws are passed while he is in office, including those aimed at tackling domestic violence and forced conversions to Islam, which are “in conflict. direct with the teachings of Islam “.

Mr. Khan’s Pakistan is in good company. Turkey, increasingly an ally of Pakistan, was once a model of secularism with an education system that taught evolution, cultural openness and tolerance towards minorities who understood Kurdish as a minority language.

Turkish curricula, however, have increasingly replaced these concepts with notions of jihad, martyrdom in combat, and a neo-Ottoman and pan-Turkish ethnoreligious worldview, according to an analysis of 28 textbooks.

In South and Central Asia, the irony is that it is Pakistani rather than Afghan textbooks that seem more likely to promote the notion of the Islamic State, if only because of the poor quality of the textbooks. schools for secular subjects and religious education issues in the world’s second most populous Muslim-majority state. This is not to say that a deeper dive into Afghan texts would not produce multiple problematic concepts that promote Muslim supremacism.

The conclusion from this is that the international community would probably do well to pay as much attention to Pakistan and its education system as to Afghanistan as the two countries are closely linked on many levels.

Another irony is that Saudi Arabia’s most recent textbooks might point Pakistan in the right direction. Current Pakistani textbooks are the products of a world in which Saudi ultra-conservatism, bolstered by Saudi funding, has made deep inroads into an already deeply conservative Pakistani society.

This is, however, changing. Saudi textbooks are not what they were a few years ago.

In a newly published study, IMPACT-se, a Ramat Gan-based research group that has been analyzing Saudi textbooks since 2003, reported that following the reforms “twenty-eight lessons featuring demonization on the other, and religious intolerance have been (recently) removed or heavily modified ”in Saudi textbooks. “An entire unit of the jihad manual has been cut. Although problematic material remains in Saudi textbooks, they represent profound changes in these categories. “

This is the kind of overhaul that is long overdue in Pakistan and would arguably be beneficial in Afghanistan as well.

If textbooks are indicators, Afghanistan could turn out to be just one of the problem states in South and Central Asia. Long perceived as problematic, Pakistan could be the other.


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