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PoK: With schools destroyed, the madrassas beckon

By Mohammad Shehzad in Muzaffarabad
October 18, 2005 15:42 IST
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The destruction of the education infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and some parts of the North west Frontier Province due to the October 8 earthquake may force parents to enroll their children in madrassas run by jIhadi groups.

The earthquake has flattened all schools in the region. Bagh district, 100 km from Muzaffarabad, had 341 schools including a degree college for a population of 500,000 people. Muzaffarabad had 1,512 schools for a population of 900,000 people.

Death ruled the beautiful mountains

Thousands of students face an uncertain future and may lose the academic year if their schools are not rebuilt. The Pakistan government has expressed its inability to restore the infrastructure in the immediate future. Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has said that reconstruction and rehabilitation of the quake-hit areas would take decades.

"The Bagh Degree College was the best in the region. It took us decades to build it. And now it is going to take us decades to restore it. You know how difficult it is to develop infrastructure in this country," says Sajid Iqbal, a teacher at the college. He is mourning the death of more than 700 students -- still buried in the college's wreckage.

"I have enough food. What I really need is education. I don't want to lose my academic year. I want to be in school as soon as possible," says Shahid, an eighth grade student in Bagh.

"Bagh was already short of schools. The government will take years to reconstruct the destroyed schools. Only Allah knows what will happen to our children," says Aslam Manzoor, whose daughter is in the 10th grade.

Zafarul Haq Kiani, a 46-year-old engineer employed by the public health division in Bagh, plans to migrate to Rawalpindi if the schools are not opened soon.

"If the schools are not reconstructed immediately or no alternative is provided promptly, then the children will lose interest in studies," says Muzaffar Khan, a social worker in Bagh.

And the fear is they might be lured by jihadi groups.

Since, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is a disputed territory, it is the hub of jihadis. Almost all the buildings in the province display a slogan prominently -- 'Kashmir will become Pakistan through jihad!'

While driving through the region, one spots many signboards displaying the names of people honoured as heroes because they were killed 'fighting' the Indian Army.

If the schools were not rebuilt soon, social activists fear people will be forced to put their children in the madrassas, run mostly by jihadi groups.

Mohammad Amir Rana, a respected Pakistani journalist and author of the book The Seeds of Terrorism, says there are more than 1,200 madrassas in Pakistan-administered Kashmir run by jihadi outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Al-Badr, Jamiatul Mujahideen, Al-Barq, Harkat-ul-Mujadeen, Jamiat-e-Islami and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

These outfits have been quick to help with relief in the quake-hit areas. The Jamatud Dawa (the defunct Lashkar-e-Tayiba) reached out to people in the far-flung areas through motorboats and mules and provided immediate relief.

It was the first to set up mobile X-ray machines and operation theatres. Its 350 volunteers were connected through wireless sets in Muzaffarabad and Bagh, where the communication infrastructure has been destroyed. They are helped by orthopedic surgeon Dr Amir Aziz, who was arrested in 2002 for treating Osama bin Laden. Dr Aziz has set up a mobile orthopedic unit at the Jamat's relief camp near Sangam Hotel in Muzaffarabad.

With the army being accused of giving priority to helping armed forces personnel and their relatives, the jihadi groups are winning the people over.

"People in Muzaffarabad chanted slogans against the government, President Pervez Musharraf and the army. However, they praised us. Even our detractors appreciated our relief efforts," says Javedul Hassan, relief coordinator for the Jamatud Dawa.

"Volunteers of the Jamatud Dawa saved my life by pulling me out of the rubble. No army, no government helped us," says Rashid Geelani, a retired police officer in Muzaffarabad.

So far, the jihadi groups are focusing on relief to the victims. They have not yet touched on areas like education in their campaign. But all it takes is an appeal through the Friday sermon and people may rush to their madrassas to enroll their children, where they would get education, food and shelter.

The danger is real that the next generation of jihadis are waiting to be created because of the disaster. The Pakistan government needs to move fast if that has to be prevented.

Also read:

Muzaffarabad is no more
Human trafficking in the quake's aftermath
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Mohammad Shehzad in Muzaffarabad