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News ::
Pakistan's crisis, Afghanistan's misery
15 Sep 2001
The whole story behind the roots of bin Laden's terror network, currently the primary suspect in the devestation of September 11, has largely gone unreported. Understanding how the militarism of the 1980s, and financial crisis of the 1990s in the region has created the conditions for terrorism to sprout will be key to resolving the problems of the region beyond crude metaphors of clashes of civilizations and religious faiths.
This morning while listening to the BBC, I was reminded of some key facts that I had not connected before, and what I had learned from others who have had first hand experience with the crippling effects of debt. It might be no surprise to some that the IMF is part of the dark story that is playing out before us. Indeed the IMF/World Bank meetings this September are turning out to be crucial, as the US government puts in place a punitive counterattack and expedition, in probably Afghanistan, using Pakistan once again as an entry point.

In the upcoming fall meetings of the IMF and World Bank, the BBC reported that Pakistan was supposed to get the last installment of a major loan that would have prevented the country from defaulting on its debt (which has been mentioned in the press that the US could block as leverage). The country as already cut its health and education spending to meet the conditions of the loans, and spends more on debt servicing (over 40% - 2001/2 Budget) than anything else in its budget - 2.2% for education, 0.5% for health (it is one of the most highly indebted nations in the world).

Along with sanctions imposed on that country and endemic corruption, the resulting economic crisis has caused the public education system to all but collapse over the last two decades. As a result, the children of the poor have had no alternative but to go to religious schools which have been the main recruiting grounds for militants fighting in Afghanistan and Kashmir (this was confirmed by a Pakistani friend as she was a science teacher in Pakistan and noted that the growing gulf between rich and poor had led to a well-educated elite and a vast illiterate poor population). In fact, it was young Afghan students, instructed at these religious schools (called Madrassas), that formed the Taliban, aided and trained by Pakistan's intelligence services to take over Afghanistan from the warring mujahideen factions.

Furthermore, this extreme poverty, is one of the causes for growing Islamic fundamentalism in the country just as it is in impoverished countries such as Egypt, Sudan, and even the Philippines and Indonesia (Where the so-called terror network has operating organizations -- according to US intelligence).

On the militarism side, a major source of income which saw its flow dwindle to a trickle, was US military aid, channeled through Pakistan's intelligence services to Afghan rebel forces during the 1980s. This is where Osama bin Laden enters the picture as he was a successful recruiter around the Arab world for the Mujahideen cause and a major recipient of aid and training by the CIA. If it is him and his network of followers that have engineered this attack of unprecedente proportions, the whole story becomes horribly circular -- and he joins the long list of former allies that later become the greatest of demonized enemies -- from Noriega, to Hussein, to Osama.

LINKS:

# Here's Jubilee's report on Pakistan's tottering economy: http://www.jubilee2000uk.org/analysis/articles/pakistan_debt_position.ht

# And a prediction of total social and economic collapse because of debt: http://www.insaaf.com/pressreleases/PakistanDebt.htm

# Afghanistan's Misery: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/international/13AFGH.html

# Osama bin Laden's Blowback: http://www.msnbc.com/news/190144.asp

# History of Osama and Afghan War http://www.public-i.org/excerpts_01_091301.htm

# And the tell-tale article:

Pakistan's underfunded public schools a testament to a failed state education system

By Steven Gutkin, Associated Press, 8/5/2001 12:15

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) In the classrooms and courtyards of Muslim High School No. 2, chickens squawk, naked toddlers cry, grandmothers cook and laundry dries in the open air.

The building in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore serves as both a government school for 1,700 boys and a refugee camp for three dozen families left homeless 54 years ago by the partition of India and Pakistan. The paint is peeling, the windows are shattered, the teachers are underpaid and the quality of education is poor.

Like many public schools in the country of 140 million people, this one is a testament to the failure of education in Pakistan, where illiteracy approaches 60 percent and where 5.5 million primary-aged children don't attend school.

Failed education helps explain Pakistan's status as one of Asia's least developed countries, its sectarian violence, growing Islamic fundamentalism and feverish distrust of neighboring India and all things Hindu.

Critics portray Pakistan's inability to educate its children as a tale of misplaced priorities, misguided policies, rampant elitism and corruption that includes a ''textbook mafia'' and thousands of ''ghost schools'' that were built but never used.

The recent, largely unsuccessful peace summit between the leaders of nuclear rivals India and Pakistan has implications for education and other social needs in both nations. Resolving their 50-year dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir could free up badly needed resources now spent on the military.

Pakistan is spending $2 billion on defense in its latest budget, while outlay on education has actually declined as a percentage of gross domestic product.

It allocated $1.313 billion, or 2.06 percent of GDP, for education in the financial year that ended June 30, compared with $1.295 billion or 2.20 percent the previous year, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, a document put out by the Pakistan government.

The survey called the decline ''a cause for major concern.''

As for additional spending on education development, that is up 150 percent, to $39 million, but education advocates say it's far too little.

Education Minister Zubaida Jalal is a soft-spoken but gritty woman who spent much of her career fighting for girls' education in her own impoverished province of Balochistan. She agrees Pakistan must spend more on education but says the provinces would not be able to effectively spend any more than what has been earmarked.

She said the military government cares a lot about education, encouraging private companies to ''adopt'' public schools to improve their facilities, breaking up corrupt monopolies of textbook publishers, decentralizing decision-making and spending, and persuading companies that employ children to provide schooling.

''We are going to make a major breakthrough,'' she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Critics say it needs much more than what the government is doing.

Only about half of the nation's 20 million school-age children make it to the sixth grade, said Baela Jamil, a technical adviser to the Education Ministry. Thousands of ''shelterless'' schools offer classes in outdoor fields. Teachers earn less than $80 a month and often don't show up to class. Many rural regions have no schools at all.

''We live a miserable life,'' said 52-year-old Safdar Ali, a math and social studies teacher at the high-school-turned-refugee-camp in Lahore.

Pakistan has public schools that are decaying, private schools that are expensive, and Islamic schools called madrassas.

The madrassas feed and clothe poor children, but many have come under fire for preaching intolerance and promoting jihad or holy war against perceived enemies of Islam.

Mohammad Akram Kashmiri, the registrar at the Jamia Ashrafia madrassa in Lahore, denied allegations that schools like his provide military training to students, but said ''we are preparing ourselves mentally to participate in jihad.''

During an interview, Kashmiri referred to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi dissident accused by the United States of running a global terrorist network, as ''a great hero of Islam.''

Many of the world's most militant Muslims, from Afghanistan to Lebanon, have studied in Pakistan's madrassas.

Jamia Ashrafia has 16 computers, offers courses in information technology and says it wants to promote modern education.

The government hopes to persuade other madrassas to place greater emphasis on math, science and other secular studies.

Critics blame the lack of good, cheap schooling on a rich-and-poor culture in which the elite has traditionally felt no obligation to educate the children of poor servants.

Khurshid Hasanain, a university professor and education activist, recalls being on an education reform board. He said its members sent their children to private schools and rejected most proposals to improve public schools.

''If their own kids were involved, they would have been willing to do something,'' he said.

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