Friday, September 20, 2013

6.5 million Pakistani children deprived of primary education

A report published by UNICEF states that 6.5 million children in Pakistan are deprived of a primary education. According to the report, three out of every ten children never attend school. Furthermore, the report states that 2.7 million children in the country do not receive a secondary education. The report says that poverty will increase in the country if the education emergency is not immediately addressed.
The report highlights statistics on the state of education in Pakistan: 38.9 percent of girls never attend primary school. 30.2 percent of children never attend school. 42.8 percent of children leave school before completing their education. Girls outnumber boys in the number of children being deprived of an education.

Pakistan: Apologists of the Taliban

By:Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad
The state of denial, as spin and conspiracy theories abound
Javed Ibrahim Paracha blames the media for demonising the Pakistani Taliban. The militants, he says are not allowed to present their point of view on the media. The TTP is not anti-Pakistan. It is instead willing to spill its blood for the defence of the country. Paracha is a strong advocate of talks with the terrorist group. He says, he does not represent the TTP, but once the talks commence everything would be sorted out peacefully. Paracha is a widely known sympathizer of Al Qaeda, a defence counsel of the anti-Shia militant networks and a former PML-N MNA. The PTI’s information minister in KP, Shah Farman is another supporter of talks and accuses those who express doubts about their success as working on the US agenda. There is no need at this stage to identify the militants groups to be included in talks, he insists. There is no need to demand allegiance to the constitution or renunciation of violence as a precondition for talks either. All that is needed is good intentions. Everything will be resolved when the two sides sit together. Farman, who defeated ANP’s Khushdil Khan in May elections by a narrow margin, recently replaced Shoukat Yousafzai as PTI information minister. Unlike Paracha, who is a hardboiled egg, Farman has the optimism of one wet behind the ears. When questions are asked about the two preconditions spelled out by the TTP – release of its thousands of killers and evacuation of the army from all tribal areas, Paracha says the TTP never made these demands. He refuses to condemn the recent killing of an army general and several servicemen by the TTP. It is yet to be determined who killed the general, he says, darkly hinting at the possibility of the American involvement in the incident. He claims he respects the present army under Gen Kayani. The Taliban do not destroy schools, he says, nor do they attack mosques or imam bargahs. They have never committed a suicide attack. During the last twelve years, 35,000 Pakistanis including more than 3,000 soldiers have been killed. While the Talban have officially owned several major attacks, their apologists remain in a perpetual state of denial. All newspapers carried TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid’s telephonic statement on Sunday owning up the killing of Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi. The statement and its implications were widely discussed on TV channels while several newspapers published editorial comments on the incident and the TTP’s preconditions for talks. “If the government does not take these two steps, the peace process cannot go forward,” Shahid put it quite plainly. The TTP spokesman put up the two demands as if he was dictating terms of surrender to a vanquished army. The TTP did not care to contradict or clarify the statement by its spokesman. While Paracha is in a state of denial, Ansar Abbasi, another dyed-in-the-wool TTP supporter is somewhat on the defensive. In his latest column he called upon the TTP to stop attacking the army. His argument: The militants need to be reined in to thwart the groups and forces that are out to sabotage the dialogue. Courtesy the induction of the PTI in the National Assembly in sizable numbers, the Taliban have now a voice in the lower house. The PTI’s MNA from Mardan, Abdul Mujahid Khan, demanded during the budget debate in June that Taseer’s murderer Mumtaz Qadri “should be released honourably”. Like the PML-N leaders, Imran Khan too has consistently avoided naming the TTP for being responsible for terrorist attacks. Only two days after the killing of the GOC, Swat a reluctant Khan admitted that the attack by the TTP on Pakistan Army could prove to be a setback for the peace talks process. This was the first time he had accused the TTP by name. A day earlier the PTI leadership had only condemned the attack and offered condolences to the bereaved families and praised the services of the armed forces, without a word about the perpetrators. Ansar Abbasi is one of the well known defenders of the TTP. Abbasi rejects democracy now agreeing with the militant outfit that khilafat alone suits Pakistan. He maintains that the ‘secular elements’ have no right to demand that the TTP first announce its adherence to the constitution. The ‘secular elements’ in this country, he maintains, do not accept the Objectives Resolution which forms the preamble of the constitution and are keen to introduce changes to make the constitution secular. So what if the militants also do not accept the constitution? Abbasi fails to understand that unlike the Taliban those who want a secular constitution do not take recourse to violence in pursuit of their objectives. The constitution needs to be amended from time to time to keep it in sync with the changes in social mores and advancement in thinking. It is not therefore unusual for sections of society to differ with certain provisions of the constitution. The difference between a responsible citizen and a terrorist is that the former argues his case patiently, moulds the public opinion in favour of his views and seeks the change through constitutional means while the latter orders the society to accept his ideas or be prepared for annihilation. In a free society everybody can challenge any idea, belief or law, provided he does so through peaceful means. Any organisation which takes up arms, irrespective of its political orientation or ideological moorings, to change the constitution has to be dealt with through force, be it the TTP or the Baloch militant outfits. Talks can be held only with those who are willing to renounce violence and agree to live as peaceful citizens. Abbasi also questions why proponents of talks with India, which is an enemy country, raise their hackles when it comes to talking to the TTP. Pakistan has had three wars with India which should not have taken place. Unless there is peace between the two countries, their social and economic progress will be hindered and poverty will not be alleviated. The TTP is a collection of armed groups which had managed to establish themselves in the tribal areas and at one time were in virtual control of Swat and most of the tribal agencies and regions. They had set up states within a state which no sovereign country can allow. Military action had to be taken to establish the writ of the state. The army has won back Swat and the South Waziristan and established the writ of the state in a number of agencies. India is a sovereign country while the TTP and its affiliates are outlaws. Differences with other countries are resolved through talks and with violent non state actors through use of force if other means fail While extremists praise militancy they are opposed to freedom of discussion and debate which betrays their lack of trust in the strength of their own ideas. This is best exemplified by Maudoodi’s call for pulling out the tongue of anybody preaching socialism in the late 1960s. The extremists believe that anybody who has a strong argument must be silenced by force to stop him from ‘misleading’ the people. The PML-N government may take recourse to talks to appease the extremists present in its ranks but it would however fail to bring the major chunk of the militants to the mainstream. Those believing in imposing their views through force will never agree to go seeking votes from those they consider riff raff. - See more at:

Pakistan: Financial inclusion

ONE glaring inequity, among many, in Pakistan’s socio-economic framework is the unequal access to financial services. While, overall, Pakistan has a fairly well-developed and relatively robust formal financial sector, a large part of the population is without access to it. This is borne out by the numbers. According to available data, as of 2008 only approximately 12pc of the entire population was ‘formally served’, while 56pc was ‘financially excluded’. A further 32pc of the population relied on informal sources of financing, ie loans from friends, relatives, shopkeepers, employers, a local landlord etc. Only 10pc of Pakistani adults have bank accounts — which is less than one-third of the regional average. Not surprisingly, gender disparity is high nation-wide, with 62pc of females financially excluded, compared to 42pc males. Only 3pc of Pakistani women have bank accounts, less than one-eighth of the regional average. The need to include more Pakistanis in the ambit of financial services is not just about access to credit, though that is an important element. Of equal importance is that households that are served by formal financial mechanisms such as micro-finance or conventional commercial banks, tend to have higher financial savings and greater financial security in times of need, as well as more social mobility and empowerment. A huge potential area of opportunity that has not been fully exploited, lies in formal financial institutions acting as conduits for ‘extension’ services, whether in agriculture or for small/micro-businesses. A number of factors are responsible for the prevailing state of affairs with regard to financial inclusion. As a corollary to the incremental privatisation of the banking system, its footprint gradually receded from the rural areas of Pakistan, and became increasingly concentrated in the urban and peri-urban centres. In addition, many private banks, and especially foreign institutions operating in the country, chose to operate a limited branch network, focusing on the more affluent segments of society. Before the mandatory introduction of ‘basic accounts’ by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) circa 2006, account holders falling below a minimum bank balance threshold were being excluded from the financial sector. Finally, low literacy levels, especially pertaining to financial products and services, act as a major impediment to greater financial access. Over the past few years, however, some important strides have been made towards increasing financial penetration in the country and providing access to more citizens. To increase access to formal finance, SBP has taken a number of important measures since the mid-2000s. These have included: • The establishment of micro-finance institutions (MFIs) • Introduction of ‘basic’ bank accounts • Mandating at least 20pc of new branches in under-served areas • Promotion of branchless banking (BB) A huge potential boost to efforts to increase the level of financial penetration in the country has come from the government-to-persons (G2P) cash transfer schemes introduced since 2008-09. The first of these, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), has grown since its launch to reach more than 4.5 million beneficiaries, with annual unconditional cash transfers amounting to approximately Rs40 billion in 2012. The second G2P scheme in operation over the past two to three years was initiated in response to the massive floods that devastated large parts of Pakistan in 2011. Called the Citizen’s Damage Compensation Programme (CDCP), and consisting of two distribution phases coinciding with relief/recovery and rehabilitation, it was meant to essentially target low-income flood affectees. Cash transfers have been made through a number of traditional as well as innovative channels. For example, the network of Pakistan Post was used initially to deliver cash; this was augmented/replaced by use of digital means, such as smart cards and smart cash distribution points, ATMs, bank branches and mobile phones. For both BISP as well as CDCP, the bulk of the beneficiaries were not only those deemed as poor, but in most cases, they were also not connected to the formal financial sector. The combined number of beneficiaries of the G2P cash transfer schemes is roughly the equivalent of 35-40pc of the estimated unique bank account holders in Pakistan. This has presented both an opportunity as well as a challenge for the government and banks. On the one hand, moving even half of these beneficiaries to the fold of the ‘formally served’ would be a huge boon to efforts to finically include more Pakistanis. On the other, it could present challenges to the infrastructure and business models of private banks operating in the country. Notwithstanding the challenges, by end-March 2013, branchless banking accounts had reached 2.4 million, with over 350,000 accounts pertaining to G2P beneficiaries. For the January-March 2013 quarter alone, over 41 million transactions worth Rs171bn had been conducted under branchless banking, according to SBP. To fully leverage the opportunity presented by the large G2P cash transfer programmes to financially ‘include’ more Pakistanis, SBP, in conjunction with commercial banks, telecom companies and Pakistan’s development partners such as the World Bank, has taken a number of steps. The most important was to allow the conversion of virtual accounts opened for each registered beneficiary into a ‘level zero’ bank account. The next challenge is to upgrade the ‘level zero’ bank accounts, which do not cater fully to the banking needs of accountholders, to level one, which would allow for both deposits and partial-amount cash withdrawals. In addition, efforts to increase financial awareness and literacy will need to be up-scaled. Pakistan is not only behind its peers in terms of the depth of its financial sector, but has also been slow to increase the outreach of micro-finance and technology-driven branchless banking. With the success of the G2P programmes and other initiatives, it can finally catch up.

Attacks on imambargah, mosque claim 5 lives in Karachi, Peshawar

Successive attacks on the places of worship in two major cities of Pakistan have left at least four dead and dozens injured on Thursday night. According to details one person died and nine more were critically wounded after sectarian terrorists hurled a hand grenade at an Imambargah (Shia mosque) in Karachi. The attack took place in Majeed Colony\'s Sector II, in the bustling eastern neighbourhood of Landhi. \"Attackers threw a hand grenade on a Shia mosque, wounding nine people and killing one,\" Additional Inspector General of Police (AIG) Shahid Hayat said. Hours after Karachi Imambargah attack, a similar act of violence was reported from Peshawar in which suspected sectarian extremists pelted a mosque with grenades, located in Achini Bala area, killing three people and injuring scorers of others late on Thursday. Reports have it that armed men stormed the Perano Mosque, which falls in the remits of Sarband Police Station and carried out the attack when a large number of Tablighi Jamaat members was staying at the mosque. Tablighi Jamaat is a religious (Deobandi, Sunni Islam) movement based on the principle of the \"Work of the Prophet\" inviting to Allah in the manner of Hazrat Muhammed (PBUH). Analysts say it could be a reaction of Karachi Imambargah attack.

PPP Balochistan Office Bearers on behalf of PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visit PSF leader

A delegation of PPP Balochistan on behalf of PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, led by provincial president Mir Muhammad Sadiq Umrani visited PSF leader Shaheed Sajeela Shahjehan’s residence here today to condole her Shahadat.

Malala was right to fight for her education, says her teacher

Teacher of shot schoolgirl says holding girls back from an education is not only robbing them of their dignity, it is denying their countries so much more
I feel proud when I tell people that I'm from Swat in Pakistan, with its green and mountainous valley. But I don't feel proud about the number of women and girls where I'm from who are still being deprived of an education. Among the girls whom I have taught – girls including Malala Yousafzai, the young education activist whom the Taliban tried to assassinate – I see the dignity that education can offer. This is why I have dedicated my career to teaching, and why I am doing what I can to ensure all girls have the chance to go to school. At the Khushaal school and college in Mingora, where I started my career, 700 of 1,000 pupils are boys. Many girls are prevented from going to school because of poverty and conflict. In Mingora, however, the most common reasons for girls not attending classes are cultural. People fear that females will become too independent if they are educated. Instead parents prefer to marry off girls early, some as young as 10. Girls and young women are considered to be a financial burden if left dependent on their parents.
Early marriages take place not just where I have worked, but in all of the villages and towns around me. News articles in Pakistan have recently reported that almost a quarter of girls from rural parts of Pakistan were married before they were 18. In the school where I have been teaching for more than a decade, I have seen how this discrimination plays out. "A girl's place is at home," parents often tell me. In Swat, parents equate empowerment and education with a woman or girl being too clever for her own good. Even if parents agree to give a girl an education, the quality of learning is restricted and she will only attend classes for a certain number of years. It is common for girls to make it through only primary school before being told enough is enough. This is why I have been working tirelessly, along with Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala's father, to change these damaging perspectives and cultural practices. These are crimes against humanity, that I have no choice but to decry. I am also supporting Unesco's Education for All global monitoring report team as they work to tell world leaders that denying girls equal access to education is blocking the progress of communities and countries like Pakistan. Holding these girls' back from an education is denying them their dignity, but it is denying their countries so much more. The report shows that education does not just enable someone to read and write, but can save lives too: Mothers learn to breastfeed their children, to vaccinate them, and seek treatment if they are ill. Enough of putting time and money into conflicts and the military; it is time for politicians to realise that schooling has far greater power than fighting to transform their countries into the pioneering nations they want them to be. Helping all go to school, and not just pockets of society, also makes a country richer. Pakistan and Vietnam used to be on an equal economic footing, but unequal education has meant that Vietnam's wealth has fast overtaken our own. In Pakistan, around a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. Just imagine how life could change for our country if all girls and women – one half of our population – were educated and financially empowered? An education also gives us the confidence to stand up for our rights. If all women completed just a primary education, the number of children forced into marriage by the age of 15 would be reduced by almost half a million around the world. If they completed a secondary education, the number of these child brides would be reduced by two-thirds, saving two million girls from this fate. As a mother and a teacher, I believe education is not about just spending five hours a day in the classroom. It is about giving people the opportunity to learn about their rights and for them to have better opportunities in the long run. This is the only way we can create sustainable environments where people can be independent of aid, and can grow and prosper. Yet a mixture of poverty and ignorant practices has led to Pakistan now being home to the second-largest number of children out of school. This is simply unacceptable. I will be in New York this week for the UN general assembly. World leaders will be discussing the future of young people around the globe. I will be doing all I can to help them hear the message that educating females must be a priority now and in the future. Education is the key to giving women and girls a voice in this world and a vehicle to help them transform our world for the better.
Mariam Khalique will be in New York with Unesco on Thursday, delivering a speech calling for world leaders to ensure every child gets a chance to go to school.

Syrian government says war has reached stalemate

The Syrian conflict has reached a stalemate and President Bashar al-Assad's government will call for a ceasefire at a long-delayed conference in Geneva on the state's future, the country's deputy prime minister has said in an interview with the Guardian.
Qadri Jamil said that neither side was strong enough to win the conflict, which has lasted two years and caused the death of more than 100,000 people. Jamil, who is in charge of country's finances, also said that the Syrian economy had suffered catastrophic losses. "Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side," he said. "This zero balance of forces will not change for a while." Meanwhile, he said, the Syrian economy had lost about $100bn (£62bn), equivalent to two years of normal production, during the war. If accepted by the armed opposition, a ceasefire would have to be kept "under international observation", which could be provided by monitors or UN peace-keepers – as long as they came from neutral or friendly countries, he said. Leaders of Syria's armed opposition have repeatedly refused to go to what is called Geneva Two unless Assad first resigns. An earlier conference on Syria at Geneva lasted for just one day in June last year and no Syrians attended. Jamil's comments are the first indication of the proposals that Syria will bring to the table at the summit, which Russia and the US have been trying to convene for months. Asked what proposals his government would make at Geneva, he said: "An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way." Although both Moscow and the Obama administration seem committed to convening Geneva Two, a major split has emerged between Russia and the US over who should take part. The US has been urging the Syrian National Coalition, the western-backed rebel group, to drop its boycott but wants the SNC to be the only opposition delegation. "The paradox now is that the US is trying to give the SNC the leading role. We're fed up with this monopolistic view," Jamil said. Jamil is one of two cabinet ministers from small secular parties who were appointed last year to end the monopoly of the Ba'ath party. By joining the government, he said, "we wanted to give a lesson to both sides to prepare for a government of national unity and break the unilateral aspect of the regime – and break the fear in opposition circles about sitting in front of the regime". Jamil's comments on why he joined the cabinet were those of his party, but his other comments in the hour-long interview represented the government's position, he said. He repeatedly stressed Syria was changing but it needed support rather than pressure. "Let nobody have any fear that the regime in its present form will continue. For all practical purposes the regime in its previous form has ended. In order to realise our progressive reforms we need the west and all those who are involved in Syria to get off our shoulders," he said. Jamil said that last week's UN report on the 21 August chemical weapons attack which killed more than 1,000 people was "not thoroughly objective". He said Russia had produced evidence showing the rockets that were identified by the UN inspectors as carrying sarin were indeed Soviet-made. But he said they had been exported from Russia to Syria in the 1970s. "They were loaded with chemicals by Gaddafi and exported to fundamentalists in Syria after Gaddafi fell," he said. On Friday Vladimir Putin said he could not be sure that Assad would fulfil the US-Russian plan to identify and destroy his chemical weapons stocks, but "all the signs" suggested the Syrian regime was serious. "Will we be able to accomplish it all? I cannot be 100% sure about it," said Putin, speaking at a discussion forum with western politicians and Russia experts in the north-west of the country. "But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen … I hope so." Details of Russia's position on who should represent the opposition at Geneva Two have also emerged. Members of the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, an umbrella group for several internal parties, met Sergei Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, in Damascus on Thursday evening. Safwan Akkash, an NCB leader, told the Guardian afterwards that Ryabkov told them Russia was proposing there should be three opposition teams at Geneva. These should be the NCB, the Syrian National Coalition, and a combined delegation of Kurds. The SNC, while cautiously accepting Geneva Two as a means of breaking an entrenched stalemate, insists that Assad's resignation remains non-negotiable. It is also sticking to a position that a transitional government must follow the ousting of Assad. It has remained insistent that those who carried out the chemical attack must be held to account – a point it has hammered home ever since the Russian-US deal to force Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stockpiles.