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Jihadist Teachings Drawn Back Into Classroom In Pakistani Province

Children attend classes at a 100-year-old school in Pakistan's Shabqadar district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where newly installed provincial authorities have pledged to restore violent jihadist content to textbooks.
Children attend classes at a 100-year-old school in Pakistan's Shabqadar district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where newly installed provincial authorities have pledged to restore violent jihadist content to textbooks.
For decades, school textbooks used across Pakistan have preached falsehoods, hatred, and religious intolerance, helping foster the sectarian violence and militancy that plagues the country today.

In the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, a breeding ground for extremist groups like the Taliban, education officials took steps in 2008 to curb the spread of Islamic extremism to the next generation.

Over the next few years, textbooks used from first to 12th grade in the province's public schools -- there is no national curriculum in Pakistan -- underwent drastic changes.

Koranic verses preaching jihad, or holy war, were removed, as were illustrations depicting weapons or violence. Chapters covering Islamist figures and ideology were replaced with pages promoting local poets, philosophers, or the region's Pashtun identity.

But those hard-fought changes are now under threat. The province's newly elected government, led by former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI) and its coalition partner, the Jamaat-e Islami (JI) party, have announced their intention to restore violent jihadist content in school textbooks.

The decision has dismayed schoolteachers and educators who see education as the best tool to counter jihadist propaganda disseminated by militant groups in the restive region. Critics of the move say it threatens to radicalize the province's youth.

'Part Of Our Faith'

The provincial government has not said when it expects the changes to be implemented, but it was not in time for the new school year that began on September 1. The changes could affect school material from the first to the 12th grade in several subjects, including Pakistani history and Islamic studies.

Shah Farman, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's minister for information and culture, said at an August 21 press conference that the government would "rectify" what it called "holes and mistakes" in the existing textbooks published by the previous government, led by the secular Awami National Party (ANP).

"What kind of sovereignty, freedom, and Islamic values is this when Islamic teachings, jihad, and national heroes are removed from textbooks?" he asked assembled journalists in the provincial capital, Peshawar. "Jihad is part of our faith. We will not back down [from our decision]."

Farman went on to identify what he described as inaccuracies in the textbooks. One was the mention of Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between Pakistan and India, as a "disputed" area. Islamabad claims the whole of the Muslim-dominated region.

Farman also referred to an illustration of a boy eating with his left hand. According to some Islamic teachings, the left hand should only be used when going to the toilet or cleaning one's nose. The right hand, according to teachings, is closer to God.

Battling 'Hate, Sectarianism'

Fazal Rahim Marwat is a former chairman of the Textbook Board of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a government committee responsible for editing and publishing school textbooks in the province.

Marwat, who is now an associate professor at the University of Peshawar, says the provincial government's decision will help spread religious fanaticism and poison the minds of students in the province.

"Naturally, there will be an impact," Marwat says. "There is already an insurgency and already a war in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and across Pakistan. There is hate material in many educational books. You can see the reversal of education in many ways. During the Afghan jihad [in the 1980s], the Pakistan government introduced jihad in schools. That promoted the violence and the extremism we see today. So if someone again wants to introduce such material, it will promote this."

Under a reform process initiated in 2006, Marwat says the committee removed content in school textbooks that would in any way promote violence and replaced it with themes encouraging peace and tolerance.

In 2011, the Textbook Board of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took advantage of changes in the Pakistani Constitution also to introduce changes to higher education. Up until then, the education system in Pakistan had been centralized with the provinces having minimal say in matters of policy, curriculum, and planning; but the 18th Amendment gave full powers to the provinces over higher education.

"My motto was peace," Marwat says. "For example, on the front or back pages of textbooks I printed slogans that we wanted peace. We tried to minimize the hate material and sectarianism. We introduced local Pashtun heroes, instead of Arab heroes, and introduced local culture."

RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal contributed to this report
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the regional desk editor for Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2012, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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