Rome (AsiaNews) - "Educational poverty and the denial of the right to education are two of the most important issues" that Pakistan faces today. So says Paul Bhatti's brother of Shahbaz, the minister for religious minorities murdered on March 2 last year in Islamabad. Shahbaz Bhatti died at the hands of an armed extremist who killed him for his fight against the blasphemy law and support for Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death based on the "black law" and still pending appeal.
Recently, the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari appointed Paul Bhatti - current president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) - "special adviser" to the Prime Minister for religious minorities, encouraging him to continue his late brother’s work. Analyzing the current situation of the country, Bhatti says "political stability, economic security and peace are prerequisites for development, which once achieved can help solve" other aspects, including education. " He also denounced the presence of a faction - mafia or strong power - which "prevents the nation from developing and achieving the objectives of stability and improvement of education."
Below an AsiaNews interview with Paul Bhatti:
Ali Jinnah enshrined equal rights, religious freedom and free education. Why are the guidelines of the founder of Pakistan still not implemented?
It's a question on everyone's mind. To be honest, Pakistan was not like this until a few years ago. In the past, in recent decades, there was some discrimination but it was not so marked. There has been a resurgence after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when many religious parties formed, the mujaheddin have increased, and so on. Afterwards, Taliban factions were born, clashes occurred with the United States and the West which have generated a hatred against the West, which also embraces Christians themselves. In one way or another, Christians in Pakistan are identified with the West, and this process generates new hatred of the religious community. Finally, substantial groups which I think are behind these assassinations, violence, clashes, use the cloak of religion to perpetrate crimes and misdemeanors.
What role the madrassas - Koranic schools – have in education in the country? Are they potential recruitment centres of terrorism?
I can not say, I can not confirm or deny that, because I never visit them in person. It seems, however, or at least there are rumours that in some cases they are fomenting violence. However, the school first of all means 'education', the centres must be positive role models. And if there are cases where deviations arise, or in the teachings there is an apologetic for terrorism, by those who support them, there is an obvious bad faith. The fundamental point is that the school, in itself, means education, development ... education is always a good thing.
30% of students live in conditions of "extreme" educational poverty, 25 million are denied the right to education. What solutions do political and civil society have to offer?
Educational poverty and the denial of the right to education important issues. Ignorance and high illiteracy rates, produces suicide bombers. These factors allow the formation of groups that are easily malleable, that can easily be trained and exploited for terrorist acts. In my opinion, there two elements that contribute to the status quo: one is the low level of education, which is not only due to poverty, but also to poor organization. A terrorist is not the product of ignorance, but also of a civilization that generates terrorism. Just look at what happened in London ... extreme gestures caused by educated, wealthy, people and yet even in that case, ideology generated violence. Then overpopulation comes into play in some way: families with many children, most of whom do nothing, who spend most of their time idling, life ultimately means nothing in their eyes. And, consequently, they are recruited in the madrassas. This is a problem that must be addressed and practical solutions must be found.
Private schools in part make up for the shortcomings of the public system, but 51% of Pakistanis are denied access to education. How can this situation be reversed?
It is not just a question of schools or colleges. The structures are there, but in many cases are empty with few students. In some areas and sectors of society there is no real culture of education. While offering them free education at school level, the problem remains that a certain section of society is not interested in sending their children to school. Therefore in parallel with building schools and educational centres a massive campaign to raise awareness and make people understand the added value of education needs to be rolled out throughout the country,.
And this, unfortunately, is even more evident in remote and desperate parts of the country. Even when schooling facilities are built, this does not mean that they are successful, that they will be popular, that parents will send their children. First there must be the desire to study.
In fact, the level of education is lower than India and Bangladesh. But who is interested in keeping the population in ignorance and what can Christians and Muslims do?
It is not that Christians and Muslims can do something special, to reverse the situation. They need to find a religious coexistence geared to tolerance, avoiding confrontations, attacks and violence. The hard task of reaching those remote areas is up to political leaders and the government, to launch an awareness campaign in areas where there is a higher percentage of illiteracy, finding ways so that people can understand the value of study. This must be done.
In this sense, the education of women is vital, because it is not true that there is no access to education for women Pakistan. In our society both women's education and their representation o in public office, at Government level, is quite high. For example, one third of parliamentarians are women, many ministers as well are women, among the many it is worth naming the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
A survey shows that 85% of the population wants a better education. What can be done to achieve the goal?
Not only can it be done, but it must be done in a way that improves the level of schooling. The point is that we have problems of a political, economic nature: among many factors, just think about political and social instability. The country is unable to establish a campaign or a law that can prevent chaos. First of all we want political stability, economic security and peace in the country. Then other aspects including education can be resolved.
Secondly, the presence and the role played by the military and secret services is also an important factor. Stability also means independence from those wielding power Although the nation is led by a secular government, the fact that targeted attacks happen such as the death of my brother means that there are elements that undermine the country and do not want it to work. We can call it mafia or dark forces, but the point is that it prevents the nation from moving on and achieving the goals of stability and improvement of education.
The international community has provided military aid to Pakistan, but has never worked hard for a real development. What would you ask of Catholics and the West?
Christianity calls for solidarity and love without distinction, for this I ask the world's Catholics for support, not only for Christians but for all the weak and the suffering in Pakistan. I appeal to the international community and the Christians of the West: I ask you to support me and help me fulfil my new job as "special adviser" to the Prime Minister on religious minorities. In addition, to help all people in need and suffering in Pakistan, regardless of religious belief. (DS)