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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Namal College: Mianwali

Namal College: another feather in Imran Khan’s cap!
The News, April 28, 2008
By Mumtaz Alvi

ISLAMABAD: The prime minister, along with the chairman of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, launched the quality Namal College in Mianwali on April 27.

The college is the brainchild of Imran Khan, who was appalled at the high level of unemployment among the youth of Mianwali. Therefore, in order to provide high quality training and employable skills, so that the youth of the district could earn a decent living, he wanted to open a college.

A large number of people gathered on Sunday for the inauguration of the college, including government ministers, educationists, and donors alongside the people of Mianwali, who have so generously donated the land on which the college has been built.

Imran's vision is to create a world-class research university and knowledge city where scholars can work and study in an Oxford-like academic environment. "This is the most beautiful location,” said Imran referring to the surroundings, "and exactly the right kind of environment to set up a centre of excellence. In a few years’ time, academics will work and live here."

Working alongside Imran for the last two years has been the University of Bradford, one of the leading universities in the UK, especially in engineering and management courses. The university has been ranked No 1 for graduate employment in the north of England in The Times League tables for the last five years and has a history of developing and delivering high quality and demand-driven degree programmes as well as an excellent reputation for research.

In December 2005, Imran was appointed the university's first international chancellor, succeeding four previous chancellors, the first of whom was Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister of Britain.

The University of Bradford has granted 'Associate College' status to Namal College. Commenting on the importance of the partnership with the Namal College, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bradford Mark Cleary said, "The university does not award Associate College status lightly. In our 42-year history since we were granted our Royal Charter, we have given this status to only eight Associate Colleges in the United Kingdom and only three around the world. We were, however, inspired by the vision and values for Namal College, which we felt were very similar to our own and to the commitment for excellence, exemplified by Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, also a partner of the university, which we know will be demonstrated here at Namal College too."

The Bradford University will be involved in designing the courses and curriculum, in ensuring quality assurance mechanism and training and development for the faculty. Courses will be delivered in 4 phases. The Phase I will offer certificate courses, Phase II diploma courses, Phase III degree course and Phase IV research degrees.

The initial curriculum will be focused in the following areas: Construction (masons, carpenters, electricians), automotive engineering, electrical engineering with emphasis on appliances repairs; agricultural equipment engineering, development and maintenance, and cement industry work.

Majority of the students at the university will be on scholarships and come from areas where they would not have had the opportunities that the Namal College would offer. The Namal College will be of enormous benefit not only to the Mianwali district but also the whole of Pakistan. Over the long term, Namal College's "Knowledge City" will act as a best practice model for other regions of Pakistan to extend its benefits nationally, like the Shaukat Khanum is doing today.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Independent MPAs in Pakhtunkhwa assembly.

MPAs in NWFP play their cards well

Friday, April 25, 2008
Nine districts have no representation in NWFP cabinet

By Khalid Kheshgi

PESHAWAR: Six independently-elected MPAs have won places in the 26-member NWFP cabinet after joining the ruling parties while another switched sides to become a provincial minister.

On the other hand, nine districts of the Frontier province have no representation in the coalition government led by the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) whereas some districts are blessed with more than one ministry.

The Mansehra district, which has six provincial assembly constituencies, has got four ministries while Nowshera, having five seats, will have three ministers in the provincial cabinet. Abbottabad, Kohistan, Battgram, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Hangu, Tank, Shangla and Dir Upper districts have no say in the NWFP government despite the fact that the ruling parties have their elected MPAs in some of these districts.

In the 26-member provincial cabinet, the ANP has 15 ministers while the PPP has 11. The ANP has accommodated three independently-elected MPAs and the PPP nominated three independents and one PPP-S MPA from its quota.

According to the power-sharing formula between the two major allies, 21 ministers were inducted into the cabinet on April 2 while five others were administered oath on April 23 in the second phase. The PML-N, one of the coalition partners at the Centre, will nominate three ministers in the existing cabinet if it agrees to join the NWFP government.

Mian Nisar Gul Kakakhel from Karak, Amjad Afridi from Kohat and Qazi Asad from Haripur, who were elected as independents in the February 18 elections, had joined the ANP and eventually got the ministerial slots. Two independents, Akhtar Nawaz Khan from Haripur and Maulvi Obaidullah from Kohistan, joined the ANP while Malik Hayat from Dir Upper, Adnan Khan Wazir from Bannu and Khalifa Abdul Qayyum from Dera Ismail Khan extended their support to the ANP, which had 31 MPAs elected on its ticket to the NWFP Assembly.

Muhammad Shuja Khan from Mansehra, Sher Azam Khan from Bannu, Habib-ur-Rehman Tanoli from Mansehra and Pervez Khattak from Nowshera made it to the NWFP cabinet on the PPP quota, which had 17 MPAs elected on its ticket to the provincial assembly.

Baseer Ahmed Khan from Nowshera, Mehmood Alam from Kohistan and Anwar Saifullah Khan, who were elected from two provincial assembly constituencies from Lakki Marwat, joined the PPP soon after the February 18 polls.

Habib-ur-Rehman, who is also the central deputy general secretary of the PPP-S, represents the six-member independent group, comprising Syed Murid Kazim, Sardar Ali, Javid Tarakai, Fazlullah and Syed Qalb-e-Hasan.

The ANP and PPP have the strength of 46 and 29 MPAs, respectively, while the JUI-F has 14 lawmakers, the PML-N eight MPAs and the PML-Q has six parliamentarians in the 117-seat house. By-elections on seven NWFP Assembly seats are to be held on June 18 in Dir Upper, Swat, Charsadda, Lakki Marwat, Abbottabad and Battagram districts.

Peace Accord With Mehsuds

Peace accord finalised with Mehsuds
By Ismail Khan, Dawn, April 23, 2008

PESHAWAR, April 22: The government is close to an agreement with warring Mehsuds that seeks an end to militant activity, exchange of prisoners and gradual withdrawal of the military to restore peace to the volatile South Waziristan tribal region.

The 15-point draft agreement, seen by Dawn, has been thoroughly discussed and approved at the senior political leadership level in Islamabad and also enjoys the backing of the military establishment.

The interlocutors were given a final go-ahead following a meeting of top leaders of PPP, PML-N and ANP in Islamabad on April 15. The ANP chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan, briefed his coalition partners on the subject and obtained their consent, sources said.

The matter has been thoroughly debated within the military establishment as well as the political leadership and a broad consensus has been achieved, according to knowledgeable sources.

One source said that Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, during a briefing on April 2, clearly told Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and heads of the ruling coalition parties that the military would take its cue from the political leadership on matters relating to internal security, including peace talks with militants and any military action.

According to the draft document, the peace agreement would be signed between the political administrator of South Waziristan, as representative of the government of Pakistan, and tribal elders as representatives of the Mehsud tribes in South Waziristan.

The draft agreement requires the Mehsud tribes to give an undertaking that government and security forces would not be targeted at all; their equipment and property would not be damaged; no military or government functionary would be kidnapped; all roads would be opened to the Frontier Corps in accordance with the old procedure and there would be no restriction on their movement.

Mehsud tribes would also be required to ensure that no terrorist activity takes place anywhere in Pakistan, including the tribal regions nor would they assist anyone in such an activity.

The Mehsuds would not use their soil for any anti-state activity nor would they allow anyone to do so, the draft agreement reads.

Mehsuds would also furnish an undertaking not to create any parallel administration; respect writ of the state; contact the political administration for resolution of their problems while the administration would decide matters in accordance with local 'riwaj' (customs) and the Frontier Crimes Regulation with the cooperation of local elders.

The draft agreement requires Mehsud tribes to expel all foreign militants from their territory and undertake not to give them shelter in future.

The document says that the expulsion of foreign militants would begin within one month of the signing of the agreement, but a month's extension could be granted if there are unavoidable reasons.

It also requires the Mehsuds to give an undertaking that they would assist the government and not create any hurdle in matters relating to the government and developmental schemes.

They would also hold responsibility for the protection of locals as well as foreign contractors working on developmental projects in the area.

According to the draft agreement, the political administration would work through the tribe concerned for verification and subsequent action if it comes to know about any militant training camp, including those involved in suicide bombings.

It gives the government the right to take action in accordance with 'riwaj' and the FCR if the tribe fails to take any action.

The draft agreement provides for exchange of prisoners soon after the signing of the agreement as confidence-building measure. The political administration would release all Mehsud tribesmen held under territorial responsibility clause of the FCR, while militants would release government hostages.

Mehsud tribesmen held without charge would also be released while the fate of those remaining would be discussed and those who could be legally released would be set free.

After the signing of the agreement, regular troops would be withdrawan from the Mehsud territory in a gradual/phased manner.

In case of violation, the political administration would have the right to take action in accordance with 'riwaj' and the FCR.

More significantly, the draft agreement stipulates that it would not be scrapped due to any external or internal pressure.

Sources privy to the behind-the-scene talks said that efforts were being made to replicate the agreement in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions and contacts in this regard had already been established.

"The response is very, very positive," these sources said while referring to a statement by a spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Maulavi Omar.

The TTP spokesman has acknowledged contacts and has said that militants are adhering to a unilateral ceasefire to allow these peace overtures to succeed.

One source however warned against over-optimism, saying it is a complicated and sensitive matter and both sides are proceeding with extreme caution.

"The draft agreement is ready but it is still being fine-tuned. It involves tough bargaining. By no means it's simple and easy."

Education:Do madrassas need revamping?

Do madrassas need revamping?
Are seminaries in Pakistan really breeding violence and hatred, and not imparting education?
By Dr Noman Ahmed; The News, April 20, 2008

In his inaugural speech in Parliament, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani announced the setting up of a Madrassa Regulatory Authority to oversee the functioning of seminaries across the country. It goes without saying that madrassas have been a hot topic of discussion for about a decade. The previous regime had also undertaken a number of initiatives to reform madrassas, but on the whole these efforts failed to bring about the desired changes. Therefore, it is necessary that the current effort is guided by a full understanding and analysis of the situation.

The image of madrassas has changed drastically over time. Once, they were considered as the ideological flag-bearers of the state. As a 'holy war' against the Soviet Union was to be fuelled by a zealot crop of recruits, all kind of state patronage was extended to madrassas. All that was associated with them was held in high esteem. Components of the establishment, predominantly the armed forces, carved a special niche for madrassas in their operation manuals. After the Soviet retreat in the late 1980s, however, the Western perception changed. Influenced by the West and irked by the misdeeds of the mercenaries disguised as clerics, the Pakistani establishment also took a U-turn in the late 1990s.

As far as the syllabus is concerned, the centuries-old Dars-e-Nizamiya is still taught in most Pakistani madrassas. Demands of reforms, therefore, are being made by different quarters, mainly because this syllabus is outdated and not in line with the contemporary educational needs. The state has also started exerting pressure in a bid to diffuse the potential threat of militarism, thought to be evolving due to obscurantist policies and practices of the past. The clerics, on the other hand, refuse to acknowledge the need for reforms, at least those fostered by the state.

The liberal elements are viewed as the arch-rivals of madrassas in Pakistan. In their pursuit to foster liberal thinking and attitude, they consider madrassas as the harbingers of retrogression and orthodoxy. Madrassas and clerics, in turn, denounce the liberals, terming them promoters of evil. Both the camps refuse to recognise the existence and subsequent validity of each other's school of thought, modus operandi of learning and the overall ideology of life. In comparison, academics and scholars have a mixed approach. Skeptical of the liberals, who demand dissent from the conventions, they mostly mend fences with the clerics and share some wavelength, at least on controversial issues, with them.

The media, especially international outfits, paint a very negative picture of madrassas and their activities. More often than not, madrassas are shown as sites brewing anti-social activities. Brainwashing for suicide bombings, attacks on civilian targets hosting Western interests and other such happenings are all shown with madrassas in the background. The print media, especially the English press, is especially hostile to madrassas. Urdu newspapers, however, are not hostile to madrassas, and provide wide coverage to their activities and outlook. Similarly, feudals and landed aristocracy hold madrassas and clerics in high esteem, as they normally share the common perception of anti-progressivism. On the other hand, women's and human rights groups are suspicious of madrassas and clerics.

In our society, barring a few exceptions, the bright students focus their attention on those disciplines that offer lucrative employment and posh lifestyle. Thus, they adopt the fashionable channels of learning right from the beginning to be prepared for future challenges. On the other hand, madrassas receive the bottom strata of the youth. There are several reasons for this, as elucidated in the following:

One, the parents who cannot afford to raise their children -- let alone bear their educational expenses -- are left with no choice but to send them to madrassas. They, at least, have the consolation that madrassas shall house the child, and provide for his or her food, boarding and lodging. The parents also draw satisfaction from the assumption that because of their child acquiring religious education, the way to Heaven would be opened for them as well as the child.

Two, destitute children and orphans who do not have any relative to look after them normally end up in a madrassa. The whole Taliban syndrome is an exemplification of how a sizable number of these orphans and destitute children joined madrassas as the only choice. According to famous journalist, Ahmed Rashid, the Taliban primarily evolved from the dozens of madrassas established in the refugee camps along the Pak-Afghan border territories. Besides teachings, these children received hands-on training on some of the most lethal weapons in the world. The Taliban, as a result, soon became an invincible force.

Three, urban ultra-orthodox families send their children to madrassas to learn Nazra Quran or for Hifzul Quran. However, since most of these students do not have any other choice or outlet available to them, they become the captive clientelle of madrassas.

Several issues are vital for consideration with respect to madrassas / traditional system of education. The pattern and system is in need of a dire change, at least in response to the sea changes that have occurred in the society in the past several decades. The doctrine that the religious corollaries and axioms are static, and thus do not need a change over, itself requires a review. By taking this stubborn stand, madrassas are likely to lose their very relevance to the society in which they operate. In this rapidly changing world, an impartial assessment of the situation seems to be a pre-requisite for a beginning towards change. Besides, madrassa administrations follow a very introvert pattern of operation. They are reluctant to engage into dialogue and discussion even with other components of the education sector.

By taking this isolationist stand, madrassas seem to be losing the traditional sympathy that the masses in general and middle classes in particular used to have for them. Skill development with particular reference to the prevailing circumstances is non-existent. Former students of madrassas have almost no avenue for gainful employment. Either they opt for becoming prayer leaders (pesh imams) or prayer callers (moazzins); both jobs available in extremely limited numbers. Due to this supply side pressure, more and more mosques are being built -- some often at sites not legally allocated to them. Some of these students start offering tuitions to neighbourhood children of middle- and upper-income groups. But all these choices are temporary, and limited in scale and operation.

There are many ways forward: the ulema / madrassa administrators need to analyse the prevailing circumstances in an impartial and honest manner. The harsh realities of both the local society and global environment must be understood to equate the potentials and threats. Unless this is done, very little improvement can be expected. The clerics need to open up to the outside world, so that people can freely access their viewpoints and vice-versa. They need to see the important realities of life as they stand today and put their acts together accordingly.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008