Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at Another Crossroads?

Pakistan’s ultra orthodox religious party Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) and Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) will rule Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the north-west frontier province that has spent 65 years searching for a leader.

khyber-pakhtunkhwaKhyber Pakhtunkhwa’s recent PTI victory came as a surprise. Many of us expected a defeat of the secular Awami National Party (ANP) but not the way it happened. With only four seats in the entire province, ANP went from a majority just a couple of months ago before the elections to a minority.

The ANP’s unfortunate defeat is an eye opener for many Pakistanis who aspire for a pluralistic and peaceful Pakistan. I do not mean ANP was ideal. Its defeat mainly stems from what ministers did during their rule.

Many think the ANP former government was a mix of poor governance and corruption. Others suggest ANP’s downfall is linked with a “great game” conspiracy in neighboring Afghanistan. Both views seem extreme.

Those who have in the past rejected conspiracy theories need to be rational here as well. Those who think the alleged corruption and obvious bad governance are the real cause of ANP’s defeat also need to revisit their claims.

Social issues in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are vastly different from rural Punjab, Sindh or Balochistan.

According to a BBC report a decade ago, rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the most developed region in Pakistan except for a few districts like Kohistan. PTI has by now 34 provincial assembly seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It has allies with JI and Aftab’s Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party to form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to media reports, three ministries including the ministry of education will join JI.

JI has a track record of protesting, even mobilizing the mosques, against any imagined or real reform in the education policy and curricula it had crafted under the auspices of General Zia in 80s. JI has always been in the forefront against any change in the education policy and the curriculum.

JI launched a campaign against certain changes in the syllabus by the Aga Khan Education Board. Similarly, when the former government tried to replace the Sura-e-Anfaal (spoils of war) in the Holy Quran with that of another sura known as Sura-e-Hujraat in a 9th grade textbook, the JI was the first to protest against the move ignoring that both suraas (chapters) belong to the same Quran.

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The ANP former government has also included a textbook (though poorly written and unimaginative in contents) for 9th grade and 10th grade. It has also proposed a Provincial Language Authority for the languages spoken in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Similarly, the ANP government has also included Seraiki, Hinko, Khowar and Indus Kohistani languages to be used in early childhood education in the primary schools where these languages are spoken. One wonders what would be the fate of these measures. Whether the JI minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will abandon the language policy or replace the languages with Arabic as per Pakistan’s constitution, which also exhorts us to learn Arabic, is unclear.

The fear increases because any clear ideology for PTI is still not known — at least that I am aware of. PTI has enthusiasts both from the religious right, liberals, poor, and middle class and even the English-speaking women and youth from posh areas.

This becomes PTI’s strength because PTI actually represents Pakistani society. It also becomes PTI’s weakness in the sense that it will be indecisive to take the road for a peaceful and pluralistic Pakistan because of the ideological clash. The gap, then, is surely be filled by its coalition partners like JI.

Zubair Torwali is a researcher, linguist and human rights activist. Born and raised in Bahrain Swat, Pakistan, he heads the Institute for Education and Development, a civil society organization working for the conservation of cultural, lingual and natural heritage among the linguistic communities in north Pakistan. Zubair was recently awarded the Prof. Anita Ghulam Ali Award of Teachers and Education in Emergencies. Read other articles by Zubair.