Terrorising the teachers: Losing the future

Target killings have damaged Balochistan's education sector; teachers not of Baloch descent feel increasingly unsafe.

Shezad Baloch February 28, 2011

In April 2010 the target killing of a prominent professor at Balochistan University, Nazima Talib, sent shockwaves through Pakistani society.

Although this was the first time a high-profile woman teaching at university had been specifically targeted, it had already become fairly common for teachers and professors to be killed in Balochistan.

People associated with the education sector in Balochistan began to be targeted in 2008, during which year five teachers were killed and two injured. In 2009, four teachers were gunned down and one was injured, and in 2010, five teachers were shot dead and five were critically injured in targeted assaults.

Target killings like these have severely damaged the province’s education sector, as teachers that are not of Baloch descent have began to feel increasing unsafe in Baloch-dominated areas.

According to an official in the education department, as many as 14 teachers sought a transfer from the Balochistan Residential College Khuzdar after Vice Principal Khalid Mahmood was killed in 2009.

“Barring a few teachers in Lasbela District, most teachers, including those from parts of Quetta, are fleeing to safer places,” says a government teacher who wishes to remain anonymous. A generation of students has been affected by the weakened education system. “Baloch youth are the victims of this ongoing uncertainty,” he says.

According to an official at The University of Balochistan (UoB), at least 30 to 35 teachers, most of whom hold PhDs and are Associate Professors and Assistant Professors, have sought transfers and early retirement due to target killings. “The main reason [for their request for transfers] is target killing. This forces qualified teachers to get themselves transferred to safer places,” he says.

The UoB faces a shortfall of 100 lecturers, a gap which is being filled by fluctuating visiting lecturers. As a result, the standard of academics at has been badly affected. “How can a visiting lecturer impart quality education? It will take years to overcome this crisis,” he says.

The education department, however, is reluctant to put a number on the teachers transferring out of volatile areas. “There is no doubt that the education sector in Baloch-populated areas has been affected because of target killings,” says Education Minister Tahir Mahmood Khan. But he adds that by the recruitment of 5,000 teachers under the Aghaz-e-Huqooq Balochistan package the shortfall of teachers has already been overcome. He says that since only Baloch teachers are appointed in Baloch districts now, this alleviates the problem.

In 2009, the education minister’s brother, former Education Minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan, was also killed in a targeted attack  – prompting some to say that this is why Tahir Mahmood Khan shies away from discussing the issue.

The great divide

But a dearth of teachers is not the only problem target killing has created — it has also laid the deep rifts in Baloch society bare.

By and large, the assassination of teachers has been attributed to Baloch nationalist groups. Some of these groups have also claimed responsibility for attacks on teachers: the media reported that the Balochistan Liberation Army claimed (BLA) responsibility for Nazima Talib’s death, saying the killing was meant to avenge the death of two Baloch women in Quetta and Pasni, and the torture of female political workers in Mand and Tump.

The BLA also claimed responsibility for the assassination of Fazal Bari, the principal of Tameer-e-Nau High school in Quetta, in 2010, and the deaths of Safdar Kayani and Anwar Baig. The Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF) claimed responsibility for the murder of former Education Minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan.

On the flip side, some Baloch believe that these target killings are being attributed to nationalist movements in order to give the Baloch a bad name. Highlighting this schism, Provincial President of the Government Teachers Association Mohammad Nawaz says that many schools in Balochistan don’t hoist the national flag or even play the national anthem: “Baloch people are not against education. If they were against education, we wouldn’t have any schools here. People have this attitude because of political reasons,” Mohammad Nawaz explains.

Nawaz claims that in 2009 some people arrested a man who had gunned down the principal of Pilot School in Mastung district, some 50 kilometres away from Quetta, and handed the killer over to the police. Even though the killer had been caught red-handed, according to Nawaz, the police took no action against him. “We saw the killer again with our own eyes, strolling around and carrying out another deadly attack in the same area,” he alleges. “[These killings] are state sponsored. I believe that some officials are backing target killings of teachers in Baloch-dominated areas to give Baloch society bad name.”

This sentiment is echoed by the students themselves, who feel disconnected with the rest of Pakistani society. “The media talks about teachers being killed in targeted attacks but is unwilling to focus on the constitutional rights of Baloch people,” says 24-year-old Saqib Ali, who studies at The University of Balochistan.

Similarly, Balochistan’s political leadership is also dissatisfied with its lot. Senior Vice-President of the National Party, Senator Hasil Bizenjo, says that the government does not prioritise education in Balochistan: “All appointments take place on a political basis. I have never seen any government take the education sector in Balochistan seriously.”

Too little, too late

Bizenjo doubts that establishing a few education cities would solve the problem. “The Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps have set up some schools and colleges but this will not necessarily help to improve the literacy rate or impart quality education. These steps are only symbolic or cosmetic, and aim to polish up the image of the government and its agencies,” he says.

Despite the worsening situation in the province, no concrete steps have been taken to address the Baloch people’s grievances. Home Secretary Akbar Durrani seems to be in deep denial when he says that the situation is slowly returning to ‘normal’. “The government has almost overcome the menace of target killings. No incident of targeted killing has been reported since last June,” says the home secretary. Meanwhile, teachers continue to leave the province, and the future of the Baloch youth becomes bleaker as the exodus continues.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 27th, 2011.


hamza baloch | 10 years ago | Reply @wahab: People of Balochistan, be it poor or rich are our people. And we dont have to hear from a Punjabi who is just interested in just feeding like a parasite on our resources. Balochistan is a desert land. But so is Saudi arabia, so is iran, so is bahrain, so is the whole of the arab world. The food that we need we shall be able to grow. and to top it all, we have the resources to buy it outright. We can think about our economy and open your eyes, we dont need you, Its just that you depend on us. You dont have to help us. And before calling any Baloch poor, look at yourself. Atleast we havent gone around begging other nations like you. You used the same logic; "help the poor" to suppress the bangladeshis. You have seen the result. You want to do charity work, then do in Bangladesh, If we need your services, we might as well employ you! And i am happy to hear your loyalties and it should be that way. You be loyal to your country Punjab, i am not going to ask your to abandon your country, or say anything against it. Thats because we do not indulge in conspiracy theories like you. Gwadar is OUR PORT. if it succeeds it is our success, if it fails it is our failure. We dont want to hear what you think of it. I do understand that there is hope. The only hope is that you go and ask your punjabi government to pull out their forces, or else keep counting. We are never going to compromise at anything short of complete independence. We are ready to fight to last Man, woman, and child.
wahab | 10 years ago | Reply @hamza Baloch: People like you want to keep their hold on poor in Balochistan by not letting them be educated. you are sitting on a huge gas dump,but dont forget that Balochistan is a desert land. It needs food from other provinces. We all provinces have to help each other to be a powerful economy. And stop blaming punjabis for everything. We want to help poor in Balochistan but people like you never allow us. I wanted to do some charity work in Balochistan but i was told that it is not safe because of people like you. So i ended up opening a school in PUnjab.. Money makes money..Foreign investment is needed..Gwadar was such a good project, attracting foreign investment,.people like you are the ones to blame because of the faliure of the project. There is hope ofcourse...If u ever understand
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