Analysts often see the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan as an enigma. His chic and modern supporters in urban Punjab have almost nothing in common with his coalition partners in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, i.e, the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Qaumi Watan Party. And now, with him having his first shot at governance in the Taliban infested province, Imran is finally being tested in the field of politics.
Recently, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has embarked upon revising the province’s syllabus. The K-P information minister, Shah Farman, during a recent press conference on the curriculum, dodged criticism over his statement that “jihad is a part of our faith and every schoolchild should have knowledge about it and its true spirit.”
So far, the changes in the syllabus have not been finalised, but media reports suggest that some of the recommendations include re-inserting Quranic verses on jihad for grade nine that the previous government of the Awami National Party (ANP) had excluded from the syllabus. The loudest criticism to Shah Farman’s statements has come from the ANP’s Bushra Gohar, who accused the PTI of having a pro-Taliban agenda to radicalise society by imposing on it the jihadist narrative through the education system.
The previous ANP government made changes to the syllabus and did away with Zia’s version of Islamisation. This included adding messages of peace, deleting material on jihad (reproduced out of context) from the Islamiat textbook for grade nine and re-inserting them in the class 11 textbook. PTI’s information minister saw the ANP educational reforms as ‘criminal changes’. His party is now busy developing a syllabus that will reflect its version of Islamic ideology and culture of Pakistan.
On the record, the PTI’s education minister, Atif Khan, has rejected all criticism, saying the party has no intention to add jihad to the syllabus and that they have so far only corrected mistakes in textbooks — such as replacing the picture of a woman wearing a skirt with a woman wearing a shalwar-kameez. PTI’s Shafqat Mahmood lashed out at the ANP saying that it is carrying out propaganda against the PTI because they were defeated in the elections.
However, the party’s critics remain sceptical. Educationists like Mehdi Hassan feel that the PTI’s policy, like that of the JI, JUI-F and PML-N is very pro-Taliban. “They believe in making Pakistan a purist religious state according to their own interpretation of what that should be. If you want to make an Islamic state of that nature then you have to change the curriculum to include jihad, which forms an important factor in the kind of Islamisation they are promoting.”
This is certainly not the first time Imran Khan has been accused of being conservative. Khan’s effigy was burned in Kabul last year when he termed the ongoing war against foreign troops in Afghanistan as ‘jihad.’ His coalition partner the JI, too, shares Imran’s ideology and initially wanted the education ministry for itself, so any move to radicalise the curriculum will be welcome by his coalition partners.
Perhaps the severest constraints to further radicalise the syllabus will be donor considerations, since it is the British who fund a large part of the education programme in K-P and may not be able to justify funding a provincial government seen as sympathetic to the Taliban agenda.
However, if some of PTI’s jeans clad supporters are confronted with all the contradictions back in Punjab, they simply brush them aside, saying that Imran is a modern progressive leader. At the same time, many within the PTI insist that there is an ongoing struggle between the more liberal faction of the PTI and the more conservative.
So, then, who is Imran Khan? I believe that Imran’s policies in K-P in the next five years will show exactly where he stands on divisive ideological issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2013.
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