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A scary educational divide in Punjab?

Lahore, Aug 25: Students topping Punjab's Intermediate and Degree exams - results announced on 15th and 22nd August - draw an ideological map that is worth interpreting to see if there is conflict brewing in our "normal" educational system. The apparent pattern is that, at the Intermediate level, almost all the toppers show sensitivity to the negative effects of Islamisation; while at the Degree level, there is insistence on more Islamisation; and the toppers there announce their ideological affiliation with hijab and flowing beards.

Most of the graduating candidates who topped in Punjab presume that Islam is not properly in force in the country and recommend a stricter implementation. Madiha Manzoor, a student from Madina Town Government College Faisalabad, who took the first position in BSc, said: "I know that implementing Islamic laws would be in the best interest of the country". Bearded Muhammad Ahmad from Government Islamia College, Lahore, who was fourth in BSc, stated: "I feel Islamic laws will benefit us all". Burqa-clad Asima Tabassum of Government College, Jhang, who secured second position in BA, said: "I think Islam should be applied in running the country". Remarkably, there was no support among them for democracy.

Earlier, top position-holders in the Intermediate results, declared on August 15, 2007, mostly favoured democracy while denigrating rule by the army in Pakistan. Some of them actually commented on the phenomenon of religious extremism in the country and thought it was a danger to democracy. For instance, Kinnaird College, Lahore, student Wafa Sohail, first position in general science, thought: "Religious extremists are ruining the name of Islam". Sentiments of the same kind are expressed by the other girls topping in pre-medical. The most distinguishing feature among them was the consensus on democracy, while Islam was less of a problem among the boys.

One should concede at the outset that conclusions drawn out of the topping students will not reflect the feelings of all the 171,000 students who sat for BA/BSc exams this year, or all the 97,000 who took their Intermediate. But those who stand at the peak of educational merit do send a message that can't be ignored. They are the ones who carry the promise of also distinguishing themselves in the professional fields. If their worldview is carried into the job market, they are sure to clash. There are also other observations that can be tentatively made.

It seems that that students who reached maturity during the early part of the Musharraf government are more determined to adhere to their Islamist faith; while those who approach maturity during the later part of the Musharraf government are a little apprehensive of what religious extremism may result in. What is striking is that the younger generation passing their Intermediate exams is convinced that the country must go back to democracy. Within the consensus against military rule, therefore, there is a divide over the role of Islam in governance.

One must be sure to separate this analysis from the conclusions drawn from the proliferation of madrassas in the country - said to be, inaccurately, between 20 and 30 thousand in number because of counting difficulties. The madrassa is an aggressive institution recommending an Islamic system based on the concept of amr and nahi leveraged by vigilante action against munkiraat (prohibited practices). While a sense of the madrassa mindset is visible among the graduating toppers, the top Intermediate students seem to be against it. One can say that a convergence between the graduates of the normal system and the graduates of the madrassa is possible.

This stream of education is quite separate of the private sector English-medium stream that takes Cambridge exams. A study already conducted by the country's language expert Dr Tariq Rehman in 2002 has determined that madrassa students are the most intolerant, Urdu-medium students less intolerant and English-medium students are completely tolerant (pluralist) and in tune with the demands of a modern state. Dr Rehman however bemoans the fact that English-medium students are alienated from Pakistani culture. One can say that the English-medium stream taking Cambridge exams - which is most of the private sector system - prepares Pakistanis for a domestic job market that is increasingly globalised.

The exam results in the present case tell us, however inaccurately, of another clash of mindsets developing within the "normal" stream of education in the country. Will the Intermediate graduates carry their consensus on democracy with them to the Graduate level education? Or will they become inclined to accepting a more stringent implementation of Islam while challenging Article 203(C) of the Constitution saying that sharia is already in force under the self-legislating Federal Shariat Court? At present, their protest against religious extremism clearly sees "consensual" democracy as being under threat from it. *

Second Editorial: Lesson to learn from Bangladesh

Pakistan should perhaps be chastened by the popular reaction to the imposition of emergency in Bangladesh. The students of Dhaka University have clashed violently with the police over the presence of the army on their campus under rules of Emergency. Bangladesh postponed elections earlier this year and the army is making the country "suitable for democracy", which is scheduled to return in December, 2008. The GHQ in Bangladesh has been far more careful after its disastrous 16-year rule there, but its announced date for elections in late 2008 may prove unrealistic.

Emergency doesn't work. It actually leads to more conflict between the state and an increasingly awakened population. The other more serious lesson to learn is that democracy doesn't work if the electorate is polarised and politicians spend their careers obstructing each other's government. Impoverished Bangladesh repeatedly suffered crippling strikes and unrest over the last two years, which finally led to the imposition of a state of emergency in January. The conservative-liberal divide has become bloody and street violence doesn't point to democracy but to the withdrawal of the army so that the politicians can be at each other's throats again. Daily times
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