Education in Taliban areas priority: Pakistani minister

Anjali Ojha

New Delhi, Nov 25 (IANS) As teen activist Malala Yousafzai recovers after being shot by the Taliban for advocating girl's education, Pakistan's Education Minister Sardar Shah Jehan said spreading education in Taliban−infested areas topped the government's agenda.

In an interview with IANS during a recent visit to India, Jehan also said terrorism is adversely effecting their goal of education for all.

"There is disturbance in some regions. We are planning special programmes for those areas," Jehan said referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), an area dominated by the Taliban.

FATA is a semi−autonomous tribal region in northwest Pakistan, lying between Afghanistan to the west and north, and the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the east and Balochistan to the south.

"Education has been adversely effected in those areas. Girl's education is worse. But we are paying special attention and our provincial governments have been asked to take up the mission," he said.

Jehan's comments come as Malala, the 15−year−old student who became a symbol of resistance of the Taliban's anti−girl education stand, is recovering from a bullet injury in Britain. She could spend as long as two years in the UK, undergoing surgery, rehabilitation and counselling.

The minister had recently called Malala a "symbol of courage" for Pakistan.

Malala, who belongs to Mingora in Swat district of FATA, came to prominence in 2009 at the age of 11 by writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban. She was shot in the head Oct 9 for her campaign for girl's education.

The Taliban said they had targeted her for "promoting secularism", and radicals are planning a fatwa (religious diktat) against her.

"We need 100 percent literacy but conflicts and terror have made our fight slow. I cannot say there will not be any problem, but we hope the situation will be better," Jehan said.

According to Unicef figures, about a third of Pakistani children aged between five and nine are enrolled in primary education, but only 51 per cent of girls are enrolled in primary schools, compared to 60 per cent boys.

Two−thirds of girls and almost half of boys do not complete primary school.

Only 42 per cent of Pakistani women are literate, and the proportion falls to a dismal seven per cent in FATA.

Jehan also pitched against Taliban's anti−girl education policy.

"This is the mindset that does not let us progress. We have several challenges in front of us. Terrorism is one of the biggest challenges. Other than that, budget is a constraint because spending on defence is high due to terrorism," he added.

Talking about the possibilities of cooperation between India and Pakistan in education, Jehan said it would be a good option as it would increase people−to−people contact between the two countries. He added that no such cooperation was on the cards for now.

"If India and Pakistan cooperate in education, it will have more economic benefits. A lot of Indians are coming to Pakistan, some Pakistanis are coming to India to meet relatives... Educational ties will be excellent for enhancing people−to−people contact," he added.

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at