PESHAWAR -- Education is the best way to counter terrorism and pursue peace and development in Pakistan's militancy-riddled Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), officials say.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra recently launched a campaign to enrol 100% of FATA children in school.
"We have already announced an education emergency in FATA," he said in a statement April 8, adding that promoting knowledge was a "top most priority".
"Education is key to socio-economic development of the country," he said.
During the enrolment drive, children aged between 4 and 9 years will be admitted to schools, according to FATA Director of Education Hashim Khan Afridi.
The campaign will run through May 31 and aims to improve the literacy rate in FATA, he said. A second phase is planned for September.
"We will focus on women's education, which is alarmingly rare," Afridi told Pakistan Forward. "We want to enrol 100% of boys and girls."
In the years after 2001, terrorists destroyed about 700 schools in FATA, Zahidullah Khan, deputy director of planning at the FATA Secretariat in Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward last December.
"The insurgency has terrified people and hampered the process of education," Afridi said.
Other factors sabotaging education include "inaccessibility to schools, poor quality of education, low retention rate, militancy, displacement and customs and traditions prevalent in those areas", he said.
The government plans to scale up public awareness of the importance of education so tribal people will send their sons and daughters to schools, he said.
School enrolment in FATA is low for both genders but particularly so for girls.
Almost 15% of girls in FATA between the ages of 3 and 13 years have never enrolled in school, according to the FATA Directorate of Education. The enrolment rate for boys of the same age is 37%.
Of the 33% of girls enrolled in primary school in FATA, more than half drop out by high school, according to officials.
The enrolment campaign was timely, said Khadim Hussain, director of the Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation.
"The Pakistani army has evicted the militants from FATA, and it is the right time to speed up the campaign for the promotion of education," he told Pakistan Forward.
"It is extremely important to educate every citizen if we want to make Pakistan a developed and sovereign state," he said.
"We appeal to the tribal population to take advantage of the government's campaign and send their children to schools," Hussain said, adding, "Education is a prerequisite for the real development of a nation."
Every child has the right to an education and the government is making every effort to educate every child in FATA, he said. "It is a good omen that the government is fulfilling its responsibility to provide education to children," he said.
Abdul Wakil, a representative of the FATA Students Organisation, said he appreciates the enrolment drive and said it is a commendable step to improve law and order.
"Our people have suffered losses due to militancy," he told Pakistan Forward. "We need extra efforts to enrol more students and ensure a peaceful and prosperous future."
"Education is the only way to defeat terrorism," he said.
Parents want to send their children to school because they know the significance of education, Jawad Ali, a teacher in Mohmand Agency, said.
"There should be a war against insurgents who wanted to send the people back to the Stone Age," he told Pakistan Forward. "Bringing more students to schools will be a crushing defeat for militants."
"Our children are immensely talented," he said. "A generation has grown up under the Taliban militants. It needs an education too."
Education is an instrument for socio-economic development and free education is a constitutional right, Additional Chief Secretary for FATA Fida Mohammad Wazir told Pakistan Forward.
An element of competition is also part of the enrolment strategy, he said. "We will be giving prizes to the education officers, teachers and other staff for [higher] enrolment in schools."
"We are recruiting 2,000 more teachers in addition to 30,000 already working in 800 schools in FATA," said Wazir.
The security situation has improved enough that nothing should be keeping children out of school, said Sheema Bibi, an eighth-grader in Khyber Agency.
"There are many boys and girls who aren't going to schools, and we request the government to make it mandatory for parents to send their children to schools," she told Pakistan Forward.
"The people ... want the government to develop education and deny entry to militants," she said.