FATA students gain new educational opportunities

By Muhammad Shakil

Visitors acquaint themselves with Kohi Sher Haider Degree College in Bara Tehsil, Khyber Agency, in September. The college re-opened in October after shutting its doors seven years ago because of militancy. [Muhammad Shakil]

Visitors acquaint themselves with Kohi Sher Haider Degree College in Bara Tehsil, Khyber Agency, in September. The college re-opened in October after shutting its doors seven years ago because of militancy. [Muhammad Shakil]

PESHAWAR -- The Kohi Sher Haider Degree College in Bara has re-opened its doors for educational activities after having to close down for seven years because of unsatisfactory security conditions.

Kohi Sher Haider Degree College, situated in Bara Tehsil, Khyber Agency,closed its doors in September 2009 when law enforcement began an operation to evict militants from strongholds in the area.

The militants destroyed almost 100 schools for boys and girls and damaged 50 others in the past few years in Khyber, local media reported.

The main building of the degree college survived militant violence and the military's counter-militancy operations, but insurgents looted the school and removed all the furniture and educational materials.

To the relief of area residents, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Education Directorate formally re-opened the Kohi Sher Haider Degree College on October 4.

Militancy disrupts education

The education process came to a halt after the closure of the majority of educational institutions in the area, said Noor Afzal, a chemistry lecturer at the college.

"The bleak security situation forced authorities to close the college, which at that the time was the only institution providing graduate level studies to local students," he told Pakistan Forward.

Students of various tribes residing in Bara Tehsil, including Qambar Khel, Malik Din Khel and Aka Khel, had no option but to flee their areas after the rise of militancy disrupted education and destroyed schools, he said.

"The deteriorating law and order situation plunged the lives of tribal people into an abyss of uncertainty, besides depriving youth of education," he said.

The reopening of Kohi Sher Haider Degree College is a milestone achievement for FATA authorities who are tirelessly working to repatriate tribes to their respective areas, he said.

"Education ... can change the course of the nation by giving youth the ability to sift right from wrong," he said.

"Recommencing the education process in the college will put youth in a better position to save themselves from false indoctrination and falling victim to misconceptions," he said.

Support, amenities for returning tribes

At the height of militancy in the area, more than 1,000 educational institutions in FATA ceased to function because of inadequate security conditions, according to figures from the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions published at the end of 2013.

As many as 1,500 educational institutions were damaged or destroyed in the tribal belt during the militancy, a 2016 survey conducted by the FATA Students Organisation said.

The peak years of militancy in the tribal belt are generally considered to be 2010 through 2014. The army began rolling back militancy with Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, which began in June 2014 and continues today.

Fleeing for their lives, a majority of the displaced families had meager financial resources and could not afford private schools for their children, said Zahid Gul Afridi, former president of the Khyber Students Union.

"Eighty percent of the displaced families have returned to their native areas in Khyber Agency, and with their growing number, a situation has emerged that requires more co-ordinated efforts to give them basic amenities," he told Pakistan Forward.

"Although sincere work has been done for their assistance and facilitation, especially in the health and education sectors, much remains to be done for providing them basic amenities at their doorsteps," he said.

So far, more than 800 students have gained admission to the Kohi Sher Haider Degree College, Zahid said.

The re-opening of the college is a welcome development, he said.

However, the school needs upgrading to meet the educational demands of 2,000 tribal youth who seek admission.

The college should increase the number of accepted students and hire additional lecturers to augment the current faculty of 24, he said.

Countering militancy with education

Kohi Sher Haider Degree College is a beacon of hope for students who were forced to stop their education while residing in camps, said Abid Afridi, a college student who grew up in Bara Tehsil.

"It will also act as a safeguard to prevent FATA youth from drifting to militancy and radicalisation, which gained roots in the tribal belt because of poverty and under-development," he told Pakistan Forward.

"Militancy and extremism that derive from ignorance can be controlled by promoting tolerance and brotherhood through education," he said. "Militants destroyed educational institutions because they recognised that education gives insight to a person and enables him to choose the right path."

"Opening educational institutions in militancy-ridden tribal areas is a good omen for FATA youth who braved unfavourable conditions and continued their education in settled areas despite vast odds," said Anas Takreem Kakakhel, an official of Private Education Network Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

"The link between education and militancy is indirect but obvious, as a qualified and educated person will have better chances of economic prosperity and survival, minimising his chances of being enticed by militants who offer financial benefits," said Jamil Jacob, a senior teacher at Government High School Gulbahar.

"The backwardness of tribal areas from illiteracy provided militants an opportunity to mislead people," he told Pakistan Forward.

"Extremism and militancy can be tackled by inculcating norms of tolerance and mutual co-existence," he said.

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