PESHAWAR -- Pakistani authorities are busy rebuilding hundreds of schools destroyed by militants during their decade-long reign of terror in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
In the decade after 2001, militants "destroyed or damaged 1,195 schools in FATA, depriving hundreds of thousands of students of their basic right to an education", Zahidullah Khan, deputy director of planning at the FATA Secretariat in Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.
Of those 1,195 schools, about 700 were destroyed, he said.
The worst-hit tribal agency was South Waziristan, where militants destroyed or damaged 204 schools, he said.
The situation improved in FATA once the Pakistan army began Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014, which killed or drove out thousands of militants. The offensive continues today.
"After successful military operations in the area, especially Zarb-e-Azb, the massive repatriation of two million temporarily displaced persons [TDPs] began," Zahidullah said. "The government started the rehabilitation ... and school reconstruction process."
"We have revised a robust reconstruction strategy," he said. "It includes the principles of safe, disaster-resilient and energy-efficient construction."
So far, workers in FATA have rebuilt 472 schools and are rebuilding 374 others, Zahidullah said. Reconstruction proceeded even during the worst years but accelerated starting in 2015 as militants fled from a series of military offensives, including Zarb-e-Azb.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is working with the The Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Unit (RRU), a joint effort of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pakistani government, and is finalising details before building 349 more schools, he said.
One place where progress has become evident is Khyber Agency.
The rebuilding of all damaged schools in Bara sub-division, Khyber Agency, has begun, Dawn reported November 2, quoting Rauf Afridi, the education officer for Khyber Agency.
Out of the 180 schools in Khyber Agency that militants damaged, 93 were in Bara sub-division, he told Dawn. It will take 18 to 20 months to finish re-construction, he said, adding that children who lack permanent buildings are attending school in tents.
The RRU and the UNDP "work together to provide furniture at the new schools", Anwar Ahmad Khawaja, consultant at the newly established FATA University in Dara Adamkhel, told Pakistan Forward.
Authorities have set aside Rs. 40m (US $400,000) to supply furniture to new schools in FATA, he said.
Meanwhile, FATA University is operating as the first-ever university in the tribal belt.
Since October, it has offered classes in political science, sociology, math and management science, he said. Presently, 185 students are attending classes, he said, calling it a good omen.
The university and the ambitious school rebuilding programme are part of a massive effort to turn around discouraging educational indicators in FATA.
"A recent FATA Development Indicator Household Survey revealed that the overall literacy rate in FATA is 33.3%; the national average ... is 58%," Zahoor Ahmad, co-ordinator of the Post-Crisis Need Assessment (PCNA) Implementation Support Unit for FATA, said. That rate includes an extremely low female literacy rate of 7.8%, he added.
Based on those findings, the Pakistani government has made a priority of upgrading education in FATA, he said.
Need for accelerated reconstruction
Some observers would like quicker reconstruction in FATA, among them Abid Afridi, president of the Khyber Agency chapter of the FATA Students Organisation, who says reconstruction has lagged.
Only 13 high schools and one college are functioning in Bara presently, he said, adding that about 4,000 children and youth in Bara have no school to attend this academic year.
Shaukat Aziz, president of the FATA Students Organisation, supports rapid school rebuilding too. With tribe members returning in large numbers to FATA, the government needs to accelerate the provision of infrastructure and services, he said.
"Education should be the top priority of government for returning displaced tribesmen to tribal region," Aziz said, arguing that illiteracy and backwardness made FATA fertile ground for terrorists until the army drove them out.
"An educated FATA will guarantee sustainable peace in the tribal region," KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra said in July at FATA University.
Providing high-quality education to tribes is the government's top priority, he said at the university, adding that education will enable "tribe members to play their due role in developing the country".