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Zardari, Zarb-e-Azb and Malala

What is hovering over Pakistan’s politics like a dark cloud this week is Tuesday’s outburst by Asif Ali Zardari. Also this week, the first anniversary of Operation Zarb-e-Azb was celebrated with a sense of gratification that the campaign against terrorism and extremism has scored notable victories. A stirring national song was released by the ISPR to mark this anniversary. Meanwhile, the Rangers have continued with their arrests of Sindh government officials in Karachi on charges of massive corruption – something that evidently incensed Zardari to an extent that he tore away the mask of ‘mufahimat’ from his face.

So, where does Malala Yousafzai belong in this equation? In the first place, I have an exclusive on Malala that has profoundly raised my spirits. It is one of those surprises that restore your faith in the goodness of the human spirit. But if you ponder seriously on Pakistan’s destiny in the modern world, Malala’s relevance would assert itself in no uncertain terms.

Now, my younger daughter is settled at present in Monza, near Milan. She called me late on Thursday, almost breathless with excitement. What she told me is related to an important educational event in Italy. These are annual examinations called Maturita, very much like the A-level or higher secondary examinations for students who graduate from high school to go into college. It is for students around 18 in age.

I may be forgiven for going into some details that my daughter has provided. I need to set the stage for some pertinent observations. Thursday was the first day of the examinations and the paper was Italian Part 1. This paper is divided into four sections and the students can choose one. Each section includes a main essay. The theme of each section is selected by the Ministry of Education because these are state examinations being taken this year by nearly half a million students. The topics for the first paper were chosen from literature, history, science and general knowledge.

The option in the first section was to write a literary comment on a passage chosen from Italo Calvino’s first novel: ‘The Path to the Nest of Spiders’. The second choice was an essay on ‘The Mediterranean – its general political atlas of Europe and a mirror of civilisation’. This is a very interesting topic, connecting history with politics. The topic included a discussion on immigration as hundreds of thousands of people have made their way to the Italian shores in recent years. The story of the ‘boat people’ has become rather grim this year. The Mediterranean was historically a unifying force but it is now seen as a sea that divides people.

The third choice for the essay was resistance during the Second World War. You can imagine that this would be as emotive an issue for young Italians as Partition would be for our young people – only, our 18-year-olds would scarcely have the background to critically assess a period that transformed or shaped their country. Anyhow, this was the third topic. What about the fourth one?

Wait. This would naturally be the revelation I have saved for you. As you may have guessed, the fourth choice was an essay on ‘Malala and the Right to Education’. The detailed question on Malala included her quote: “A child, a teacher, a book and a pen can change the world”. There was also an excerpt from her book: “Peace in every home, in every street, in every village, in every nation – this is my dream. Education for every child in the world. To sit in school and read books with all my friends is my right”.

This was not all. The question on Malala asked the candidates to reflect critically on the citation from Malala’s book and express their opinion on it, assuming that the right to education is enshrined in many international documents. The relevant law in Italy was also cited.

My daughter was obviously able to provide this information because the Maturita examinations are national news in Italy and a discussion is held on questions asked. Education is a national involvement and people in Pakistan will find it difficult to believe that even the prime minister of Italy had a comment on the questions asked in the first paper.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted: “Calvino, Resistenza, Malala, Mediterraneo. Sono curioso di leggere i commenti dei ragazzi quando usciranno da #maturita2015.” In English: “Calvino, Resistance, Malala, Mediterranean. I am curious to know what the children thought of this”.

Stefania Giannini, the education minister, wrote on Twitter: “Avrei scelto la traccia che parte da brano di #Malala, una piccolo grande donna che ha lottato per studiare”. In English: “I would have chosen the topic that is on Malala – a small (young), great woman who struggled to study.”

I am reminded of significant evidence of the importance that is given to education in Italy. In a civil wedding ceremony, not held in a church, the couple takes three vows. One, ‘we will mutually decide where we would live’. Two, “we will remain faithful to each other’. And three, ‘we are duty bound to educate our offspring according to their ability and desire’.

I have little space left now to offer my comments on issues that stem from this reference to Italy’s education system. It is instructive to note the attention devoted to developing the minds and attitudes of the young. I am sure that most of our post-graduate students would not be able to deal with similar questions that require advanced knowledge. It is understood that the students would know enough about Malala to be able to write an essay on her.

It is so deeply touching that privileged children in Europe are made to reflect on the life and meaning of what a girl from a traditional family of Swat has been able to achieve. I take it as a curse that in her own country Malala is not universally respected. How can Operation Zarb-e-Azb ultimately succeed if this situation is not reversed? Pakistan cannot move ahead without education, particularly of its girls. Defeating the forces of terror and intolerance will not be enough if we are unable to create a society that is progressive and enlightened.

What a wonderful coincidence it is that early on Friday, I received a media alert on the release of a film ‘He Named Me Malala’. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim has shown how Malala, her father Zia and her family are committed to fighting for education for all girls worldwide. Yes, but the most vicious opposition they face is in their own country.

The writer is a staff member.

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "Zardari, Zarb-e-Azb and Malala," The News. 2015-06-21.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social needs , Social problems , Zarb-e-Azb , Terrorism-Pakistan , Sindh government , Corruption case , Corrupt practices , Foreign education , Malala Yousafzai , Asif Zardari , Pakistan