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Pakistan’s Swat Valley Lags in Rebuilding

“In the minds of these little kids, the frustration against our own government is developing, and against the West is developing,” said Esanullah Khan, a landlord here who advises the army and aid organizations on rebuilding schools. “They’ll go into Talibanization or miscreants because that is their only option left. What do they have to lose?”

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A class was conducted in a tent.

Credit
Adam B. Ellick/The New York Times

“And who is the one to blame?” he said, parroting the students’ reasoning. “It’s the United States of America.”

Jamal Uddin, a ninth grader who missed nearly two years of school because of the conflict in Swat, used to detest the Taliban, who bombed his school in the village of Baidera in 2008. Now, he says, he has no reason to support either side.

He has watched as a parade of government leaders has visited his school without removing even one brick from the rubble. The Taliban tightened their hold on Swat by exploiting class grievances, and Jamal, who is about 17, angrily protested that the wealthy class and politicians, who are often the same, do not care for the poor or their schools.

“I don’t have any more faith,” he said. “I don’t even believe I’ll become a bus conductor.”

Pakistani officials defended their performance, saying that hiring engineers and architects to ensure that schools would be safe from earthquakes was a time-consuming process that was delayed two months by the floods.

They also blamed foreign governments who, they said, failed to follow through on pledges made when several million people were displaced from Swat by the military’s campaign to oust the Taliban in 2009.

“The focus has shifted,” said Shakeel Qadir, the director general of the Provincial Relief, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority, a government agency set up last year to “speed and ease” the rehabilitation of areas swept by fighting.

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Last year millions of residents returned to the Swat Valley.

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The New York Times

“The issue of postmilitancy reconstruction — not only schools, but enterprise, infrastructure — somehow the whole international community has forgotten the issue, which we feel is perhaps, if not more important, than as important as floods,” he said.

Foreign government officials say they are reluctant to give money for fear it will be siphoned off by politicians. The provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where Swat is located, was listed as the most corrupt provincial administration in the country by the global advocacy group Transparency International.

“Donors need clarity,” said one foreign official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are.”

So far the United States is the only foreign government to contribute to the school cause. It gave $5 million in April and planned to release an additional $15 million if it was satisfied with the transparency of how its initial donation was used, and with the progress made.

Officials said that the pledges would build 108 schools over roughly two years, but added that they were still $1 billion short of what was needed to restore the region’s infrastructure.

The United States was so concerned about corruption that it set up an elaborate system that tracks the funds, according to American and Pakistan officials.

Mr. Qadir, the rehabilitation agency director, said the Pakistani government had short-circuited many of those procedures to speed up reconstruction. However, he said, the United States’ insistence on financial safeguards has undoubtedly delayed progress.

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In the city of Mingora, tents house a school that was destroyed.

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Adam B. Ellick/The New York Times

“Is making compromises on financial controls a smart thing?” he said. “Is winning or losing the hearts and minds of the people a smart thing? You cannot have the cake and eat it, too.”

Another official from the relief authority in Mingora, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said international donors were wise to take the precautions. Despite the safeguards, he said, contracts for 68 schools were steered to a handful of construction companies with direct ties to politicians.

A top education official in Mingora confirmed that local politicians spent at least three months haggling over school contracts. He charged that they colluded to raise the bids and then split the profits.

“It’s an open secret,” said Fazle Maula Zahid, the coordinator of the Global Peace Council, an independent watchdog group based in Mingora, Swat’s main city. “These people, for their petty commissions, have destroyed our future, have destroyed our youth.”

Mr. Qadir said everything was aboveboard. “Politicians might like to get these contracts, but they have to follow the process, and that’s what they did, even if they have companies,” he said.

Highlighting the gap between government officials and the reality on the ground, Mr. Qadir said he recently received a field report indicating that students were no longer studying in tents. This month, however, four officials in Swat confirmed that tens of thousands of students remained in tents.

The government has yet even to verify the number of schools damaged over all, according to the relief authority. It has allocated $3.5 million for reconstruction, but that helped to repair dozens of damaged schools, which were cheaper and easier to fix than those completely destroyed.

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Esanullah Khan, a landlord from upper Swat who is lobbying the government to rebuild schools.

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Adam B. Ellick/The New York Times

Several hundred other schools were fixed by the army, which is concerned about its military gains going to waste. “Schools are a snapshot of the larger picture,” said Maj. Tahir Bashir, an army officer who until recently was based in Mingora.

“Time and again we discuss this with the provincial government,” he said. “It’s a lengthy procedure for them, and they’re not so capable.”

The government’s record contrasts with that of Pakistanis who have taken matters into their own hands.

A nonprofit organization called Sarhad Rural Support Program raised $400,000 in donations from wealthy Pakistanis, and rebuilt seven prefabricated schools in six weeks. It did so by putting money in the hands of community leaders, not government officials, and by recruiting local volunteers.

But even elite schools can do only so much in the absence of an energetic response by the government.

Ismail Khan, the principal at Sangota Public School and Excelsior College, a renowned semi-private school, said he tapped his endowment to rent a defunct hotel to hold classes. Teachers worked for free at one point.

Still, the hotel can accommodate only half of his 1,300 students. The school is running a $3,500 deficit each month. “Day by day, our problems are increasing,” Mr. Khan said. “It is destined to be doomed.”

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