Pakistan judge orders fake schools investigation

Updated 11 February 2013
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Pakistan judge orders fake schools investigation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top judge yesterday ordered a nationwide investigation of hundreds of “ghost” schools where teachers do nothing but draw salaries and buildings are occupied by animals.
“There are animals kept in schools and the buildings have been turned into stables. This is what we are doing to our children when education is a constitutional right,” chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said.
Education is a major challenge in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says public spending on education is less than 2.5 percent of GDP. Only nine countries in the world spend less on education.
Nearly half of all primary school age children and nearly three quarters of young girls are not enrolled in primary school in Pakistan, according to a UN and government report published in December.
Last October, education activist 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taleban in the northwestern district of Swat. She is now recovering in England and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Chaudhry yesterday took up a petition dating back a year from a charity in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh asking the Supreme Court to investigate fake schools, most of them in rural districts.
He ordered district judges across Pakistan to survey fake schools and submit a report by March 18.
“The government has failed to provide any answer or details about the state of ghost and non-functional schools, while apparently funds and salaries were being disbursed as buildings remain abandoned or occupied by animals,” he said.
“This is not the court’s job to micro mange things, but we have to enforce fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution,” Chaudhry added.
Rehmat Ullah, the coordinator of charity Sindh Rural Development Society who brought the petition, said 60,000 children alone are not going to school in the rural Sindh district of Matiari.
He showed the judges photos and newspaper reports about a school being used as a police station in the village of Jati.
The Supreme Court has been at loggerheads for years with the government over a series of corruption and contempt cases, which brought down then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in June 2012.
Pakistan is due to hold general elections by May, which would mark the first democratic transition of power in the country’s history.


After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

Updated 11 min 52 sec ago
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After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

KABUL/WASHINGTON: Prospects have risen for negotiations between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a cease-fire and allowed militants to roam into cities in a gamble to encourage peace talks.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about withdrawing foreign forces.
Analysts and Western diplomats said Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks had set the stage for US officials to open backchannel negotiations with the Taliban, despite Washington’s policy that peace talks be Afghan-led.
“Ghani has done his bit,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.
“It is now for the US to cut through this blockade,” he said, although that would be a departure from US policy that talks to end the 17-year-old war must be wholly Afghan-led.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday. The Taliban said its cease-fire ended on Sunday.
“As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions.”
Richard Olson, former US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described the statement as significant “in that it signals that the US is prepared to ultimately discuss the issue that is paramount to the Taliban, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces.”
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the start of the cease-fire, however said there were a number of issues that made direct talks between the Taliban and the United States unlikely in the short-term.
The official said there was a substantial gap in knowledge about the Taliban — for instance as to who had the authority to negotiate on the their behalf. “There is not enough intelligence or resources on this issue,” the official said.
A second official said there was still a question of what would happen with hard-line elements of the Taliban. “There are Taliban that won’t come to the table,” the official said.
Taliban call
The Taliban, in a statement marking the end of their cease-fire on Sunday, said the organization was unified and called on “the invading American party” to “sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution for the ongoing imbroglio.”
A senior diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations leading to the cease-fire estimated the chances of eventual talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government at “50-50.”
“The Taliban want to talk to the US directly on withdrawal (of foreign forces) because they do not want to share the credit of withdrawal with the government,” the official said.
And while Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it.”
In August, US President Donald Trump unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes. Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taliban roam huge areas of the country and, with foreign troop levels of about 15,600, down from 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright victory.
Ghani, never widely popular, met his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, on Sunday to secure support for peace talks. He visited a restaurant in Kabul where he met diners and took selfies with children, trying to capitalize on the unprecedented party atmosphere created by the cease-fire to mark last weekend’s Eid Al-Fitr festival.
But Amrullah Saleh, the former head of intelligence and head of a political party, said Ghani had committed a blunder by allowing insurgents to pour into government-controlled areas.
“Thousands of Taliban fighters were allowed to enter with guns and some of them could be hiding in civilian areas, planning attacks,” Saleh told Reuters.
Ghani has also come in for praise.
“Now we can say that our president is making an absolute honest attempt” for peace, said Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, the chairman of the outspoken New National Front of Afghanistan.