State Sponsored Radicalization in Pakistan’s School Curriculum: Part 1 of 3

Our education system must provide quality education to our children and youth to enable them to realize their individual potential and contribute to development of society and nation, creating a sense of Pakistani nationhood, the concepts of tolerance, social justice, democracy, their regional and local culture and history based on the basic ideology enunciated in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”

– Vision, Ministry of Education, Pakistan


        Education of its children is perhaps the most vital investment a State makes in order to assure a steady ‘supply’ of ideal citizens that will further the State’s interests in future. Thus, each responsible Nation State strives to provide the best possible education to its young, depending upon factors such as demographics, economics and culture. At the same time, it is also true that Nation States at times also utilize this same, formalized education to perpetuate and disseminate their own political viewpoints, resulting in generations growing up with a blinkered view of their own history and flawed understanding of issues facing their nation.

        However, in the case of Pakistan, the Nation State sought to rid itself of the trauma of the events of 1971 by intensifying the use of education as a political tool. This was done mostly due to the identity crisis which faced the country after the loss of its Eastern Wing effectively nullified the Two Nation Theory on which the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was proclaimed during the independence struggle. Over the years, this has manifested itself in ways perhaps unimagined by the rulers of the day.




      The war of 1971, which resulted in the breaking up of Pakistan, can be viewed as a watershed event in the life of the country. The population had been steadily fed on govt propaganda of Pakistan being a strong nation, able to hold its own against a much larger but weaker adversary, India. They were kept in dark by the State about the situation obtaining in East Pakistan after the recent elections. As late as a day before surrender, newspapers ran reports of glorious victories over India. And then out of the blue, came a jolt – Pakistan Army in East Pakistan had surrendered to an adversary that was supposed to be much weaker.

        It was at this moment in Pakistan’s history that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto ascended to the highest office in the land. Though his personal lifestyle, politics and general outlook can be described as ‘liberal’, he decided to use the glue of religion to bring the country back together. Accordingly, a ‘Curriculum Wing’ was established in order to perform curriculum related activities.[1] Even as article 22 of the 1973 constitution promulgated by Bhutto emphasized that: no person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own, Bhutto introduced the subject of Islamiat (Islamic Studies) in the national curriculum vide Articles 31 (a) and (b) of the 1973 Constitution that required the State: to make the teaching of the Holy Quran and Islamiat compulsory, to encourage and facilitate the learning of Arabic language…[and] to promote unity and observance of the Islamic moral standards. Islamiat was devoted to imparting the fundamentals of Islam; the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad; his wives, companions and other important Islamic personalities; key events during Islam’s early history; and important passages from the Quran.

      The Islamic education thus introduced by Bhutto was made further rigid during the rule of Gen Zia ul Haq. Under Zia, education quickly became a tool of indoctrination and the means for the construction of a parochial Islamic/Pakistani identity. A National Education Policy and Implementation Program was announced in 1979, which stated: The highest priority would be given to the revision of the curricula with a view to reorganizing the entire content around Islamic thought and giving education an ideological orientation so that Islamic ideology permeates the thinking of the younger generation and helps them with the necessary conviction and ability to refashion society according to Islamic tenets[2]

        This process of subtle subversion via school curriculum carried on under the radar because international focus remained fixated on Madrassas as breeders of intolerance. The focus of Gen Zia ul Haq was clear. He said in his inaugural speech, Our curriculum must ensure that our children are brought up educated as good Pakistanis and good Muslims. They must imbibe the lofty ideals and principles of Islam.”[3] Under the new policy, study of Islamiat was made compulsory from classes I to X, later extended upto BA. During the same period, a section of the Islamiat syllabus was separated for Sunnis and Shias at the level of Class IX and X. Separate books were introduced for students of the two sects but a common book was reintroduced in 1999. However, they would still attempt distinct sections of the examination paper.[4]

        This process must, however be seen a part of the larger process of Islamization that was underway since 1971, gathering pace during the Zia years during which many new laws were introduced by the Govt of Pakistan, including the Zakat / Usr system, Hudood Ordinance and the Blasphemy Laws.


(Coming up in Part 2: Manifestation of the above in current school curriculum in Pakistan)

[1] ‘Pakistan Curriculum design and development’;

[2] Bandow, Doug.

[3] Banuazizi, Ali. The State, Religion, and Ethnic Politics: Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, pp 355

[4] Abbas Rashid, “Human Rights and Education” Open Society Institute: Education Conference 2005 (New York), July 2, 2005, pp 14-15

6 thoughts on “State Sponsored Radicalization in Pakistan’s School Curriculum: Part 1 of 3

  1. The role of Z.A.Bhutto in making Pakistan what it is today, the fountainhead of Islamist terrorism in the world, is usually under-estimated by almost everyone. ZAB, the self-proclaimed ‘secular socialist’, started the methodical subversion of education in order to Islamize the nation because he felt that was the only way to take on India. The perennial and deep India hater that he was, his aim was social-engineering to inculcate the hatred for India in young Pakistani minds. His unabashed political ambitions which were never a secret from his days as a young Foreign Minister in Ayub Khan’s cabinet (whom he later double-crossed) demanded that he used every means and every opportunity to consolidate his political power, by even subverting ‘education’ in Pakistan. The inflection point certainly happened in ZAB’s rule, though the blight had started much earlier.

    ZAB nationalized all the schools and colleges to deprive the Christian Missionaries of their many educational institutions because he felt that his project of Islamization through curricula could not proceed otherwise. He introduced changes in the curriculum so that Islamism and anti-Indianness got prominence in order to engineer the minds of the young. Pakistani textbooks therefore began to condense history omitting inconvenient periods, events and historical figures. For example, Pakistani history textbooks trace their nation only from the conquest of Mohammed bin Qasim in areas of Sind in 712 AD (Pakistanis refer to the Sind as Bab-ul-Qasim implying Doorway to Islam), then skip to Mahmud Ghaznavi in the early 11th century, thus skipping the intervening three centuries, then moves to Mahmud Ghori of the late 12th century, again skipping nearly two centuries, then moves seven centuries forward to the Second Indian Independence War of 1857 only because the soldiers who mutinied looked up to the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, and then stops at the emergence of Jinnah in 1920s. The conquest of the Sind by Mohammed bin Qasim defeating Raja Dhir is itself hailed by the Islamists as a great event because that enabled Sind to be Bab-ul-Islam (for the rest of India). Again, those who were found to be inconvenient to the State or even suspicious were branded as anti-Islam as it happened to Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (known variously as Bacha Khan and Frontier Gandhi) of NWFP.

    Subverting curriculum was just one part of the process. Z.A.Bhutto also devised a plan, along with his confidante and leading PPP member and the then Punjab Governor Ghulam Mustapha Khar, to let loose the militant Islamist wing, IJT, of Jama’at-e-Islami on the Punjab University (PU) in order to decimate the burgeoning leftist movement. The IJT has terrorized the Punjab University ever since to this day. In 1976, Z.A.Bhutto founded the Quaid-e-Azam Academy which published books later that year, which ‘appropriated’ Jinnah for Z.A. Bhutto’s Muslim political ambitions.

    Almost every political and strategic analyst uses Gen. Zia-ul-Haq as a convenient coat hanger to peg the present day ills of Pakistan upon, but that distinction should go to his predecessor Z.A.Bhutto, in my opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The identity of Pakistan can be only success in Pakistan when identity of Islam eclipse identity of ethnicity as Punjabi Pathan Balochi Sindhi Mojahir etc
    Even inside Islamiyat it is difficult to achieve a long lasting unity between Shia and Sunni as the fued is long rooted
    A nation for sustainable progress must be based on ration too what these nations which based on religion will do when Science eclipse religion

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s