Zia's long shadow.

Byline: Irfan Husain

AT my age, few things shock me anymore. Over the years, I have seen enough horrors to harden me against most of the terrible things we do to each other.

But a short video clip that did the rounds on social media recently almost made my stomach turn. The brief film showed a few boys around seven or eight years old hanging a doll, shouting: 'Aasia Bibi has been hanged!' The video concluded with the giggling kids chanting 'Labbaik!'

I have no idea if the boys had been coached by their elders to play this gruesome charade for the camera, or whether they had thought of it on their own. In either case, the video is a telling reminder if one was needed of how far we have sunk as a society. Among the many awful things we have done to Pakistani children is the systematic brainwashing we have subjected them to.

Ignatius Loyola, the 16th-century founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, as the militant Catholic group was called, is supposed to have claimed: 'Give me the child for the first seven years, and I will give you the man.'

Unless they are literate, young people can become a liability.

Operating on this principle, Gen Zia overloaded school curricula with Arabic and religious content during his baneful military rule. His acolytes in many religious parties have continued dragging children in state schools along this ruinous path ever since.

But not only are curricula full of xenophobic content, our schools themselves are hardly conducive to learning. On any given day, one out of five teachers are not in their classrooms; 65 per cent of government schools have no boundary walls; 55pc are located in dilapidated, often unsafe, structures; 55pc have no toilets, a great deterrent for girls wishing to study; and 64pc have no running water.

And this is the state of affairs when some 23 million kids or 44pc of the school-going population are out of school. So when Pakistani leaders boast as Imran Khan did in Shanghai recently of our 'vibrant, youthful' population, they forget to mention the vast numbers with no education.

Apart from the children working and begging across the country, some 3.5m are estimated to be enrolled in our mushrooming madressahs. Here, they learn the scriptures parrot-fashion, with little or no emphasis on the tolerance and compassion that is at the heart of all great religions. Who would employ them on graduation, and what are they qualified for that would give them meaningful careers?

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