Arif Alvi’s co-education controversy – Shahryar Khan


The writer is a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, currently working as an associate at Green Peak International Sports Management. He tweets @Shahryar92

Recently, a controversial statement was made by MNA Arif Alvi, who also happens to be the chief whip of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He felt, during a television talk show, that it was perfectly acceptable to give in to the Taliban’s demand for the abolition of co-educational schooling. He voiced his opinion on this topic and stated that segregated schooling was something cultural and acceptable.

Some Pakistanis, including myself, might believe that giving into anything that the Taliban demand by force is as bad a blow to Pakistani sovereignty as illegal drone strikes, but that’s just the pseudo-liberal lot and besides the point.

Alvi later took to Twitter to clarify his stance and spoke about how parents had the right to choose whichever kind of schooling they wanted their children to receive and that kind of schooling, (whether co-ed or single-sex) in any given constituency, should be decided democratically.

It is worthwhile to mention that the effectiveness of Twitter clarifications is also questionable due to the amount of Pakistanis that might use Twitter and Pakistan’s low percentage of internet penetration. The number of television viewers, on the other hand, has to be far greater. Also, such a clarification, after a massive wave of criticism, seems more like damage control than airing an actual political stance, and once something of this sort is said, true opinion seems to come to light and it is very difficult to put the cat back in the bag.

Later, revelations aside, during the said show, Alvi made some very interesting points. He thought co-education was not exactly compatible with all of Pakistan. Again, most of Pakistan, including myself, might disagree and feel regardless of all politics and democratic decrees that both single-sex and co-ed options should be available to constituents and that whereever women’s rights are are under attack, those rights should be imposed irrespective of cultural norms or traditions.

On the topic of women’s rights, Imran Khan also, quite recently, voiced his discontent over reserved seats for women in parliament and later went on to have his party represent the lowest percentage of women contesting on general seats during the 2013 election. The icing on the cake though has to be the agreement that the PTI co-signed with a number of political parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), which it currently rules, to bar women from voting in Upper and Lower Dir. Let’s also not forget that the PTI is currently a coalition partner of the Jamaat-e-Islami in K-P, which has also historically not been the strongest supporters of women’s rights either.

Coming back to MNA Alvi, it is indeed very interesting that he supports the idea of the abolition of co-ed schooling, particularly in regions where the Taliban menace is rampant because the Taliban have also had a history of attacking girls’ schools and colleges and are very opposed to girls being educated, the attack on Malala Yousufzai being a case in point.

This whole business of negotiating with irrational savages just seems confusing and futile. It has to be reiterated, so that there is no middle ground to accommodate what the Taliban want, while obeying the laws and regulations set by the Constitution of Pakistan.

To conclude, it is ironic how Alvi was voted in after immense controversy by the so-called educated, urban elite of Karachi; one must wonder whether this was the Naya Pakistan they spent hours in line to vote for, not once but twice, and then even risked their lives by protesting outside on the streets for days on end.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2013.