The Treatment of Minorities in Pakistan


The treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan is nothing short of a crisis and religious freedom  is not a luxury that everyone can afford. According to the Library of Congress 97% of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, and the remaining 3% of the population are Christian, Hindu and other. When discussing the treatment and status of minorities, one must understand that certain groups of Muslims are mistreated as well as non-Muslim religious groups. Nearly all muslims in Pakistan belong to the sect of Sunni Islam, however there are members of the Shia community, the Ahmadi community and other smaller groups like Sufis. Furthermore, approximately 1.8% of the population is Christian, 1.6% are Muslim and there are smaller numbers of Buddhists, Sikhs and Parsis/Zoroastrians in Pakistan.

Pakistan is not an ethnically and religiously diverse nation, and part of the reason for this is that Pakistan was founded during the partition of India in 1947 on Islamic principles by the former President of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

On Sunday, March 25th in Lahore, 72 people died in a suicide bombing that targeted Christians that were celebrating Eastern in a busy park. The group that claimed responsibility ws Jamaat al Ahrar, a branch of the Taliban in Pakistan. In an article  in the Washington Post explains that before partition Pakistan was a more ethnically diverse place, however during the partition many non-Muslims left the state and there was a mass migration of Indian and Bangladeshi Muslims to Pakistan, creating a relatively homogenous nation state. Although this act of terror was directed towards Christians, more Muslims than Christians were killed.

The war on minorities lead by fundamentalist entities like factions of the Taliban is not only a war against non-Muslim groups, but a war against Muslim minorities such as Shias, Ahmadis, and Sufis. Fatima Bhutto, the niece of Benazir Bhutto, states that “Shias have overtaken Hindus and Christians as targets of sectarian killings [..] And in this predominantly Muslim country, it is no longer Hindus or Christians who face the largest threat of violence from orthodox and radicalised groups but Shias.” In an article in Dawn New, Bhutto discusses that the violence against Shias has become a serious concern in Pakistan.

The irony of the treatment of Muslim minorities is that the Bhutto family, a very prominent Pakistani political family are Shia and the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah also belong to the Shia sect of Islam.

The Taliban’s War on Education


The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist organization that are responsible for a movement in Afghanistan that began as a militia in 1994, became the official government of Pakistan in 1996 and transitioned into an insurgent group in 2004. The movement gained strength as a result of the Afghan Civil War, and became a prominent faction that held immense power in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. Their methodology and practice includes a strict interpretation of sharia, the Islamic law, and their main goal in Afghanistan during their time of power was the implement it. The conservative culture in the region coupled by the backward views of the Taliban has prevented girls from receiving an education.

Leaders of the Taliban strongly believe that the education worth receiving is the one they preach, in fact the Taliban bans girls from receiving an education after the age of 8. The primary reason that the Taliban and other conservative entities have the power they do, is because they provide food, healthcare, and security in areas stricken by poverty and violence. That being said, education is a cost of these “benefits” and therefore, these communities are set back by this leadership because educating members of the community could eventually generate a political threat.
An article in the Guardian describes the Taliban as being “alarmingly efficient” in their war on education. Between the Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014, to numerous other acts like acid acts and other violent behaviours towards students and teachers, mostly female, the Taliban has made it evident that going to school, and educating anyone, specifically girls, is not on their agenda. In Swat valley, Pakistan, where the Taliban has taken over girls are ‘banned’ from being enrolled in schools. The article states that “in Swat alone, about 120,000 girls and 8,000 women teachers stopped going to school.” With the Taliban’s influence still pretty strong in particular provinces across Pakistan and Afghanistan, going to school and being female is not only dangerous, it is illegal.

Recent Events in Afghanistan


As mentioned in the previous posting about the recent events in Pakistan, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been affected gravely by war and violence in the last decade. Afghanistan has also faced internal strife in the last few years as a result of the rise of the Islamic State. The Islamic State also known as ISIS and ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant respectively, are commonly referred to as Daesh. The Islamic State was formed by a group of individuals that use Salafi Islam, a sect of Sunni Islam, to give grounds to their violent behaviour towards minorities who are considered to be heretics and to justify their goal of building a Caliphate.

Afghanistan is no stranger to oppressive regimes and leadership structures and religious fundamentalism in its history. Despite this, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, has waged a war on ISIS and has been quite successful in defeating them in the Eastern part of the country where they were known to have infiltrated certain provinces.

ISIS’ violence in Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East and South Asia has generally been targeted towards members of minority communities such as Yazidis, Ahmadis, Zaidis, and Shia as they are considered to be “infidels,” “apostates and “heretics” as per the ISIS based on Salafi ideology.

On Sunday the 24th of July, two ISIS suicide bombers killed upwards of 80 peaceful civilian protesters, and injured 200 others. This attack was the most fatal one since 2001, which is when the Taliban insurgency began. This lead to a day of mourning as declared by the government and the interior ministry motioned to ban public gatherings in order to avoid attacks like this one. The gathering was described to be a “Shia gathering” as most of the protesters belonged to the Hazara community. Hazaras mainly live in Afghanistan, Balochistan and Karachi and are considered both ethnic and religious minorities, as they belong to the Shia sect of Islam. Their minority status makes them targets for ISIS-led violence, and since they are losing their presence in Afghanistan, they want to stay relevant. To read more please visit this link.

In an article in Al Jazeera, the writer addresses how recent conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in decreased national security and significantly diminished the livelihood of those who depend on their harvests. There has been a wave of economic migrants that have left Afghanistan for better economic opportunity, but have returned due to being unwelcome in the countries that they migrate to. The article states that out of the 384 districts in Afghanistan, over 300 are not secure. This has resulted in 1.2 million individuals being internally displaced across safer provinces. The article also reports that out of the 300 districts that have been rendered not secure, 10 have no governmental infrastructure at all. The militant insurgency and ISIS are long-term effects of the US invasion in Afghanistan, this leaves returnees, members of minorities, teachers, journalists, judges, lawyers, political activists and farmers at risk. Read more here.

Although the Taliban controls a fraction of what it once used to, they are still considered to be a threat by the United States and Afghanistan alike. On September 19th the US lead an airstrike, which killed eight Afghan police officers instead of actual threats such as Taliban leadership, was described by the US as either a mistaken set of coordinates or the security forces getting caught in the middle. More information on this event can be found here.

This image provides a visual understanding to who controls what in Afghanistan and more information can be found at this link.


Recent Events in Pakistan (9/14)


Pakistan and Afghanistan are both countries that have been plagued by war, civil unrest and sectarian violence in the last decades. Many argue that these unfortunate set of circumstances are what set these countries back compared to other countries especially in terms of education.

In a recent article published by the The News International according to the UN Global Education Monitoring Report – 2016, Pakistan is 50 years behind in primary education and 60 years behind in secondary education. In 2015 global leaders collectively agreed upon the terms that by 2030 both boys and girls should have access to state-sponsored primary and secondary education. As per the UN report 57 million are illiterate and 24 million children are not in school: 5.6 million of whom are of primary school schooling age, 5.5 million of whom are of secondary schooling age, and a whooping 10.4 million of whom are of upper secondary schooling age are all out of school. This indicates the difficulty that Pakistan will have in helping to achieve the global goal set for 2030. Additionally, in poorer rural areas among the male literacy rate is at 64%, whereas the female literacy rate is a dismal 14%. Much of female illiteracy is due to the influence of conservative leaders and the Taliban in rural areas.

Despite the situation in Pakistan, politicians are reacting because the reality is that a country does not grow without education. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister’s vision of promoting education has been executed by Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan, Provincial Minister for Education. The education reforms are not limited to the primary and secondary school level, Khan has been instrumental in leading an initiative for Pakistani students to go abroad and obtain their PhD. To read more about this read this article in the Pakistan Observer.

An article in Dunya News discusses a similar movement has come to light that is being lead by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The HEC has pledged to send 10,000 PhD candidates to the United States to pursue studies in Agriculture and Food Security, Medical and Allied Health Sciences, Energy, Water, Climate Change and Advanced Digital Technology. Although this is positive progress in terms of education, the focus on tertiary education has been criticized when levels of primary and secondary education are so low and ignored by certain provincial leaders.

Pakistan declared September 13th to be Eid al Adha, which is also a national holiday. Eid al Adha marks the end of the holy pilgrimage of Hajj, one of the five pillars in Islam, in Saudi Arabia. Although this day is supposed to be celebrated with family, friends and food, once again Pakistan was hit by a wave of deadly violence. After a bomb blast in Quetta, there were two police casualties and eight others were injured. Additionally, the bomb caused chaos and resulted in a stampede.

In Srinagar, India-controlled Kashmir a mainly Muslim state, there are curfews imposed and prayers cancelled at mosques after there was deadly violence. Two individuals were shot and killed by security forces, and several more were wounded. Another 50 people were injured when security forces tried to stop protests near Srinagar airport. They were injured by the use of tear gas and pellet guns.

Although many Muslims consider this day to be one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendars, unfortunately most have become desensitized to the deadly violence that takes place on holy days or any other for that matter.

We hope to keep you up to date with news of the South Asian region! Stay tuned for postings about current events as well as the situation in the area for women and the issue of education.





Global Giving Fundraising Campaign Launched!

Global Giving Fundraising Campaign Launched!

We need help funding the security improvements we need to make to our schools in Pakistan. As a result we’re trying a new fundraising technique to us, we’ve launched a crowd funding campaign through Global Giving!  If you haven’t donated before, now is a great chance to give to a project that will have an immediate impact. The improvements range from hiring more security guards to installing gates and adding height to existing walls around the schools. Every dollar raised will make a difference!


Recent Events in Pakistan


If you’re like us you’re constantly scanning international news sources looking for articles about Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we know most people aren’t usually looking for such specific articles. Recently there has been a lot of activity going on in Pakistan that has caught our attention so we decided to try and sum up some of the activity that has really caught our attention.

Back in February the Punjab Assembly ruled that all violence against women was a criminal act. This is a huge step towards women getting greater rights in a country where they previously had next to none. The bill called “Protection of Women against violence Bill 2015” outlines different resources now available for women who are victims of violence.

 “‘Violence’ itself has been redefined to mean any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abatement of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, economic abuse, stalking and cyber crime.” –Pakistan Today

The Prime Minister has also spoken out against honor killings, which is when families are allowed to kill women in their families that have brought disgrace on the family name and essentially make them disappear without retribution. There are thousands of women who are killed or go missing every year in Pakistan because of honor killings but the Prime Minister has finally spoken out saying that there is no honor in honor killings which is another huge step in changes in how women are treated in a country where they previously didn’t have a lot of rights. For more information check out this article.

Last month in the wake of the Brussels attack by ISIS there was another attack that didn’t gain as much media attention. This attack happened in Lahore, Pakistan this time it was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban against mainly Christians. Thankfully Lahore is on the other side of Islamabad from where our schools are in Attock City but it was a tragedy none the less. Over 70 people were killed and hundreds more were injured, majority of which were women and children. To learn more about the attack check out this article.

Recently, those of us in the west have primarily only heard about the different attacks that ISIS carries out but the Pakistani Taliban is also a very real threat to our students. Around the time of the attack in Lahore, the Pakistani government required Barakat to either increase security around our schools or close our doors. We chose to increase security so that our students could continue to gain an education even though it put a strain on our financials. Improvements to the schools included adding additional security guards at all buildings, installing security cameras, making the walls around the schools taller and installing gates. We did all of this to make school a safe place for our students to come and learn but we can’t do it alone!

Monsoon season is quickly approaching and we’re reminded of just how dangerous monsoons can be. This past weekend there was flash flooding in the provinces just north of our schools. Thankfully our schools were not affected but it was certainly a reminder of just how dangerous flash flooding can be. 53 people were killed and many more injured not to mention all of the houses and businesses that are now covered in mud from the flood waters. Summer monsoons are not far behind so it’s only a matter of time till we start seeing more stories like this one.

We hope you find these articles as interesting as we did!



Changes to Barakat!


We realize we haven’t posted in a while and there are reasons for that. Usually we post about articles we find interesting and think you will too but this time we have news of our own! In late December one of our event coordinators, Mia Buchsbaum, took on the role of Administrator of our U.S. offices. During that time we also opted to close down our formal offices in Cambridge, MA. The reason for this is simple we want to make it possible for even more of every donation to go to what’s most important to us and likely most important to you as well, our programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan!

With that in mind, in the new year we took a close look at the yearly budgets for our programs to see where else we could lower overhead costs so a larger portion of funds we send overseas could go to our students instead of administrative costs. The result was the decision to close our main office for our Afghanistan programs located in Kabul Afghanistan and shift all operations to our smaller North Office. Our North Office is much closer to where our programs are actually taking place and thus has much closer ties to the community we’re trying to serve so is in a better position to represent what the programs need as opposed to a larger office south of the programs. This project is currently underway and will take about six months to be fully completed. However, we have already seen a drop in administrative costs for our Afghanistan program which means already more of every dollar donated is going to where it’s needed most, the schools!

On a much happier and exciting note we’re excited to announce that we had over 100 women graduate from our literacy programs at the end of December! The literacy program runs from April to December every year so it is on break till April when classes will resume again. The 2014-2015 school year also saw a record number of students enrolled in our programs with over 3,000 students enrolled, 62% of which were female! Stay tuned for more blog posts!