Across the border

As the world wakes up to educated Islamic militants, Pakistan needs to secularise learning

Thousands of young minds going to schools and colleges are taught to celebrate Islamic superiority and nationalism.

It was the second day of Eid and I had traveled with my companion, Iqbal Qaiser, to the village of Makhdoom Pur Pahuran, almost halfway between Lahore and Multan.

We were in search of a gurudwara, the premises of which were now being used for a government school. The wooden door of the school was looked. After much effort, we located the guard and requested him to lead us to the gurudwara.

There were two missiles at the entrance of the school, named Abdali and Ghori, on the nuclear warheads that the Pakistani establishment boasts. Before us was the main gurudwara, raised on the spot where Guru Nanak, hailed as the founder of Sikhism, preached his message of peace and tolerance.

This now housed the office of the principal. There was a Quranic verse on the forehead of the building, extolling the significance of education. The boundary wall going all around the school was filled with the 99 names of Allah and other verses from the Quran in calligraphy. A section of another wall was dedicated to Muslim scientists.

Education and religion

Every day, young and impressionable children come to this and thousands of other such schools spread across the country. Here, they are indoctrinated with propaganda about Islamic superiority and nationalism, premised upon half-baked historical facts.

In textbooks across Pakistan, historical Islamic characters are depicted as legendary figures who challenged the demonic rajas or kings of India. Tales of Muhammad Bin Qasim, Muhammad Ghori, Mahmud Ghaznvi, and Ahmad Shah Abdali are taught to Pakistani students in subjects as varied as Urdu, Islamiyat, and Pakistan Studies. Last year, it was reported that some Quranic verses were also included in chemistry textbook.

The situation is not much better in private schools. A few years ago, while I was working in one of the country’s leading private schools of the country I noticed similar propaganda all over its premises. One board was dedicated to Islamic heroes, which included all the aforementioned invaders. Devoid of their political contexts and character traits, they were presented as Islamic warriors fighting for the cause of Allah.

Another board proclaimed the benefits of fasting and prayer and said it is alright to beat up young children if they do not fulfill their Islamic duties.

This indoctrination continues into colleges and universities. According to the laws of the country, all students have to be taught Pakistan Studies – roughly, the history, geography, politics culture and demography of the country – and Islamiyat in school as well as college. This rule applies to public as well as private institutions and the only exceptions are non-Muslim students, who can opt for civics instead of Islamiyat.

However, many members of minority religions whom I spoke to said they prefer to study Islamiyat over civics. This is because there have been complaints of discrimination during college admissions against students who have not taken Islamiyat. Others assert that in an Islamic society where the threat of the blasphemy law looms large, many minorities like to acquaint themselves with Islam so that they don’t unconsciously offend the sensibilities of Muslims.

Recently, I interacted with a Hindu student from Tharparkar, in the Sindh province, residing in Islamabad who spoke of how Hindus in Pakistan are expected to respect the sensibilities of Muslims, but the reverse does not hold.

In all government universities, bonus points are awarded to students who are Hafiz-e-Quran – that is, they have learned the Quran by heart. No such benefit exists for non-Muslim students with respect to their religious knowledge.

Shaping minds

Over the years, universities and colleges churn out Islamised students who go on to form the new breed of professors and administrators that mould the curriculum and the atmosphere of the universities according to their moral standards.

Recently, the University of Sargodha banned boys and girls from sitting together anywhere on the campus. A notification from the university stated that they may sit together only in groups of three or more. Similarly, the University of Swat had issued a notification disallowing students from sitting or walking with the opposite sex inside and outside the campus. The notice was later withdrawn.

At Punjab University in Lahore, one of the largest universities in the country, the Jamiat-e-talaba, the student wing of religio-political party Jamaat-i-Islami that is known for its sympathy to Islamic militants, has maintained a stronghold for nearly three decades now. Roaming around the campus, their cadre ensures that the so-called Islamic environment of the university is upheld. Several private universities in Pakistan have also boasted of the Islamisation of their environment.

Silencing rebellion

Some student groups and liberal professors have tried to fight back and reclaim secular spaces but the threat of the blasphemy law has quickly silenced these voices.

For example, in 2013, young and talented Fulbright scholar Junaid Hafeez was fired from Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, the largest university in Pakistan’s southern Punjab region, where he was teaching English literature. Later, a case of blasphemy was filed against him for alleged remarks that he made on campus and through a Facebook page. He is still languishing in jail as several lawyers who have represented him over the years have received death threats. The case has received international attention for its seeming curbs on free speech and as an example of justice being waylaid.

In 2014, Rashid Rehman, the renowned human rights lawyer who was representing him, was shot dead in his office for taking up his case.

In the midst of all this, the government is now contemplating making Quranic education compulsory up to Class 10.

Growth of educated militants

It is in this environment that the Pakistani education system is increasingly producing students who are sympathetic to Islamic militants, who too espouse a puritanical version of Islam similar to what is taught to these students through their formal education.

It is surprising, then, that the government expresses shock when it comes across people like Saad Aziz, who was convicted for killing human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud and perpetrating the 2015 attack on a bus near Safoora Goth, Karachi, which killed at least 43 members of an Ismaili sect. Aziz was highly educated – he graduated from the prestigious Institute of Business Administration in Pakistan.

The July 1 Bangladesh attacks, in which at least 20 were killed after being held hostage at the upmarket Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, were also carried out by youngsters who had studied at the country’s elite schools and universities of the country.

Only after these recent incidents have experts started challenging the connection between poverty and militancy. The focus now needs to shift to the education system of societies that are producing such students. The Pakistani education is premised on the concept of Muslim nationalism and the superiority of Islam – ideas that align perfectly with the ideologies of Islamic militants. How can these societies then expect to battle Islamic militancy?

Haroon Khalid is the author of the books In Search of Shiva: a study of folk religious practices in Pakistan and A White Trail: a journey into the heart of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.