Exactly a month after the world observed Malala Day, under the auspices of the United Nations, to pay tribute to the 14-year old girl’s courage and commitment to the cause of education, a conference jointly organised by Unesco and Pakistan in Paris has taken a concrete and laudable step by establishing a global fund called “Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education”. It is aimed at raising billions of dollars to ensure that all girls worldwide go to school by 2015 that is in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In quick succession, the two international events have given tremendous boost to Pakistan’s image as a progressive democratic entity, besides reflecting the intense desire of the international community to help it fight the forces of darkness.

President Asif Zardari announced a donation of $10 million for the Malala fund. While addressing the conference, he rightly said: “Her (Malala) recovery is a symbol of resilience of my great nation. It is also a symbol of the battle between two mindsets – the one of Malala Yousufzai representing a bright progressive future of Pakistan, which is the agenda of the democratic political forces of Pakistan, and the other being forced on us by the minority of darkness, violence, hatred and conflict.” That can only be fought through the collective efforts of the international community. Surely, there can be no two opinions about what he had said.

Indeed, the efforts to keep women away from education is against the teachings of Islam.

Islam, the most dynamic, progressive and humanitarian religion, gives topmost priority to the education of men and women alike. It is not only a right, but a religious duty of every Muslim to seek knowledge.

As said earlier, anybody trying to deny that right to children, irrespective of their gender, is actually working against the tenets of Islam. It emphasises on acquiring education because it has multifarious benefits. It promotes intellectual development of the society; a well informed community capable of taking informed decisions in every sphere of life. Education is also one of the vital propellers of socio-economic development and helps a country in earning a respectable place in the comity of nations.

Having said that, Malala is no more an individual, but a movement for the cause of education. She represents the forces of enlightenment and hope. Also, the resolve shown by the government not to bow before the machinations of religious extremists is commendable. Equally reassuring is the support expressed by the civil society and the international community for the cause of education and the crusade against the elements, who are out to push Pakistan back to the “Stone Age”.

The forces of darkness, as President Zardari said, can be defeated through the collective efforts both at the national and international level. The best weapon against them and a befitting tribute to Malala is the spread of education. US President James Madison once said: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people, who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives.” It is a universal truth. The forces of ignorance are destined to be defeated.

It is encouraging to note that education is finally being given the priority that it deserves. The new education policy announced by the government in 2009 envisages to raise the expenditure on education to 7 percent of the GDP by 2015, which hitherto has been in the vicinity of 2.3 percent of GDP. The passage of “The Right to Free Education Bill 2012” by the National Assembly and Senate on November 13 is another commendable effort. It prescribes free and compulsory education to all children between the age of 5 to 16 years in the Islamabad Capital Territory in consonance with Article 25(A) of the constitution. These steps augur well for the future of our younger generation and the country.

Pakistan’s security and what it stands for is threatened from within. The threat is multidimensional. Education is only one of the fronts on which we have to fight and defeat the forces of retrogression. They actually are a threat to the very existence of Pakistan. Thanks to our security forces, who have rendered unprecedented sacrifices to restore peace in the country; indeed, their efforts deserve the nation’s unqualified gratitude and support. Meanwhile, all the segments of society - intellectuals, religious and political leaders, and media men - will have to play their role to defend Pakistan against the threats from within. The threat is real and it is not an appropriate moment for politicking and point-scoring.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.  Email: ashpak10@gmail.com