I do recognize the reservations of certain Pakistanis about the rise of Malala as a world celebrity. Many of them link it with an international ploy. But it is in truth a remarkable story: Malala was steadfast about her right to go to school despite threats to her life. She was shot in the head and survived. The world admired her bravery and her determination to face the odds and continue her struggle to educate herself. The West may have found in her a likeable symbol of defiance of the Taliban’s ideology and bias against girls’ education. There is also the thinking on the part of some of her detractors that her father has cleverly groomed and guided her to emerge as a larger-than-life prodigy. Reference in this connection is made to her write-ups for BBC at the tender age of 8 or 10.

Whatever be the value and worth of these doubts and perceptions, the fact remains that she has more than justified her extraordinary courage by her brilliant performance at world forums and meetings with Presidents and Prime Ministers. Her speech at the United Nations was applauded all over the world. Her unforgettable composure and confidence while delivering the address evoked spontaneous standing applause. Some of her words still ring in our ears: “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

While there have been ritualistic words of praise from Pakistani political leaders, as well as a few reports and editorials, not much notice has been taken of the great honour Malala has brought to Pakistan. What struck me as a sad omission in the newspaper reports, was the text of this remarkable speech while receiving the award at Oslo.

For my readers and for the record, I reproduce here parts of her notable address delivered at the Peace Prize award ceremony:

“Dear brothers and sisters, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don’t. Why is it that countries which we call “strong” are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so difficult?”

“In my own village, there is still no secondary school for girls. I want to build one. That is where I will begin, but it is not where I will stop. I will continue this fight until I see every child in school.”

“I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his statement on the conferment of the Nobel Peace Prize on Malala, has promised that “the dream of Malala regarding girls’ education shall be realized.”

This promise is a pie in the sky. All that the Prime Minister said when this issue was raised about a year ago, by Gordon Brown at a high level meeting in Islamabad, was that hopefully Pakistan’s expenditure on education would be raised to 4% of GDP in 2018. In other words, Pakistan will continue to remain in the category of the few countries who spend a measly 2% or less on education. And this despite the assurance held out by Gordon Brown that the UN would raise funds especially for Pakistan, for the education of all out-of-school children in the country.

Has our Prime Minister ever cared to find a few hours to assess the progress Pakistan has made towards the realization of the EFA targets and education-related Millennium Development Goals? The answer is a big no.

Imagine a country where no reliable statistics are available about the number of out-of-school children. Because of the failure to hold the national Census (which was due in 2008), widely differing statistics are trotted out by various organizations. According to ASER-annual survey of education in Pakistan, this number is 9 million while another NGO recently put it at 25 million.

As has been pointed out by PACADE, the national NGO for literacy and EFA in Pakistan, as many as 60 million Pakistanis today are utterly illiterate. Pakistan is officially internationally committed to attain a literacy rate of 86% by the end of 2015. The rate claimed by the government at present is just a little more than 58%- the lowest of all the countries in South Asia. One may mention here that the world average literacy rate is as high as 84%.

Now that, after the 18th Amendment and the addition of Article 25-A in the Constitution, education has been devolved to the provinces, none of the provincial chief ministers have bothered to find out what special steps are to be taken to accelerate efforts to achieve committed goals and targets. Even Imran Khan’s KPK has done little to open even half of the literacy centres required by the National Plan of Action.

So Mr. Prime Minister and dear Chief Ministers, please realize that Pakistan is lagging behind the rest of the world in meeting EFA challenges. Stop the rhetoric and start some real work on the ground to translate political will into adequate financial allocations as well as realistic and well-staffed literacy programmes and projects. It is already very late.

It is further unfortunate that UN offices in Pakistan are not pulling their weight and doing their duty to goad and help the government to attend to the pledged task of achieving 100% primary education, 86% of literacy as also gender parity in school education. These high level agencies appear to be more interested in planning for the post 2015 programmes primarily to meet the tasks assigned to them by UN offices in New York than help achieve current EFA goals.

We need many many more courageous leaders like Malala within the country to move forward and achieve the pledged education targets.

    The writer is an ex-federal

    secretary and ambassador, and

    a freelance political and international relations analyst.