Safety and Security recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Zafar Iqbal, Chairman of Taleem Fondation. We aimed to understand what motivated Dr. Zafar to embark on this endeavor for the betterment of Education in Pakistan.
Safety and Security Today (S&ST): Can you please tell us about your early education and career pathway?
Dr. Zafar Iqbal Qadir (DZIQ): My journey commenced in the warm embrace of a distant village located in Muzaffargarh, South Punjab, with humble origins. After completing my matriculation, I set forth for Rawalpindi where I pursued my higher secondary education at Gordon College Rawalpindi. This marked the initial step of a transformative journey that would lead me to the revered gates of PMA (Pakistan Military Academy) Kakul, where I immersed myself in two intense years of military training. My dedication and commitment culminated in my elevation to the rank of captain, a position I held until 1982 when I chose a new trajectory by entering civil services through the CSS exam. The threads of my career meandered through the diverse landscapes of Balochistan before converging in Islamabad, where I continued to weave the fabric of my service to Pakistan.
S&ST: How do you recall your service in the Pakistan Army? In what ways did it benefit you in your life?
DZIQ: My tenure in the Pakistan Army, although brief in its temporal dimension, was colossal in its influence on my character and approach to life. Encompassing two years of ardent training at the prestigious PMA Kakul and seven years of dynamic engagement in active service, it was here that the foundations of obedience, discipline, and unwavering commitment were forged. The crucible of the Army taught me the invaluable lesson of following orders without questioning—a hallmark of my ethos that was to be imprinted on my future endeavors. It not only solidified my resilience but also endowed me with the ability to confront challenges with determination and grace. This training was an indispensable asset when I embarked on the arduous journey of preparing for the CSS exam, immersing myself in rigorous study for eighteen hours a day over the span of three months.
S&ST: You have mostly served in Balochistan in District Management; how was that experience? What challenges did you encounter?
DZIQ: Balochistan, a region cloaked in mystique and complexity, became my crucible for governance. This remarkable province, known for its unique socio-cultural dynamics, resonated deeply with in me. My affinity for Balochistan was catalyzed by my initial service there during my military tenure in Khuzdar, which informed and enriched my subsequent civil service. My immersion in Balochistan spanned over sixteen years, making it a prominent chapter in my career. This tenure was characterized by the discovery of latent abilities, I hadn’t known existed within me. The vast landscapes, diverse cultures, and intricate tribal dynamics became the canvas upon which I painted a tapestry of governance.
The challenges were multifaceted, mirroring the complex nature of the province itself. Navigating the intricate tribal values and traditions, I endeavored to synthesize these cherished norms with modern governance practices. I embarked on a quest to bridge the chasm between age-old traditions and contemporary administration, where decisions were often orchestrated by jirgas, steeped in time-honored circumstantial wisdom. This immersive approach led me to focus on long-term solutions, healing the fissures of historical tribal conflicts, and fostering resolutions that could withstand the test of time.
S&ST: You have been serving in Geneva as a government representative. How was that experience and in what way did you further the interests of Pakistan?
DZIQ: My tenure in Geneva, as a representative of Pakistan, marked the pinnacle of my professional journey. My expedition to the corridors of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was preceded by my immersion in the economic division of the federal government, and then the Ministry of Commerce and Trade. This trajectory endowed me with the expertise to forge international trade agreements, enhancing Pakistan’s global business standing and fostering bilateral relationships. These accomplishments positioned me as a representative of Pakistan at the WTO, where my team and I engaged in deliberations and negotiations that sculpted international trade laws.
The WTO’s unique way of working encompasses the legislation, dispute resolution, and implementation of international trade laws—a realm that demands deft diplomacy and strategic acumen. As a representative of Pakistan, my paramount concern was to safeguard our national interests, ensuring equitable treatment and shielding against undue compromises. This arduous journey spanned four years, each day fraught with intricacies and diplomatic nuances, where my words and actions were meticulously weighed. While demanding, this endeavor was equally rewarding, for the transformation it inspired was commensurate with the effort invested.
S&ST: How did you conceive the idea of Taleem Foundation and how did it become a reality?
DZIQ: The inception of the Taleem Foundation was catalyzed by a burning desire to channel my energies into monumental change. The canvas of my service in the Pakistan Army and subsequent civil service experiences had exposed me to the lacuna of education, especially in marginalized regions. As an Assistant Commissioner in Zhob, the acute deprivation of facilities resonated deeply within me, igniting the spark of transformation. This spark triggered the journey that would birth the Taleem Foundation—an endeavor aimed at bridging the chasm of educational disparity.
The journey from the inception of the foundation to its realization was a testament to tenacity and determination. Our nation, often reticent to embrace transformation, required an innovative spark to illuminate the path toward, education. The nascent steps began in Kohlu District, Balochistan, where the lack of a single school spurred me to action. The subsequent opening of that first school seeded the roots of the Taleem Foundation, a testament to the power of education to transform lives. The trajectory from that first school to a network of thirty schools underscores the magnitude of impact achievable by a single idea. As our alumni ventured forth, becoming doctors, engineers, and leaders, the ripples of change cascaded across Balochistan, transcending barriers and boundaries.
S&ST: What do you think is the best strategy to improve the quality of schooling at the base level in Pakistan?
DZIQ: Elevating the quality of education at the grassroots level necessitates a comprehensive strategy that intertwines multiple strands into a tapestry of change. At its core lies the imperative of forging consensus among stakeholders to construct a single national curriculum. This unifying educational scaffold would serve as the bedrock for a transformative journey. Yet, education isn’t confined merely to academic pursuits—it encompasses the art of grooming and character-building, fostering holistic development. Technology, the vanguard of modernization, should find its niche within the educational landscape, inspiring innovative learning methodologies. Concurrently, investing in research and teacher training would empower educators to inspire and ignite the minds of the future. Public-private partnerships serve as bridges to amplify resources, enabling communities and institutions to collaborate. In tandem, harnessing the expertise of NGOs and their seamless integration into government schools could lead to a holistic metamorphosis of the educational realm. Above all, the polestar guiding this transformation should be tangible learning outcomes, reflecting the confluence of knowledge, skills, and character.
S&ST: NGOs play a useful role in uplifting underprivileged people. However, in order to bring change at the national level, don’t you think the government should introduce national programs to cater to these problems? What should be the best strategy?
DZIQ: While the government’s role in initiating change is quintessential, the synergy of governmental initiatives with the power of NGOs can orchestrate a harmonious crescendo of transformation. The government’s mantle, instead of merely being that of a provider, could evolve into that of a regulator. This paradigm shift would invite NGOs as partners, embracing their role in supplementing governmental efforts. The collaborative approach could metamorphose the landscape of change, optimizing resources and widening the scope of impact.
To foster this metamorphosis, a recalibration of perspective is imperative where the government stands not as the sole harbinger of change but as a co-creator with the dynamism of NGOs. This alliance would not only enrich the canvas of initiatives but also pave the way for innovative solutions. As government and NGOs synchronize their efforts, a harmonious symphony of change could resonate across the nation, fortifying the foundation of transformation.
S&ST: What are your key recommendations to the government to improve the literacy rate and basic education?
DZIQ: The trajectory to augment the literacy rate and enhance basic education in Pakistan weaves through a labyrinth of strategic pillars, each bearing the promise of transformation. The foremost among these pillars is the continuation of consensus among stakeholders and the use of the recently launched singular national curriculum. Grooming should be interwoven seamlessly into educational knowledge, sculpting well-rounded individuals.
Embracing the tide of technology and facilitating research would catalyze innovation, paving avenues for advanced learning methodologies. The tenets of education should transcend the confines of classroom walls, encompassing public-private partnerships that amplify resources and inspire comprehensive development. Collaborating with NGOs, institutions could harness their expertise, marrying knowledge with experience.
At the heart of these endeavors should stand measurable learning outcomes. By directing the compass of change towards these key recommendations, the government could engender a metamorphosis that redefines education and illuminates the path toward a more informed, empowered society.