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The United States is planning a television programming project targeting Pakistani children in what many describe as an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the younger generation and neutralize growing anti-American sentiments.
“This project is nothing new. It’s the old wine in new bottle,” Z.R Jafri, a veteran writer, told IslamOnline.net.
“The aim of this media invasion is to settle down in the minds of our children that the religious-minded people are behind terrorism, therefore they must stay away from religion.”
The US Aid Agency for International Developments (USAID) has recently advertised the plan in local newspapers seeking proposals from Pakistani and US firms involved in the making of children programs for developing television and multi-media programming for Pakistani children.
A sum of Rs 1.5 billion (20 million dollars) has been allocated to the four-year program.
The purpose of the program, according to Sohail Hummayun, one of the USAID officials involved in this project, is to develop the language, problem-solving and critical thinking abilities among Pakistani children.
Many are suspicious of the project.
“There is no free lunch in America,” says Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, a former parliamentarian and central leader of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), which represents the powerful Dubendi school of thought in Pakistan.
“It doesn’t invest anything anywhere without any interest. Therefore, whatever America is investing here, is not at all without any interest.”
The US embassy spokesman in Islamabad Richard Snelsire avoided commenting on the proposed plans.
“The contract has not been awarded yet so we are legally restricted in what we can say,” he told IOL.
He denied accusations that it is a politically-motivated program to win the hearts and minds of Pakistani children.
“No it’s a development program.”
Some believe that though the three main objectives of the project seem to be clear and harmless, their far-reaching effects would be dangerous.
“Language is the most important tool of the social and mental development of a child. A child starts thinking and speaking through this tool,” notes Shahnawaz Farooqi, a renowned thinker and writer.
“If the language model is American, then automatically the way of thinking will also be American.”
Farooqi, who writes about social and political issues, is also critical of the problem-solving objective of the American program.
“Apparently, there is no harm in teaching the children problem-solving. This is a very good thing. But here are two lists of the priorities in life. One list is Islamic, and the second list is western. Do you think, America will teach our children about Islamic list of priorities in life?”
Although he believes in the importance of critical-thinking, Farooqi is still suspicious about its inclusion in the TV programming.
“Keeping the behavior of the West against Islam in view, the development of critical thinking abilities among Muslim children means to develop the ability to see the Islamic belief and tenets with a critical eye.”
Jafri shares the same concern.
“They are trying to establish that every bearded person, who offers prayers five times a day, actually supports this terrorism, which is totally wrong.”
Ahmad, the JUI leader, believes the basic purpose of the project is to counter growing anti-US sentiments.
“Youths and children have been developing anti-US sentiments because of its unjust and uncalled for policies all over the world, especially in Muslim countries,” he told IOL.
“I believe this is an effort to counter this phenomenon.”
But he believes the project will not work out.
“Instead of investing such huge amounts to brainwash Muslim children, America should reconsider its policies to win the hearts and minds of our children.”
“Such kind of cosmetic efforts have neither worked in the past, nor will they do in the future.”