Pakistan’s decorated army has diverted its attention towards university campuses. The objective of this exercise is to inculcate tolerance among the youth and to ‘sensitise’ them about the dangerous presence of violent elements in the society.
There have been a number of interactions including one major seminar held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) of Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi garrison last week. Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General Inter Services Public Relations Major General Asif Ghafoor addressed students at a seminar on “Role of youth in rejecting extremism” organised in collaboration with Higher Education Commission. Vice chancellors of all public and private universities, media, religious and political parties were invited to the GHQ at the seminar.
Earlier, DG ISPR visited the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on the invitation of the Law and Political Society of the school where he interacted with students on different aspects of extremism, and the role of ISPR in projecting Pakistan Army.
The army leadership in its speeches has urged the students to shun extremism. “It is our collective duty as ‘state’ and individual duty in our respective domain to shield our youth against this threat and the process of protecting the youth would involve the “identification of threat and response measures,” said Gen Asif Ghafoor at the seminar at the GHQ.
“The initiative of the army chief to interact with the youth with focus on schools and universities came after the incident of Mashal Khan who was killed by a mob in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan where students lynched him on allegations of blasphemy,” an ISPR official says while talking to TNS, confirming reports about the army chief’s interest in addressing the youth. The official says, “The objective of the exercise is to help students to stay away from violence and extremism. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) too has been consulted on the subject.”
Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, Chairman HEC, tell TNS they were already consulting the vice chancellors of universities regarding measures to eradicate extremism. “The HEC held a conference in early May and a meeting with the ISPR which led to a conference at the GHQ.”
“Sometimes, we get alerts from security and intelligence agencies regarding the extremist elements in the universities and we take action,” he says.
Earlier, HEC, separately called all the VCs and a sub committee came up with the following recommendations:
“Curriculum should be more interactive and vibrant. Interaction amongst teachers and students need to be practiced. The teacher needs to come up more as a reflective practitioner and not a mere consumer of knowledge. There should be clear and transparent mechanism for hiring of faculty with orientation sessions for new inductees along with capacity building training programmes for the existing ones.
“Faculty visibility should be ensured in all social spaces across the university so as to eliminate disconnect not only between faculty members but also with the students. Mentoring and counselling of students should be made part of regular university activity. Student bodies and councils should come forward to create harmony amongst all — with the eligibility criteria defined by the administration.
“Directorate of students should be established for registering problems of the students and offering them solutions. The HEC stressed on creating and respecting diversity while accepting students not only from all across the regions but covering disadvantaged and minor communities too. Sports and extracurricular activities should be widely promoted and made part of the university’s routine business. Delivering a series of public lectures on campus to work on the hearts and minds of campus community is also in the plan. Teachers need to create balance between their research activities and teaching responsibilities while catering to students’ growth and productivity in wider perspective.”
A.H. Nayyar, educationist and researcher, says there are two aspects of this interaction. “First, it is encouraging for the VCs that they are being backed by the army to take effective measures to shun extremism in universities. It will increase their confidence. Secondly, it is strange that army chief is addressing the VCs on this topic because we believe this is the duty of political leadership.”
However, he says, “We also see that political leaderships often influence university administrations to support and back the extremist elements for their political gains. There is a message through this conference that there should be a straight action against such extremist elements in varsities without any pressure. It will be good too.”