Universities being the highest forum of learning, these are required to promote a climate of free debate and discussion where students can challenge outdated theories and concepts and evolve new answers to old questions. For this the students are required to widen their cultural horizon by taking part in debates, plays and musical concerts. The student union elections help them understand how democracy works. With Pakistan’s long history of direct and indirect military rule, college unions have been stopped from functioning and their elections banned.
It helps the establishment if students stop questioning. But this is bound to produce narrow-minded bigots who can be manipulated by mobsters to do things that create problems for the country. With organisations like the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) given license to control thinking, the universities have become infertile. The pre-Partition Punjab University produced two Nobel laureates while the same university today stands extremely low in world ranking. Dr Abdus Salam and Dr Hargobind Khorana were nurtured in an era when the quest for new ideas was encouraged.
The universities are being turned into hotspots of extremism. The task in Punjab has been assigned to the IJT which has been allowed to use force to stop all types of debate, discussion and cultural activities. In 2019 the IJT clashed with a Baloch students organization at the campus. Last year it scuffled with the Pushtun Student Organization. This year its activists attacked members of the Punjabi Council who wanted to hold a cultural programme at the campus. The extreme right enjoys the government’s support particularly in provinces ruled by the PTI. This is understandable because PM Imran Khan holds western culture responsible for the degradation of the nation. The IJT is in the forefront of opposing the musical function announced by the Abbottabad campus of the COMSATS University. Propaganda has been launched against the programme from the pulpits also. With little support from the government, COMSATS is unlikely to hold the function Meanwhile outstanding scholars, researchers and writers like Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Ammar Ali Jan and Mohammad Hanif have been removed from the universities where they had been teaching for their views not liked by those in power.