The lynching of Mashal Khan by fellow students at an educational campus in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a stark reminder of what we have done to ourselves. The barbaric violence by a mob and the inability of the police to prevent it has worried all thinking Pakistanis who have been hoping for a change in country’s direction after a brutal decade of terrorism and violence in the name of religion. One critical dimension of the recent incident relates to radicalisation of our campuses and the conflicting attitudes of Pakistan’s youth.
Last week, I wrote about the problematic school textbooks in Pakistan that influence young minds. They imbibe the half-truths and supremacist ideas and universities seem unable to do much on that front. I remember a distinguished academic narrating his experience of engaging students at a private university in Lahore. He was worried that the best and brightest minds had already been shaped and infused with at best debatable ideologies.
The Islamisation of Pakistan during the 1970s and 1980s and the espousal of jihad as state policy needed public support. Thus education and media turned into major vehicles to achieve that objective. Scared of the anti-regime political mobilisation, Gen Zia also banned student unions, which have remained banned to this day. The exception, of course, being student groups that do their organising in the name of religion. Stifled campus environment and lack of critical thinking, among other things, have been hallmarks of higher education. Sadly, the civilian governments have not attempted to change this and it was only the second military regime in last 30 years that gave some attention to the state of higher education.
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