Militarization of educational institutions
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Backwardness, violence and suppression seem to be intertwined with Balochistan. Hardly does good news appear in the print and electronic media from Balochistan these days. In order to keep the issue(s) alive in Balochistan, the government is deliberately generating one issue after the other. In the recent years, Balochistan has been constantly in the news because of the Baloch insurgency. Such news items emanating from Balochistan no longer attract the media as they have become the order of the day. This simply does not mean things in Balochistan are hunky dory.
Recently, enforced disappearances and a massive crack down unleashed against the Baloch leaders gained widespread attention in the media. Ironically, these burning issues continue to exist in the province, even though the media have lost their interest in these cheesy stories.
The latest front the government has opened against the Baloch is in the educational institutions. Balochistan is comparatively very different from rest of the provinces of Pakistan. One needs to understand the ground realities of the province before passing a judgment. Spread over 43 per cent of the entire landmass of Pakistan, Balochistan has only one full-fledged university. Ironically, the government claims the number of the universities in the province has reached six at the moment. This sudden change, however, occurred by just changing the signboards of assorted educational institutions and granting them the status of university. How many of these so-called universities have their own building and complete staff remains anybody’s guess.
Worse still, not the entire population of Balochistan has access to these educational institutions. Policy makers, a large proportion of whom is that of no-locals, fail to understand the actual requirements of the province. For many of them, Balochistan simply means Quetta. It is this reason that most of the top educational institutions are located in Quetta, several hundred kilometers away from the residents of some other districts.
The government’s so-called developmental plan has been very selective in its nature. The billions of rupees being spent on the development of Balochistan are actually being spent wholly and solely on the districts of Quetta, Gwadar and the ‘recently-conquered’ Dera Bugti and Kohlu. However, what the present socio-economic state of the ordinary Baloch in rest of the province is remains debatable.
Balochistan has a single full-fledged co-ed university which is located in the provincial capital, Quetta. It takes a student from Gwadar and Turbat districts three long and complete days to reach Quetta due to poor communication system. The University of Balochistan (UoB) is the only full-fledged university in the province where the ordinary Baloch has access to education. Regrettably, Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS), which was established on the cost of productive textile mills of the province, has mainly its doors shut for the local people. Reasons? A student from Dera Bugti is expected to compete with the students from the standard educational institutions of Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi. The open merit has left the ordinary Baloch deprived of higher education at his own province. Ironically, the Baloch students at the BUITMS are over represented by the non-Baloch.
The University of Balochistan, on its part, shows a very different picture. A vast majority of the students at the University of Balochistan are liberal in their thought who shun religious extremism and fundamentalism. They are, by and large, progressive and politically conscious. However, the recent insurgency in the province has further promoted ideas of nationalism among the Baloch students.
Though universities world over are believed to the centers of higher learning where free ideas and thoughts must float, three of the universities in Balochistan have been handed over to the military vice chancellors. Recently, a retired brigadier from the Pakistan Army, who even never administered a primary school in his whole lifetime, was inducted as the vice chancellor (VC) of the Balochistan University. His appointment not only incensed the students who feared that a military VC and free thinking could not go side by side but senior UoB professors also criticized the controversial decision. They maintain that an experienced professor is the most deserving candidate for this coveted position rather than a military officer.
Since the ambitious military vice chancellor, backed by, what the students described as, “an imported chancellor” [being the Governor of Balochistan], assumed the charge of his office, efforts were immediately made to convert the entire university and its hostels into a military garrison. Dissent at the UoB is discouraged.
Last week, the police raided, opened unprovoked fire and baton charged at the students outside the university hostels over very petty reasons. On the top of it, the VC, acting like a typical military commando, at once ordered the closure of university hostels. Subsequently, hundreds of students, some of whom have reportedly come from such distant areas that are several hindered kilometer away from Quetta, simply didn’t know where to go along with their bag and baggage in the extremely cold nights. Some of obliged to take shelter in the local hotels while the others rushed to local mosques.
Baloch students, who staged a demonstration before Quetta press club against the abrupt closure of the university the other day, unanimously believe the government is deliberately shutting the higher educational institutions of the province. Having kept the province deprived in almost all spheres of life, it appears the government has now decided to shut the doors of higher education for the Baloch too. The government big wigs, most of whom being non-locals, hardly get bothered about such decisions as their own children are admitted to elite colleges and universities abroad.