How many Pakistani students go abroad in 2023 ?
On April 13, Ammar Ali Jan, a Pakistani academic and activist, was fired from his job as an adjunct professor at Punjab University (in Lahore), allegedly for expressing solidarity with the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement), a civil rights group led by Pakistan’s second largest ethnic minority, the Pashtuns.
In an exceptionally direct confrontation with the country’s powerful military, the PTM has accused it of perpetrating gross human rights abuses in its war on terror in the southwestern province of Balochistan and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas that stretch across the country. along the border with Afghanistan.
Over the past two decades this region has become a theater for religious militancy, US drone warfare, and domestic military operations. Pashtuns make up about 15% of Pakistan’s 207 million people, and their activists are now calling for an end to disappearances and extrajudicial killings of young Pashtun boys allegedly carried out by Pakistani security forces.
The group also condemns the racial sophistry that portrays working-class Pashtun men as terrorists and savages and results in the daily humiliations they are subjected to at military checkpoints and in the labor market.
The movement has organized massive demonstrations across the country despite media censorship and the arbitrary detention of its leaders and supporters.
Jan’s dismissal is a manifestation of a public education sector based on nationalist propaganda and intellectual censorship. Jan sees his dismissal as punishment for encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop critical thinking and engage in non-violent, progressive political activities, often censored by ruling elites. “I was told that I was paying too much attention to ‘small issues’ like women’s empowerment and institutional racism, which is supposedly detrimental to ‘peace’ on campus,” she told Equal Times . “I understand the reasons for that decision: they don’t want teachers, they want guards who can keep young people at bay.”
Pakistani students go abroad in 2023
According to the National Human Development Report (NHDR) published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) earlier this month, Pakistan is currently one of the countries with the most young people: 64% of the population is under the age of 30 years.
Adil Najam, lead author of the report, points out in it that “the most useful thing that can be done is to create meaningful opportunities in the field of education, employment and commitment, which allow us to empower our young people so that they can develop their full potential.” ”.
The report further states that out of a total of 195 countries, only 14 are investing in education less than 2.3% of GDP that Pakistan invests. In terms of distribution of development, the relatively wealthy province of Punjab ranks highest according to Pakistan’s Human Development Index , while Balochistan ranks lowest.
“Dangerous consequences for national unity”
On the other hand, Pashtun-Baluchi youth are emerging as a particularly marginalized group in Pakistan’s public education crisis. According to the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan , there are a total of 163 universities in Pakistan attended by 120 million young people, 66 of which are private and 97 public. Most of the public universities are in Punjab, while only five are in Balochistan. Consequently, many young Pashtun-Baluchi are forced to try to study in Punjab, where they encounter discrimination and ethnic violence.
The Pakistani Army tends to be intolerant of any criticism of its policies, interpreting such dissent as a threat to unity and national security. Taha Siddiqui, an exiled journalist who managed to escape a kidnapping attempt after criticizing the military, and who later founded the censorship watchdog safenewsrooms.org , believes that the repression of diversity does nothing to promote the unity of Pakistan. Instead, inclusion in education – and, by extension, in society, at work and in politics – could contribute to the restoration of a divided country.
“I fear that we will witness again what we experienced in 1971, when the Army violated the rights of East Pakistan [now Bangladesh] and ended up losing half the country. The Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan and to exclude them is to push Pakistan into a confrontation that could have dangerous consequences for the unity of the country,” says Siddiqui.
While some private universities offer a space for critical minds, these institutions remain inaccessible to the vast majority of young students. According to Khalid*, a professor of English Literature, students are constantly being excluded from an education of prohibitive quality, leading to a lack of social mobility and a growing class divide. “In Pakistan only those who have money can study. The richer you are, the better education you receive and the more valued your career will be,” he explains.
Lacking resources and prestige, public universities fail to attract the brightest and most competent teachers, but Jan and Khalid believe that the privileged have to overcome social barriers and contribute to the democratization of education in Pakistan. “At the end of the day, a generation of doctors, police officers, lawyers, judges, politicians, economists, teachers, etc. will emerge from these universities. that they will not be adequately prepared to think critically, to reflect on themselves or to question power”, says Jan.
Khalid points out that the lack of material opportunities has created a cutthroat environment across the country, and educational facilities, deliberately or in concert, perpetuate the status quo rather than equip students with the brainpower to build a better future. “Educational institutions can breed cruelty, especially due to competition. I have learned how important it is to keep talking over and over again about compassion,” concludes Khalid.
Intensification of radicalization
A series of terrorist attacks on students from reputable universities have been linked in recent years. An extensive study carried out by the British Council examines the educational backgrounds of nearly 400 militants in the Middle East and North Africa region and concludes that most of them were graduates in business management, engineering, medical or scientific. By examining the link between education and extremism, the study suggests that a person’s decision to embrace violence may be linked to their inability to challenge received ideas or alternative viewpoints. Thus, education is not simply a matter of development but also a matter of security, the study concludes.
The scale of radicalization in Pakistani universities is far from systemic, and care must be taken not to exaggerate the danger and not use it as an excuse to control students. However, according to Wasif Rizvi, president of Karachi’s Habib University, the problem of extremism is an inevitable consequence of education policies that reject free speech and academic research.
“These types of policies create a sense of disconnection between the lived experiences and the educational experiences of the people. Not talking to students is not going to stop them from thinking about what is happening in Pakistan and the outside world. They are going to continue to form opinions, which can be awkward and dangerous because they are not taught to question them,” he explained in a talk on extremism at universities earlier this year.
Khalid agrees with him: “Our young people really want to learn, but education loses its meaning when it is disconnected from their experiences, as happens when Political Science students are prohibited from [participating in] politics. I have learned a lot about the world through my students, because they bring real experiences to the classroom. They are the most affected by what is happening in the country”.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Pakistan was the cradle of all kinds of student movements , each actively engaged in ideological rivalry with the others. In 1984 (at the height of the Soviet-Afghan war), Pakistan’s military leader, General Zia-ul-Haq, banned student unions throughout the country, but continued to promote established religious and nationalist groups to block communist influences and secularism in public universities, a strategy used since then by various right-wing parties. Subsequent attempts to reactivate the student unions have failed to yield significant results.
“Today we see youth from various political parties imposing their will on the student body, but we don’t really see democratically elected student bodies fighting for the interests of students,” says Yasir*, a Sociology researcher at Punjab University.
dissent in danger
For Jan and Khalid, the ban on student unions has stalled the development of a democratic culture in Pakistan, turning universities into places where dissent is increasingly threatened.
On May 27, 320 female students from Minhaj University in Lahore were expelled from their dormitories for leaking a video showing an administration member insulting them for protesting a 6pm curfew . Last year, journalism student Mashal Khan was lynched by a mob of 50 classmates following a false accusation of blasphemy. And in April, Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, was banned from speaking at his former university, Gomal University, allegedly after some behind-the-scenes pressure.
At the same time, Jan and his partner also became targets of smear campaigns and death threats when a religious-nationalist “student” organization called Islami Jamiat-e-Talba (IJT) accused them of carrying out activities “against the state”. ” – an increasingly dangerous accusation in Pakistan. Jan and his partner had organized a study circle during a protest by Pashtun students, paying tribute to Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance against the British Empire.
The IJT uses violence to dictate its own code of conduct at Punjab University, often intimidating teachers into self-censorship or simply disrupting classes. This can be especially difficult for female students, whose access to education is already quite limited by patriarchal censorship.
The latest round of violence between Pashtun students and the IJT occurred in March after members of the organization assaulted several Pashtun students for celebrating their “Culture Day”, which led to reprisals and campus closures. As news of the violence spread through the city, people began to panic. A student who survived an acid attack says she was concerned about the repercussions the incident might have on her educational future. “My parents are already traumatized, and I was afraid that they would not let me go to university anymore; that another public space, another right, would become inaccessible to me”.
Jan believes that education is the main battleground in Pakistan’s war against poverty and extremism, and academics and peace activists from all sides of the political spectrum need to work together to fight for the recovery of these spaces at the hands of those who discourage critical thinking and open intellectual inquiry.
“Some groups exploit the feeling of alienation that our young people suffer from. If we conveyed to students a different feeling of community based on kindness, solidarity and open-mindedness, and we also promised them a better future in which they could get better jobs and a place in the society of which they feel [ currently] excluded and alienated, then we would indeed begin to see a change in discourse,” Jan stresses. “Then we could truly unite this country.”
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