Dr Altaf Qadir – Pakistan’s academics under siege by their government

Profile AQ LE March 16rev

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Dr Altaf Qadir, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Peshawar       – in an exclusive interview with Mark Ulyseas.

Some weeks ago I received an email from Dr Altaf Qadir with an attachment – a photograph of a document – a directive from Ishtiaq Ahmed, Section officer, Government of Punjab (Pakistan), Higher Education Department addessed to Vice Chancellors/Rectors, Public/Private Sector Universities in Punjab on the subject of ….

Punjab govt notificationcopy

Anti-Pakistan and anti-cultural research topics/studies in universities of the Punjab.

“I am directed to refer to the subject and inform that it has been pointed out by various Security Agencies that research Topics being given to the students in the universities of the Punjab are of anti-Pakistan and anti-cultural in nature.

The competent authority has taken a serious notice of this situation and desired that the Academia should play a constructive role in nurturing nationalism amongst the youth of the country. It has further been desired that  the concerned quarters may be sensitized to avoid inculcation of anti-cultural and anti-Pakistan sentiment amongst the students by giving them topics for debate and research.

I am further directed to request you to comply with the directions of the Competent Authority in letter and spirit.”


When I asked Dr Altaf Qadir how this affected him, he replied  “I am in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and it is notified for the Universities in Punjab. A similar type of directive was circulated by Higher Education Commission Islamabad addressed to VCs of all universities. In Peshawar we rarely bother due to the vibrant academia at our university but still at times such directives have an effect on genuine research. Furthermore, we are already under armed attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but in Punjab and Islamabad these directives must have some effect.”

Further to this he kindly granted Live Encounters Magazine the following interview.

Since the creation of Pakistan has the State been involved in regulating universities and the syllabus with the intention of ‘controlling’ how subjects are taught? And which central authority decides the syllabus/research etc. from primary school to university?

Decolonization in the 20th century gave birth to many nation-states in Asia and Africa. These newly formed nation-states needed a strong ideological base to ‘integrate’ different entities in their geographical boundaries. In some States one can see attempts by the ruling elite to impose cultural homogeneity, or by the majority to create a unified nation-state by force through civil wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing or religious persecutions. Almost every State tried to provide a strong ideological base. In this regard attempts were made to formulate a curriculum to fulfil the need of the nation-state. The main focus for this purpose remained on ‘history content’ which was not only incorporated in the subject of history but also in social sciences, literature and even science books. These nation-states formed commissions and appointed experts to write the required history.

Since the creation of Pakistan, a number of steps were taken to write the ‘national history’. The first National Education Conference was held in 1947 to formulate guidelines for education policy and curriculum. Similarly, in 1951 a conference for Educational Development was held to adopt the first National Plan of Educational Development (1951-57). Report of the Commission on National Education 1959 changed the outlook of education especially in two aspects:

Firstly, it affected the welfare concept of education and mandated the creation of Text Book Boards with the duty to reflect the government policies in the text books. Many such bodies were formed that resulted in producing major policy documents. Some examples are;  Report of the Commission on Student Problems and Welfare 1966; The New Education Policy 1970; The Education Policy 1972; National Educational Policy and Implementation Programme  1979; National Education Policy 1992; National Education Policy 1998-2010 and Education Sector Reforms 2002. There are number of other policy recommendations in the last one and half decades which limited/limits education to literacy only. The policies of the State has encouraged the private sector to invest in education. And though this increased the number of institutions it has also led to education becoming a kind of business on one hand, and class based on the other.

The Textbook Board  was created to guarantee the reflection of government policies in textbooks. The first in the series of notifications stipulated that:

 ‘The moral and spiritual values of Islam combined with the freedom, integrity, and strength of                   Pakistan should  be the ideology which inspires our educational system’.

 ‘We must strive to create a sense of unity and of nationhood among the people of Pakistan’.

 Imparting the ‘skills and training necessary in a complex modern society’.

The Textbook Boards have been producing textbooks for Grade 1 to 12. All such books were sent for approval to the Curriculum Review Committee, Federal Ministry of Education, Islamabad, until the 18th Constitutional amendment in 2010. Each successive government fiddles with the contents of the textbooks, under some internal force or for some external ‘benefit’. It is pertinent to note that there are different types of public and private institutions which follow the books published by others and do not use government approved textbooks. However, subjectivity, hate, intolerance, and irrelevant material not fit for growth of critical minds is found in all such books with little difference. State authorities as well as various lobbies have a share in the production of such books. The books written for Cambridge Series i.e. O level & A level are better, compared to the rest.

Secondly, in the case of universities, University Grants Commission and now Higher Education Commission (HEC) Islamabad deals with Universities across the country. The 18th Constitutional Amendment has brought the universities under the purview of provincial government but only Punjab and Sindh have formed their provincial HECs. Though HEC has provided policy guidelines for regulating higher education but it did not try or has been unable to devise uniform curriculum due to the involvement of senior academia of the whole country. However, the appointment of Vice Chancellors is the government prerogative. In the last decade or so, junior, less experienced and incompetent persons were appointed VCs due to their affiliation with ruling parties. The ruling party is rewarded with the employment of their ‘people’ in universities in different capacities which discourages genuine researchers and scholars. The situation is not much different in universities run by corporate bodies, military or private sector. The mechanism of approval of research topics involves two/three different bodies and the final body/authority which approves research topics is headed by a VC. Some genuine topics are deferred due to incompetency/lack of knowledge/prejudice of the members of the approval body.

There are instances in different universities across the country where PhD degrees are awarded to people who might have never earned a Master degree by merit. Shockingly, one person remained director of a prestigious institute for more than a decade and later was appointed VC for almost four years. Apparently he had plagiarised his entire thesis from a single book. The government did not remove him from his post when it was proved that his thesis had been plagiarised. How can one expect genuine research in the presence of such ‘professors and academics’ in the institutes of higher learning?

What are anti-Pakistan and anti- cultural research topics/studies? And what does the State fear from such activities? And how does one define ‘anti’?

This strange phenomena exists in the State Managers who are suspicious about the loyalty of fellow citizens. They may be called self-proclaimed ‘physical and ideological defenders’ of the State. None of the research is either Anti or Pro if it is objective research. Declaring a research anti-Pakistan or anti-cultural means barring a debate which could otherwise clear many myths associated with all such issues. This tendency exists in Muslim Societies since the establishment of Abbasside rule in Baghdad, which is evident from the classical literature that deals with State and government functions, produced in that period. It also exists in Western Societies to some extent like debating Holocaust is either banned or discouraged.

The response to such topics is actually emotional, otherwise a logical response can easily settle the issue. It reminds one of two instances:

01. Stanley Wolpert’s Jinnah of Pakistan which was banned by the government due to a reference to Jinnah eating ham. The government considered it the shaking of the ideological foundation of Pakistan, which was ‘created on the basis of Islam’. The ban created a lot of curiosity among academia and general public. I believe that due to this ban it was read by many more people as compared to what would have occurred in a normal situation.

02. Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy book launch ceremony a few years back was not permitted at Islamabad Club despite reservation of the venue for the said purpose due to State pressure. When she contacted other hotels she was refused. The hotel managements informed her that their halls were for wedding functions only. This also led to curiosity among the readers and many people sought copies from different venues when it was not available in their city. The normal launch could not have generated the debate, which was created by government pressure on hotels in the capital.

State Managers fear debate because their iniquitous actions in personal or institutional capacity may come to light and this could result in lose of their ‘elite position’. This factor of controlling society by State Managers happens because it endangers their interests, that is why they quickly apply the label of anti-State and/or anti-culture in order to prevent free thinking and freedom of speech.

It is beyond my personal understanding whether research should be declared anti-something or who should define and what does it mean. Academia should be vibrant. Curtailing debate would certainly increase frustration and frustration would result in more violence and this violence would one day sweep away the existing State system.

As an academic and author have you or anyone you know been affected in any manner by State interference in matters related to education?

There are many instances when researchers are barred from conducting studies on some specific issues. Personally, I could not carry out research on a couple of topics though I wanted to and few of my acquaintances have received threats from different quarters, when they planned to work on some topics. However, I can make no comment whether the threats were from State institutions, lobbies or private individuals.

The government usually does not tolerate any view which does not fit in their ‘national narrative’. In November 2015, Professor Sayid Wiqar Ali Shah was removed from the Directorship of the National Commission on Historical and Cultural Research when he, in a keynote speech, referred to the need for revisiting regional histories with focus on G. M. Syed, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai and Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

In the past has issues related to the history of Pakistan been manipulated to depict the State in a favourable light even though facts maybe to the contrary? And has this reflected in the education system from primary school to university?

There are many such instances of manipulation of history and a lot of academics, researchers and civil society members have written about such issues. One can find many such documents by surfing websites.

Pakistan has consistently produced outstanding academics and it now has a vibrant and enlightened intelligentsia. Would you agree with this statement? And further, could you state your reasons why the aforementioned government directive is a dangerous precedent?

Without doubt there are many outstanding academics and yes we have an enlightened intelligentsia. Unfortunately, the past 42 years of State sponsored militancy has marginalized this moderate section of society. The academics that are trained in a certain tradition in the last four decades are unable to encourage debate. The few senior academicians and some among the second and third generation are busy conducting objective research but are facing multiple problems.

Such government directives are dangerous in regards to their long-term effects. The school curriculum is already manipulated. The majority of university students lack critical minds. Universities would certainly become mouth-piece of the government. No debate would be generated and it would become a very closed, frustrated and suffocated society. The entire education system would be a propaganda tool. Last January, I presented a paper in a conference at Karachi on issues related to curriculum. During his comments, the chair of session turned towards me and stated, ‘continue the work but you would never become a vice chancellor’.

Such directives would be followed by more people and in the end there would be no education except skills like in communist societies. Even today, in most places, we find both types of extremists.

This tendency is visible in the administration of the universities too. I am observing an alarming increase in employees registering petitions against VCs and Registrars in higher courts, which shows that administration is not listening to the grievances of the employees. This dangerous tendency of barring opposing views would further increase extremism and use of violence in our society.

The present wave of attacks on educational institutions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is alarming. Could the government directives to all heads of Education Institutions resolve the issue of security? What could be the possible solution for eliminating terrorism in the long run?

The government directives to the head of institutions for arranging their security, install surveillance cameras and barbed wire have made the government a laughing stock. This only profits those who invest in conflict economy. The government is collecting taxes but fails to provide the basic needs of a citizen. Good education, health and livelihood opportunities have been and continue to be the least preferred area of the State in the last few decades. Now citizens are asked to protect themselves. This raises a question mark over the existence of the State itself.

This mess of terrorism is the result of a long process, initiated by State and non-State actors in mid-70s. Many political figures, military officials, civil bureaucracy and religious heads have played their role in official or unofficial capacities. The issue cannot be resolved with military operations and cosmetic measures. I understand, and many more are of this opinion, that militancy would be curtailed if

01. State eliminates double standards from its foreign and national policies

02. Put on trial everyone, alive or dead – politician, bureaucrat, religious figure or military official who had/has any involvement in sponsoring militancy and extremism in public or private capacity. Only then people would trust the State and its institutions; and this would resolve the issue once for all.


Read also :

Sayyid Ahmad Barailvi: His Movement and Legacy from the Pukhtun Perspective by Dr Altaf Qadir, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Peshawar, Pakistan – in an exclusive interview with Mark Ulyseas. LINK


2 Replies to “Dr Altaf Qadir – Pakistan’s academics under siege by their government”

  1. A nice write up, the sooner the state realize the sooner it will delay its disintegration. In Pakistan’s perspective it is the deep state which supposed to be the mother of all evils. The big brother is the ultimate beneficiary of the deep state initiatives,rather with a menial price as Punjabi language has been marginalized at the cost of urdu. The smaller province will dubbed as Ghaddar and the curriculum and state media will haunt them.

  2. A teacher,cousin and friend whose gatherings has given me understanding,enlightenment and much more……….MAY the said process continue for all the time to come…..

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