"QAU, Highly Barbed and Wired: Defiance of Academic Freedom - What is the Purpose of University Education?"

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Islamabad: 30 March 2024: Fundamentally, the question arises: what is the purpose of university education? There are two contrasting approaches.

The first, seen in universities across Europe, America, China, and India, aims to develop critical thinking and adaptability for an ever-changing world.

The second seeks to produce obedient students who memorize and regurgitate information, reflecting a societal aversion to individualism. In Pakistan, authoritarianism and moralizing are favored, often restricting personal freedoms.

The excessive securitization of Pakistan's university campuses and their somber atmosphere highlight a profound disconnect. The education sought by a free, modern society differs significantly from that valued in a militaristic, autocratic, feudal system. While cultural and religious norms may evolve, change is slow and uncertain.

Madness reigns supreme. QAU University has Now, walls, barbed wire, gates, and checkpoints have rendered that journey impossible. Moving from point A to point B on campus is no longer simple. Student hostels have been heavily fortified.

What justifies these extreme security measures? Are they preparations for war? Is QAU expecting a new invasion by Changez Khan from Mongolia? Or perhaps another APS-style attack by TTP?

While terrorism was rampant in Pakistan between 2002 and 2016, with suicide bombings targeting shopping malls, markets, and mosques in Islamabad, the university campus remained a safe haven. Despite violent clashes between ethnic and religious student groups, there hasn't been a single terrorist incident on campus.

Interestingly, the new walls are not aimed at protecting QAU's land from further encroachments. Of the original 1,709 acres allocated to the university by the government in the mid-1960s, roughly 300-400 acres have been illegally taken. Old land records have been tampered with, and officials have been bribed to alter boundaries.

In January 2019, bulldozers were sent by then Prime Minister Imran Khan to demolish the house of a powerful politician who had encroached on the university's land. While they initially razed the boundary walls, an insider PTI-PPP deal led to their retreat two hours later.

The obsession with security at QAU has reached absurd levels, reflecting a bunker mentality that is pervasive. Gated communities in cities are now common, serving as bastions of inequality or possibly for ethnic and sectarian reasons. This reflects a low level of social trust, manifesting in a feeling of siege. In Pakistan's early years, except for military cantonments, one could travel within cities without encountering checkpoints. That is no longer the case.

This fortress mentality is also present, though to a lesser extent, in other universities across the country. Their physical environments have become less open, with CCTV cameras monitoring students, ostensibly for security but often to control behavior.

Fundamentally, the question arises: what is the purpose of university education? There are two contrasting approaches.

The first, seen in universities across Europe, America, China, and India, aims to develop critical thinking and adaptability for an ever-changing world.

The second seeks to produce obedient students who memorize and regurgitate information, reflecting a societal aversion to individualism. In Pakistan, authoritarianism and moralizing are favored, often restricting personal freedoms.

The excessive securitization of Pakistan's university campuses and their somber atmosphere highlight a profound disconnect. The education sought by a free, modern society differs significantly from that valued in a militaristic, autocratic, feudal system. While cultural and religious norms may evolve, change is slow and uncertain.

Madness reigns supreme. QAU University has Now, walls, barbed wire, gates, and checkpoints have rendered that journey impossible. Moving from point A to point B on campus is no longer simple. Student hostels have been heavily fortified.

What justifies these extreme security measures? Are they preparations for war? Is QAU expecting a new invasion by Changez Khan from Mongolia? Or perhaps another APS-style attack by TTP?

While terrorism was rampant in Pakistan between 2002 and 2016, with suicide bombings targeting shopping malls, markets, and mosques in Islamabad, the university campus remained a safe haven. Despite violent clashes between ethnic and religious student groups, there hasn't been a single terrorist incident on campus.

Interestingly, the new walls are not aimed at protecting QAU's land from further encroachments. Of the original 1,709 acres allocated to the university by the government in the mid-1960s, roughly 300-400 acres have been illegally taken. Old land records have been tampered with, and officials have been bribed to alter boundaries.

In January 2019, bulldozers were sent by then Prime Minister Imran Khan to demolish the house of a powerful politician who had encroached on the university's land. While they initially razed the boundary walls, an insider PTI-PPP deal led to their retreat two hours later.

The obsession with security at QAU has reached absurd levels, reflecting a bunker mentality that is pervasive. Gated communities in cities are now common, serving as bastions of inequality or possibly for ethnic and sectarian reasons. This reflects a low level of social trust, manifesting in a feeling of siege. In Pakistan's early years, except for military cantonments, one could travel within cities without encountering checkpoints. That is no longer the case.

This fortress mentality is also present, though to a lesser extent, in other universities across the country. Their physical environments have become less open, with CCTV cameras monitoring students, ostensibly for security but often to control behavior.

Pervaiz Hoodbhoy

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