AN event scheduled at LUMS had to be cancelled at the last minute “on order from the government”, according to the university’s official statement.
The event was a panel discussion on Balochistan and one of the speakers was Mama Qadeer, who came to prominence when he led a march from Quetta to Islamabad to protest the brutal disappearances of Baloch youth that is the hallmark of the counterinsurgency the security forces are waging in the province.
Mama Qadeer’s own son is amongst the disappeared. The “order from the government” was personally delivered by an officer of the security services to the acting dean of the programme that hosted the talk, and had been preceded by attempts from officers at the interior ministry to reach the LUMS management.
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It is totally unacceptable for the government, and more specifically the security agencies, to pressure an academic institution to cancel an event. Universities are curators of the educational process whose sanctity must be defended against all attempts to place curbs on it.
But it is also important to note that the decision to cancel the event was made by LUMS. While such pressure being exerted on institutions by the security establishment is not unknown, there is no obligation to act “on order from the government” — perhaps even less so if such orders come from the security services. In fact, LUMS would have been well within its rights to have insisted that such orders be routed through the proper channels, whatever they may be.
The subject of the planned discussion was no doubt an important one, but the organisers ought to have known that the event they were planning could spark such a reaction from the security agencies.
It is unfortunate that in this case, LUMS was unable to demonstrate the independence that should ideally be a feature of every centre of learning.
The question remains whether such sensitive events should be planned at all if a university is not capable of dealing with their fallout. In fact, buckling under pressure might have done more damage than good to the cause of justice for Balochistan’s disappeared.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2015