EVER SINCE the law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) stumbled upon the fact that high-grade universities are also producing terrorists, something that the underprivileged citizens have known for years, they have been in a state of panic and are prescribing cures that cause much apprehension in well-informed circles.
The first reaction of the LEAs to the discovery that a suspected terrorist had been attending a public university was to conclude that they should have a record of all the students in the country, from school-going children to those attending higher classes at universities and other institutions. All those who know what an entry in police records means were alarmed at the blatant threat to students’ basic rights.
Then a police official came up with a far more perverse proposal that the authorities should watch and report the formation of any group on campus and also keep a watch on students who start regularly performing religious rituals and on female students who ‘suddenly’ take the hijab. This could easily lead to the hounding of students who might be forming groups to study together or to discuss problems they face in classrooms or in hostels or who wish to get together for singing or merely to share jokes.
Keeping watch also means spying on fellow students which is bound to lead to harassment and blackmailing of innocent students and corruption by various administrators involved in student affairs.
Students have to be won over with love and affection instead of being hounded.
Besides, these preposterous suggestions are based on the same flawed assumptions that have prevented the whole anti-terrorism drive from achieving any significant breakthrough, namely, concentrating on catching radicalised students instead of tackling the factors that go into the making of educated, and in many cases highly educated, terrorists. When we refer to students in higher classes at colleges and universities we mean young girls and boys in the 19- to 25-year age bracket; no section of the population has been so consistently neglected as them. The youth policy drafted many years ago expired before being implemented. And the ongoing crackdown on NGOs is preventing the latter from conducting youth-related activities. Indeed, the youth are rarely mentioned in official schemes for the people’s socioeconomic advancement.
Amongst the few official documents in which the youth are mentioned is the one used to launch the Pakistan Vision 2025 — and it admits that “a large set of Pakistani youth is dissatisfied, frustrated and in a state of disarray due to low education levels and large-scale unemployment. This has led to serious social problems including drug abuse, crime, mental disorder, terrorism and religious fanaticism”.
What is being done to solve the problems mentioned above? Is Vision 2025 still valid? The programme depended on five enablers: shared vision, political stability, peace and security, rule of law, and social justice. Are these factors of progress in place? Is the goal of increasing public expenditure on higher education from 0.2 per cent of GDP to 1.4pc and raising enrolment from 1.5 million to 5m still being pursued? Is a state that appears to be in greater disarray than the youth capable of realising its grandiose schemes?
You don’t have to look very far to find out why the youth are frustrated. Look at the big gap in enrolment up to the secondary school level and higher levels. As much as 40pc of the population in the 19- to 25-year age bracket cannot dream of higher education, and employment opportunities are declining or are not increasing significantly. The Economic Survey does tell us of programmes for training the youth in useful skills and that 100,000 young women and men will be trained in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. These figures are subject to verification by independent evaluators and in any case they compare poorly with the demand.
Another cause of the youth’s frustration is the disadvantage that the less privileged girls and boys face in accessing quality education and better jobs. As a study by Sahe and Alif Ailan last year showed that those going to the most expensive private schools got more rewarding jobs than those attending low-tier private or government schools. It is easy to calculate the size of the dissatisfied hordes.
We may also take a look at activities/ plans that have the potential to curb young persons’ radicalisation. The government claims to have incorporated the Sustainable Development Goals in its vision, While all the 17 goals are relevant to the youth’s progress the more important ones from their point of view are: SDG 3 (good health and well-being); SDG 4 (quality education); SDG 5 (gender equality); SDG 8 (productive employment — full and productive employment and decent work for all and equal pay); SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) ;SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities); and SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions). One should like to hope that work on realising the SDGs is proceeding briskly and more efficiently than was the case with the MDGs, though the indications so far are not encouraging.
The National Action Plan to fight terrorism too has several components that deal with youth’s radicalisation but here again the emphasis has been on liquidating terrorists while their production continues unabated. The quasi-religious seminaries have become more defiant and more aggressive. Apart from producing militants, the climate of extremism, intolerance and violence promoted by them affects students and other young persons across the land. Further, the growing element of militancy and jingoism in state rhetoric is unlikely to foster peace and reason.
In this situation, students have to be won over with love and affection instead of being hounded. They need to be brought together instead of being dispersed; and engaged instead of being cast aside. Instead of turning over the campuses to the police, we must again make them centres of scientific learning where students are free to challenge conventional wisdom and to try and make the impossible possible. A campus ruled by fear will only produce another generation of morons.
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2017