IN a society where fascist tendencies are increasingly becoming pronounced, a teacher armed with a desire to inculcate a spirit of inquiry among his or her students is a dangerous entity.

One can imagine how a vibrant academic environment would threaten those trying to engineer conditions in which no one dares raise a voice for their rights or question accepted notions of statehood.

Hence, assistant professor at Punjab University Ammar Ali Jan, with his notions about encouraging students to engage in debate and apply bookish theories to existing social issues, had to be excised from the academic environment.

On Tuesday, however, students at the campus in Lahore came out in droves to protest the recent dismissal of the Cambridge-educated academic by the PU administration and demand his reinstatement. According to them, Mr Jan had run afoul of the authorities because of his political activism and progressive approach to education. To make matters worse, the professor is also a supporter of the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement, the establishment’s current bête noire.

In short, Mr Jan appears to be exactly the kind of individual for whom the space in Pakistan is rapidly shrinking. But his dismissal is only the latest in a sustained, orchestrated campaign to stifle academic freedom, and impose a blackout on anyone who may lead students, and the wider public, to question state policy, particularly when it ostensibly pertains to national security.

A few days ago, Habib University in Karachi, a supposed bastion of liberal arts, cancelled a talk about ethnic rights, a telling development in the wake of the moves to prevent media coverage of the PTM’s activities. An event planned at Lums in Lahore to commemorate the first death anniversary of Mashal Khan met a similar fate. A few years ago, also at Lums, a talk by Baloch nationalists was cancelled after ‘advice’ from some quarters.

Suppressing dissent ultimately exacts a terrible cost: surely our own history should have taught us that.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2018

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