Dawn
Dawn

BAHAWALPUR: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has plans to set up south Punjab secretariat at the Old Abbasia Campus of the Islamia University, Bahawalpur.

A message in this regard has reportedly been conveyed to the varsity’s vice chancellor.

As the government’s plan leaked out, it went viral on social media prompting a wave of strong protest from the civil society members, political, social, and religious circles.

The IUB’s Abbasia Campus is home to around 1,200 boys and girls residents in hostels, while another 4,500 students reside in Baghdad Campus, where the actual capacity was around 2,500 students.

While the top bureaucracy in the province thinks that the ultimate decision will be taken by the IUB Syndicate, others believe that the decision to use varsity’s campus was a sensitive issue and would ultimately be decided at the prime minister’s level.

Sources say the decision to use varsity’s campus for the secretariat would also become a bone of contention between foreign minister and Bahawalpur group. More importantly, sources say, South Punjab has become a swing state politically and any decision to change its status would leave a major impact.

Rejecting the government plan to convert the varsity campus into secretariat offices, the protesters say it was a matter of concern that the PTI government which had promise to convert the prime minister and governor houses into universities was now looking to convert a historic public sector university campus into a newly-created South Punjab secretariat.

ACS (South) Saqib Zafar did not reply to a Dawn’s query whether the decision to taking over of the IUB Abbasia Campus for secretariat had been taken and in case it was decided, where thousands of resident students would go.

At present, the secretariat is at the premises of the Bahawalpur Circuit House where the offices of additional chief secretary (ACS) while his camp office along with official residence were in the former residence of IUB’s vice-chancellor near GPO adjacent to the residences of the GOC and divisional commissioner, Bahawalpur. The Punjab government spent millions on their renovation last year.

Dawn learned that the premier and magnificent building with its archaeological importance of the historic campus, which gives a very attractive look in first glance to any of the visitors or tourist to the campus, caught the attention of former south Punjab ACS Zahid Akhtar Zaman last year who had declared it suitable for the secretariat.

During the inspection of the building, he could not control his emotions and expressed his desire to Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Athar Mehboob to establish the secretariat in the building.

Though the university administration is dealing with the issue in a cautious manner, IUB students began their protest drive against the government move and took out a protest rally on the campus on Monday.

The VC told Dawn that “verbally, we have been told of the government’s intention in official meetings held for this agenda”.

Besides the IUB students and employees, IUB Academic Staff Association President Prof Dr Javed Chandio and Secretary Dr Syed Safdar Hussain strongly reacted against the government’s move and hinted at launching a strong resistance if the government went ahead with its plan.

Talking to Dawn, they regretted the government’s unjust stand with regard to establish its secretariat here. They said that the Abbasia old campus was in fact a symbol of the identity of the IUB.

They said that the campus was a gift from the late Nawab of Bahawalpur and was proof of his patronage for knowledge and education.

They appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, IUB Chancellor/Governor Muhammad Sarwar and Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar to withdraw the proposal. The late Nawab had established the institution at this site comprising 26 acres located in the heart of the city under the name of Jamia Abbasia in 1925, on the pattern of Jamia Al-Azhar, Cairo, Egypt.

In 1950, the late Nawab Muhammad Abbas Abbasi laid the foundation stone of the central building while in 1975, during ZAB’s rule, it was converted into a university through an act passed by the then Punjab Assembly.

(Mansoor Malik also contributed to this report from Lahore)

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2021

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