A general overview of the socio-political background boosted up a few young students who gathered into a group BARGAD in 1997 with clear understanding of why democracy failed in Pakistan.
They were sure of what specific direction do we need to take as a course in future that could ensure the promotion of the culture of peace and engagement of young people in healthy dialogue on democratic issues of non-violence, tolerance, and pluralism.
This energetic group based upon democratic values showed their concerns about human rights violation and devised strategies to initiate a dialogue with youth groups. To launch this right based movement at the youth community level the group was formally registered on May 23, 1998.
The pioneering core of the group came from the Punjab University (PU) whose environment particularly after 80’s was also like other educational institutes of Pakistan. Click to know more about degradation of the environment of educational institutes in Pakistan
An Insight into the environment of Pakistani Educational Institutes
Pakistan is in a critical transitory situation today. Whereas it is still recovering from the proxy Afghan war between the USSR and the USA and the unfolding of subsequent events of world-shaking capabilities in the region, the most fundamental functions of the civil society are underdeveloped in the country to sustain a shift from the conflict affected state to a peaceful nation. Needless to say, a long history of tense relations with India make the job more tough. Such a country requires massive input to progress on the human development scales and to build internal and regional peace from every side of the social, political and economic life. However, young and especially the educated people are those who can turn this vision into reality.
The higher education communities need to build a network of peace and youth cooperation, acting in collaboration with the universities’ administration, to articulate peace and cooperation concerns at the campuses, and to develop strategies and support activities to address those concerns in a way that the students can rally around them in institutionalized manner. This would involve both activism at the students level and intervention in the education related policies.
A closer look at Pakistan’s education scenario assures that there is visible link between education policies and the politics of the cold war in the region.
All the sitting regimes in Pakistan have always resorted to encourage their handpicked youth groups in Pakistani education institutions, but with the advent of war in Afghanistan this process reached to its heights in the 80s.
The Gen. Zia government in Pakistan, in an attempt to create its constituency - in search of its legitimacy and recruitment internally and to garner more patronage for Afghan war externally - started to revise curriculum, purge political opponents and encourage militant youth groups, mobilized in the name of so-called ideology, to practically occupy college and university campuses in Pakistan.
The method to engage youth clusters with conflict approaches also involved making conflict conceivable so that it was thinkable and deemed necessary and inevitable. Education and media were the main tools by which militarism entered not only at the practical levels but also encroached upon the cognitive and social constructs of the polity’s educated inhabitants. Through both instruments, a militarist discourse was facilitated by myth-making and enemy-making in the name of national interest. To this end, collective violence was motivated and justified, as well as such convictions were instilled that made violence possible in the social, political and religious spheres. This can be witnessed in what we now popularly call a Kalashnikov culture at the campuses.
It was also kept in vigilant surveillance that the students should have lesser opportunities to interact with each other so that the prospects of any student mobilization could be minimized. Hence, a decline in co-curricular activities and non-existence of professional student clubs. There were some exceptions to the rule; in that healthy activities and leadership development programmes were allowed in a few selected educational institutions that have traditionally been sources of providing professional and bureaucratic elite of the country i.e. Government College University Lahore, Kinnaird College Lahore, Aitchison College Lahore etc.
The then military regime exploited the traditional Madrassah education in its favour. However, the Madrassahs have been a source of informal as well as formal education throughout the subcontinent since ages.
The net result is that the education bodies are left to be divided on ideological, class, ethnic and political lines rendering less space for conducive environment for learning, student development and youth cooperation at the campuses.
The answer to decades long politicization and social apathy at the campuses can be found in a combination of academic mobilization programmes and students’ strategic partnerships at the micro level.
We highlight this micro aspect because when bigger ideologies have only imparted us a reservoir of conflict, politicization and warm citizenry on ideological and parochial bases we need to seek neutral entry points and affirmative actions that we can manage at our situated contexts, in this case the universities and colleges of higher education. Otherwise, whatever we would do is bound to fall as parts of the binary political oppositions operative at the campuses.
The need to revitalize education for peace, youth cooperation and common good cannot be over-emphasized at this critical juncture of Pakistan’s history. We think the time has come that the education communities of Pakistan should resort to define their professional boundaries, come out of parochial politics and envisage avenues of possible action in the light of their own needs rather than becoming part of a general and abstract notion of youth action.
There also seems a realization at the top levels of the present regime now that it is compelled to reverse the policies of cold war and a combat against communism knocking at its doors no more. In the education sector, for example, the government has promulgated new legislation for higher education (Nov 2002) that vows to get rid of the past policies. It is based on the report prepared by the task force on higher education in Pakistan (March 2002) set up at the federal ministry of education, government of Pakistan, which clearly enumerates in its mission statement to “build a tolerant and pluralistic society rooted in the culture of Pakistan”.