The Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) has been working for the promotion of diversity and inclusion in society. Its recent consultation titled ‘Promoting narratives of diversity, inclusion, and peace among youth’ gathered some of the finest minds in Islamabad such as A H Nayyar, Ishtiaque Ahmed, Khalid Masud, Khursheed Nadeem, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Qibla Ayaz, Romana Bashir and others.
The event provided an opportunity for the participants to express their views. Amir Rana, who heads the institute, facilitated the session and encouraged the audience to speak their minds without reservation. Dr A H Nayyar focused more on the educational aspect of the official Pakistani narrative which has been inherently anti-diversity. He cited the example of the Single National Curriculum (SNC) that the PTI government tried to foist on Pakistan and succeeded to some extent. Dr Nayyar has been a strong critic of the SNC and has been writing about it.
Dr Khalid Masud is a judge of the Shariah Appellate Bench in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He talked about the disconnect between qualitative and quantitative research in Pakistan. Most universities in the country have been conducting quantitative research at the cost of quality. They carry out surveys, compile data and produce reports that do not reflect qualitative changes taking place in society. Dr Masud suggested that discussing democracy and constitution requires a qualitative understanding of these concepts, and the same applies to citizenship education that should be a priority in Pakistan’s educational institutions.
Khursheed Nadeem is a renowned scholar of Islam, though with modesty he introduces himself as a student of Islamic history and ideology. He is a prolific writer with a wide readership in Urdu. He pointed out that in Pakistan people somehow lack an understanding on how to distinguish between various aspects of religion.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy lamented the continuous ban on student unions in Pakistan’s colleges and universities. To him, students’ involvement in associations and unions trains them as constructive interlocutors in political dialogue. Successive governments in Pakistan – especially military dictatorships – have stemmed the flow of ideas in nearly all institutions, resulting in a stagnant intellectual atmosphere in which no creativity survives. A majority of faculty members lack fundamental understanding of the basic concepts even in their own fields of specializations. That is one reason university graduates have degrees but no skills in applied and social sciences.
Dr Muhammad Ali from the QAU talked about Pakistani education system’s failure to follow a student-centric approach to learning and teaching. Most faculty members possess degrees in their own fields but do not have any training in teaching methods. He suggested that nobody should be entrusted with teaching without first acquiring some practical skills and a theoretical knowledge of classroom interaction and ethics of pedagogy. The system of promotion that requires 10 years’ experience and 15 published papers is faulty and needs reconsideration as it has goaded teachers to indulge in a rat race to publish substandard papers.
Dr Qibla Ayaz is the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology and a clear-headed thinker. He stressed the need for deradicalization on campuses and suggested that a stagnant approach to education in terms of religion should give way to a more dynamic understanding of beliefs that should not target other faiths. Without this dynamism, we keep moving in circles and society itself becomes intolerant. A wider understanding of religion where constructive discussions take place is a better option than rote learning and memorization. Religious radicalism is a clear and present danger that needs serious considerations.
Romana Bashir is a human rights and minority rights activist who has devoted at least 25 years to promoting harmony and peace in Pakistan. She shared experiences that students from various religious groups go through in Pakistan. She highlighted the importance of mutual respect in education so that students grow up as tolerant and friendly citizens rather than an intolerant lot that targets students of other faiths. She suggested that teachers need special training in fostering harmonious relations with students practising belief systems. She also held political parties responsible for not doing enough for promoting harmony in society.
At the event, participants also received a research report ‘Making sense of Pakistani youth’. Since PIPS is essentially an advocacy and research organization, it does analysis of independent and innovative studies. Youth radicalization is threatening social stability in Pakistan; this study sought to understand incidents of religiously motivated violence at educational campuses. Growing radicalization among the educated youth is resulting in youth-led vigilante crimes which are increasingly becoming common in countries such as India and Pakistan – both victims of their own radicalism. The study by PIPS (available online) aimed to unpack this ugly phenomenon.
Of course, there is a perilous combination of factors with an unmanaged youth bulge being one of the foremost. Coupled with it is a declining rule of law which reflects itself in law enforcement being unable or unwilling to intervene – or coming too late after the crimes have claimed lives and properties. In India, the Gujarat massacre and recent violence is a case in point. In Pakistan there have been numerous attacks on non-Muslim settlements and places of worship. Even Muslims with a slightly different bend of mind are not spared by other youth who take it upon themselves to ‘punish the culprits’ even if they have done nothing wrong.
The youth policies that the governments in Pakistan and other countries of South Asia develop are normally full of cliches that regurgitate the same banal statements. Education policies are also an example of this verbiage that makes tall claims and fails on most fronts. These policies create more ambiguity than any clarity of thought and state functionaries thrive on these ambiguities. The more opaque a policy is, the harder it is to hold anyone accountable for its failure. In India and Pakistan, states themselves have become promoters of extremism, while pretending to fight against it.
The state of Pakistan has nearly always had a doctrinal and exclusivist education, whereas India is catching up fast under the sinister rule of the BJP. In some ways, the BJP-RSS nexus has managed to outdo Pakistan in this destructive race. In Pakistan, state-approved education allows only peculiar interpretations of history. While in India under Congress rule it was more inclusive, now the BJP appears to be following in the same footsteps to teach only BJP-approved versions of history. This approach has stunted cognitive growth in Pakistani youth, and the same is now happening in India.
The educational discourse that instils suspicion for multiculturalism is bound to add to religious radicalization, and that is exactly what happened in Pakistan and the same is now taking place in India. So, what is the solution? At the PIPS event, there was near consensus about promoting democratic norms in society and promoting respect for basic human freedoms through education and the media. Sadly, both education and the media are controlled and regulated by the state and even seemingly private educational institutions are unable to hold free debate, as such discussions are strictly monitored by the national security lens.
There has to be a swift move from an illiberal education and propaganda to a more liberal – at least in its social dimensions – interpretation of history and society.
The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at:
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