Countering campus extremism

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We share Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani’s concerns over reports that Karachi University is considering handing over the data of its students to intelligence agencies and asking students to obtain clearance certificates from law enforcers. As universities across the country confront the menace of extremism on their campuses, let us remind them that the solution does not lie in expanding their powers of surveillance and using those to monitor students’ activities. It is hard to imagine that in such a circumstance universities will be able to do what they are meant to do: promote a culture of tolerance and pluralism as well as critical inquiry and debate on all issues of academic interest. Over the years, the absence of these characteristics has impacted the quality of research and education, rendering our universities incapable of nurturing critical faculties of those admitted into their degree programmes. This has meant that even the best of our graduates aren’t equipped with analytical tools to engage and accommodate different worldviews.
Without recognising and undoing this collective failure of institutions that govern and organise social life in Pakistan, there can be no solution to extremism on campuses. And this brings us to the key question: what is to be done to check extremist influences among students?
Unlike the KU administration, NED University in the same city has reportedly agreed that a sense of participation needs to be inculcated among students besides the administrative staff for countering militant tendencies. We will go a step further and suggest that participation of students, besides teachers and administrators, should not just be restricted to implementation of the plan for countering militancy. The plan should be devised in consultation with students’ representatives. Unfortunately, the only viable institution that could have represented the students in a democratic manner remains banned by the state itself for three decades. Let us not waste any more time in restoring student unions in campuses across Pakistan.
Also necessary is an examination of the syllabus taught at various science and business degree programmes and the need for incorporation of humanities subjects as compulsory components in bachelor’s degrees