It appears that Pakistani universities, at times, function more as nunneries than varsities instituted to impart education. Following the Government College University Faisalabad’s recent dress code notice to students — al beit later withdrawn — the University of Sargodha, Lahore has initiated a similar move. Not only did it issue a dress code, asking students to dress modestly, it also warned students that two people of the opposite gender cannot sit together and termed this “inappropriate interaction”. The absurd priorities of our educational institutions are not unnoticed here. Increasingly so, they seem to be obsessed with how students, and particularly female students, conduct themselves. Instead of focusing on improving educational standards, and ensuring that there is no gender discrimination or sexual harassment, universities in Pakistan are still bogged down by trivial matters.
The very essence of academia is being ignored here. The purpose of the university is to open minds by encouraging interaction with students from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and this also means students mixing with the opposite gender to help their understanding of people and the world. The university administration in the above case has instead attempted to close the minds of students. Those in positions of power are responsible for creating certain dichotomies and mindsets that graduates carry forward into the ‘real world’. Successful universities encourage students to step out of their comfort zones in order to learn; ours seek to stunt personal growth and learning, potentially damaging students forever by instilling regressive ideologies. It is not for universities to regulate either interaction between students or their choice of attire, which is considered a form of individuality and something that this culture heavily lacks. Universities are meant to be spaces for higher learning and critical thinking. They are not there to impose a regressive, twisted ideology based on misogyny and a misplaced sense of propriety.
Turning around fortunes
The Asian Development Bank is set to give its approval to a $300-million loan, aimed at reforming public-sector enterprises (PSE) that have caused fiscal deficits and wastage of taxpayers’ money over the years with little or no improvement in performance. Pakistan Railways, which will be at the centre of the loan package, is required to undertake six policy actions, including retrenchment — or cutting down — of its workforce. The size of the loan has been doubled from $150 million at Pakistan’s request, in another sign that our money managers are happy in being trapped in a vicious cycle of loans and repayments. This loan package will require some tough decisions to be taken on reforming railways, improving its day-to-day affairs while submitting the workforce to a rationalisation plan — in other words, looking for ways to control expenditures and increase revenue.
There is no doubt that our PSEs have room for improvement, some more than others. While there are strategic compulsions involved in the government continuing to own some PSEs, there are a few of these entities that have proved to be huge burdens on the national exchequer. The railways, in contrast, has been one of those entities that have tried making improvements. But conflicts over its land assets, deep-rooted structural issues, poor service and outdated infrastructure have meant that it has only been able to go so far in achieving its targeted turnaround. The railways has a vast market that it can take advantage of. A huge rural population and an inability to afford air travel give it a strategic advantage. So why has it remained a loss-incurring entity? The reason is simple — it hasn’t operated like a business should, but as an outdated government department that lacks vision and an understanding on how to improve service quality. Coupled with lack of investments, this has led to further deterioration. One hopes that this loan package will help in turning the railways’ fortunes around and that the government does a better job negotiating the retrenchment plan with the employees than it did in PIA’s case.
Join the Club
Pakistan has now formally applied to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is a group of nuclear nations that trade goods, supplies and technologies between themselves. There are 48 nations in the group and our application was made on May 19 in Vienna by our ambassador. This is far from being a simple procedure and is no ordinary application. India is also seeking membership of the NSG, and neither India nor Pakistan are signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). As a group, the NSG is dedicated to seeking to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by implementing a stringent set of guidelines for the export of nuclear products.
Despite not being a signatory of the NPT, India has support from the US, the UK, Russia and France for NSG membership. Pakistan probably has the support of China in its application and China has the power of veto over India’s proposed membership, which it may or may not exercise. The NSG is clear in its mandate — every member must be a signatory of the NPT and with Pakistan and India clearly not, a host of knotty questions arise. The group was created in 1974 as a direct response to India’s first nuclear test, and today Washington is supporting that country in its bid for an NSG slot after negotiating a set of discriminatory exemptions enabling the signing of a civil nuclear deal, not a facility which is on the table in terms of US-Pakistan relations. Pakistan in its application to the NSG argues that its security procedures are robust, at least as robust as India’s which is ranked 23rd out of 25 countries in terms of quality of nuclear security practices, followed by Iran and North Korea. The market for nuclear materials and products is considerable and highly profitable. Against this, Pakistan still carries the burden of a global trust deficit in matters of nuclear non-proliferation, which is not going to fade any time soon. But the dynamics of geopolitics have shifted since the NSG was formed in 1974. Alliances and balances of power as well as regional and global interests have changed. At the very least an interesting struggle is in development.