Written by Ibrahim Zulfiqar
PESHAWAR: 10th April 2023. It has been more than a month since The University of Peshawar (UoP) closed its gates indefinitely in a conundrum of protests from multiple stakeholders. The decision to close the institute came as a result of all the faculty and professors going out on strike following the tragic killing of security supervisor, Saqlain Bangash, by a security guard. The students have also resorted to the streets demanding the reopening of the college.
The decision for a complete boycott was made during a meeting of the Joint Action Committee, in collaboration with the Peshawar University Teachers Association (PUTA) after the killing of the security supervisor. PUTA believes that the tragic incident is an eye-opener to the negligent security personnel employed by the institute, they demand a thorough investigation into the training and employment process of these personnel along with another 16 demands.
In response to the protest, University of Peshawar Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Mohammad Idrees, issued a detailed statement claiming that the administration had already accepted almost all the demands, and there was no justification for the protest. However, the protesting employees have dismissed his claims as baseless and are determined to continue the strike.
While speaking to a student union head, Muhammad Asfandyar, we learned that the ground realities were much different and nuanced in contrast to what was being reported. Asfandyar revealed an inquiry that had taken place which concluded the tragic incident as actually an accident. The continued strike by the staff is not for the peace and wellbeing of academicians but ‘to score leverage over the vice chancellor for sinister demands such as increased salaries’ he added. Perhaps the most alarming among these revelations was that PUTA was also given a green signal by the sitting governor of the interim government, Ghulam Ali, to continue striking which he would use as political pressure to remove the vice chancellor and appoint a new one of mutual choice, resulting in everyone’s demands being met. However, since the current government is an interim one, the governor soon realized that his powers were limited, and efforts made to remove the Vice Chancellor were in vain. Orphaned from their political backing, PUTA has no choice but to continue striking and hoping the Vice Chancellor could somehow be removed otherwise it would be their jobs and reputation in question if the university opens any time soon.
Amidst all this politicization of a tragic death for personal gains, the students are suffering. It is their fundamental right to education that is hindered as a consequence. Muhammad mentioned that in the last decade, the campus had closed 9 times before this. The student union is united under the opinion that, [considering the fragile conditions of the province], ‘the blatant denial of education is a form of educational, economic, and social terrorism, which in no form is acceptable’.
It is rather egregious to use a tragic death for vested interests, but it is considerably worse to continue living in the university’s houses allocated for the staff and getting full salaries at the expense of the most important stakeholders, the students, suffering. We hope that the institute can reopen soon, and the student’s education may resume.
The writer Ibrahim Zulfiqar was born and raised in Peshawar