Dawn Editorial 15 September 2019

Buzdar’s new avatar

JUST as fortune-tellers base their predictions on particular signs, the state of the Punjab government under Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar is fundamental to assessing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s emotions at a certain moment in time.
Recent developments suggest that there are at least some serious concerns over how Punjab is being run.
There are reports that the central authority has repeatedly urged Mr Buzdar to come out of his shell and perform. This call from the top has seemingly emboldened the chief minister, who has since been seeing making demands, and not just of the bureaucracy. Taking full advantage of Mr Khan’s advice on how assertive a chief minister should eventually turn out to be, Sardar Buzdar has apparently sought a few concessions from his own leadership.
This is the context in which the exit of two of the chief minister’s advisers is being seen. Mr Awn Chaudhry is known to be a Khan confidant, posted as an adviser to the chief minister in Lahore on some assignment that was never clarified. While this fact doesn’t necessarily make his departure a non-event, his fall has not made the same impact as Dr Shahbaz Gill’s ouster.
Dr Gill was all blood and thunder while defending the Punjab government. His reminders that he was doing it for his leader Imran Khan had only increased with time, and even by his standards the manner in which he discussed Mr Buzdar’s position towards the end of his assignment was odd. It was a remarkable roundabout equation in which Dr Gill prima facie defended Mr Buzdar’s right to be chief minister, but only because he had been handpicked by ‘my leader’ Imran Khan. His reference to the person and demeanour of the prime minister’s choice of chief minister in Punjab had left people wondering, until it emerged that concealed therein may have been Mr Gill’s own grievances against the chief minister — who, recall again, he was serving at his leader’s behest.
Sardar Usman Buzdar is said to have been making his own overtures in search of a new image for himself, apart from escaping the influence of unwanted advisers. Of late, he has managed to convince himself that he can give interviews to the media, especially to those journalists who are not exactly looking to ‘grill’ him here and now.
The chief minister has also tried to adopt a firm line in his directives to the bureaucracy, and the footage of him admonishing some provincial healthcare officers is doing the rounds. Quite clearly, he is on a mission of change, reinforced for the time being by the latest statement in support of him by the prime minister a few days ago. Asked to perform in full public view, he must do it in the knowledge that he is now more likely to attract notice.



University funding

AS the country tries to paddle through a sinking economy, public universities too have been forced to tighten their belts in the face of drastic budget cuts by the federal government. Pakistan’s allocation for higher education in 2018-2019 was already the lowest in the region, at 2.4pc of the GDP, and the recent cuts will end up practically paralysing higher education institutions across the country. The federal government has slashed the overall education budget by around 20pc, while it has allocated Rs28.64bn for the Higher Education Commission, against its demand of Rs55bn — a difference of more than 50pc. This is a significant reduction in funds to institutions that were already cash-strapped and barely meeting their yearly financial requirements. Several universities in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are already finding it difficult to disburse salaries to staff and faculty members. Traditionally, higher education in Pakistan has always been ‘subsidised’. It means that universities spend way more than they are able to earn in the form of revenue through tuition fees from students, and hence rely heavily on government grants for their day-to-day operations, including payment of salaries, allowances and bills. The deep cuts in funding to varsities mean that many ongoing research, development or scholarship programmes will either have to be stalled or scrapped.
Considering that only a fraction of Pakistani youth are able to attend institutes of higher education, if the universities resort to increasing tuition fees, they will end up adding to the educational disparity in the country as young men and women from lower-middle and middle income households will find it difficult to attend universities. It is true that the higher education system, and even the HEC, not only needs reform in the system but also in its ethos; cutting down on already meagre funding for public-sector universities will only end up crippling the entire system. When it was elected to power, the PTI had promised to work towards improving and increasing educational opportunities for young people, who make up the bulk of its support base. According to the UNDP, 29pc of Pakistan’s population — roughly 57m — is between the ages of 15 and 29. Perhaps the government should use this crisis to sit down with academics and scholars and find ways to make universities financially and academically independent, and free from political influence that becomes inevitable if institutions have to rely on periodic cash injections from those in power.



Dress code for girls

COVER up the women, and most — if not all — social ills will magically disappear. The district education office in Haripur clearly subscribes to that blinkered and ignorant view: earlier this week, it introduced a dress code for girl students in its jurisdiction making it mandatory for them to wear an abaya, gown or chador. The circular stated that the measure was being taken “in order to protect them from any unethical incident”. Elaborating further, an official from the education office told this paper that a dupatta or ‘half chador’ was not enough to protect them from increasing incidence of harassment and providing police protection to every girl student was not possible.
Observing purdah by choice is one thing, but being forced to do so is another matter altogether. The view that the female gender must follow rigid norms of behaviour if she is to keep herself safe from the predatory male gaze, finds many takers in this patriarchal society. Boys, after all, will be boys. This is more than a simplistic notion; it is a dangerous one. It legitimises a power imbalance in which the man is the ‘hunter’ and the woman the ‘prey’. Moreover, when men’s bad behaviour is seen as a ‘natural’ consequence of women behaving in a manner that arouses the male gender’s worst instincts, such reasoning is presented as a mitigating circumstance even in violent crimes such as rape. If they choose to go to court, rape victims are often forced to endure — at the investigation and trial stage — intrusive questioning and the imputation that they ‘brought it on themselves’. It is extremely unfortunate that the parents of some students in Haripur are reportedly supportive of the education board’s move. They should, instead, educate their sons that respect for the opposite gender, or those who identify as transgender, is not predicated on apparel or lifestyle. And state authorities, rather than policing the bodies of women, should ensure that harassers are punished as per the law.



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