As if the prolonged hours of loadshedding and inflation, the deep political divide between PPP and PML-N and the ongoing standoff between the judiciary and the executive, were not enough to cause dismay among the people, a new wave of demonstration at various educational institutions by political activists has made an already bad situation worse.

Punjab, particularly, is ablaze with strong protests against electricity loadshedding. The Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, has threatened to embark on a long march to Islamabad against power cuts and topple the Gilani government. In the same vein, the Prime Minister challenged the Sharifs to “bring a no confidence motion” against him. Adding that: “If the PML-N leadership has courage, then they should resign from the assemblies and I will announce by-polls on the same day.” The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, also rightly said that the governmental machinery had broken down completely, as it was President Asif Zardari who had to hold meetings to discuss the ongoing energy crisis in the presidency.

Moreover, there was unrest in the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), since a large number of students “boycotted the classes and staged a sit-in outside the Administration Block against the expulsion of 11 students - all of whom are office-bearers of the Seraiki, Baloch, Pashtun, Punjabi, Gilgit-Baltistani and Sindhi councils - by the university disciplinary committee”, after which the campus and the hostels were shut down for a week.

The protesting students alleged that after the university reopened “they were forced to sign ‘affidavits’ in which they effectively were forced to relinquish all of their democratic rights.” They also asserted that originally the reasons for demonstration were insufficient water supply to hostels and unhygienic canteen services. Though the protest ended peacefully, the issue still remains unresolved. It seems that if no effort is made to resolve the students’ ‘legitimate’ concerns, the protests will start again and perhaps spread to other universities/colleges that is a bad omen for Pakistan’s education sector.

Strangely, student political activism linked with the booti mafia has a different axe to grind in Sindh. Reportedly, the activists of Pakhtun Students Federation (PSF) and All-Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO) recently “joined hands to resist the moves the intermediate board made to curb the cheating culture during exams.” In an unfortunate incident, they barged into the office Government National College’s (GNC) Principal, Professor Waseem Adil, “to punish him for ‘not cooperating’ during the Urdu intermediate exam.” Pathetically, the Sindh Education Department and law enforcing agencies did not take action against them. This is evident of the breakdown of administrative authority in the province.

A strong booti mafia also existed in the Punjab in 1998-99. However, the then Chief Minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, took strong measures to eliminate the cheating culture. Ever since, the education sector has mostly been trouble free. The University of the Punjab, too, in the past was under the influence of political activists. But they are out of power since the present Vice Chancellor took over.

The same example applies at the national level where given a peaceful environment with a leadership determined to exploit all resources for the betterment of the people, there is no reason why Pakistan cannot effectively deal with the present internal and external challenges.

Having said that, it is important to realise that if the government has the political will to pull Pakistan out of the present mess and win the war against ignorance and illiteracy, it must at least allocate 5 percent of GDP for education instead of the present 2 percent. If it fails to do so, the government will only be cheating the nation about giving top priority to the education sector.

As a final word, the world is a battlefield in which only those nations that posses better knowledge and technology will survive!

    The writer is President of the Pakistan National Forum.