Located in the beautiful city of Lahore,Punjab University is one of the oldest universities in Pakistan with a great history dating far back to 1882. Producing thousands of graduates in various fields annually with specialty in courses including Oriental Languages, Law and Commerce for over 80 years, Punjab University has a good number of students from Africa including Nigeria. In this interview with Raliat Ahmed-Yusuf who was in Lahore,Pakistan,the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Zafar Mueen Nasir enumerated the institution’s roles in students’ orientation against terrorism and the success stories recorded so far in rooting out terrorists from the Asian country.
As head of one of the oldest universities in Pakistan,how has the institution impacted the lives of Pakistani citizens?
We are one of the success stories especially in the fight against terrorism. We made a lot of sacrifices and also a resolve to fight terrorism. We fought it and with God on our side we are very successful and now terrorism is almost rooted out of our country. We took a decision to save our country from crises when our leaders decided to have a national action plan and accordingly our army rendered a lot of sacrifices. Our civilians who were martyred during these crises stood with the nation and today the situation is entirely different .As far as perception is concerned we really need to work on it.About one month ago while working in Dubai I discovered that when you are outside you really don’t know the actual situation.What you see is through the eyes of the camera and the media was not projecting the reality. So I think we are working with regards to that and we are trying to present the real picture of what is going on here.The situation as you might have seen for yourself is as normal as it could be in any other country. Of course there are some missing links but by God’s grace as time goes on we shall be addressing them.
What efforts are being put in place to change this negative perception?
We are not only victims of terrorism but we are victims of negative propaganda as well.The time has come to fight that on all its fronts and we are very determined. We have all the capability and capacity to root out all these problems from our society .We have already started working on CPAC(National Action Plan) which is a very ambitious plan of our development. We are building a lot of hotels and resorts with the perception that Pakistan will soon become a hub of tourism and not terrorism.
Institutions like yours have a huge role to play in educating the people, especially at the university level because most of these people are brainwashed and radicalised by scholars who claim to be fighting in the name if religion. How is your institution helping youth from been co-opted into the barbaric act terrorism?
I don’t want to go into the past but I can tell you about the future.We have already started working in those directions – we are not only educating them(our students) but training them and giving them those skills which will not put them in the trap of these so called terror networks. We are also giving them a platform to present themselves in a positive way so that negative thoughts will not occupy their minds.We are going to start the counselling system with some mentors who shall guide them on certain aspects of life. Because sometimes frustration lead some of them into terrorists’ activities. We are trying to work on their personalities by giving them opportunity to interact in a conducive environment in a bid to give them a good civic sense.This will take their minds off all forms of temptations of going into acts that are detrimental to both themselves and the society.
You are in a good position to discuss the educational development in your country.Tell us the state of education in Pakistan in the last few years?
The situation is not very bad because there is always room for improvement which we always have to look for .When I took over about a month ago I felt that we have to really put more efforts in developing the quality of our education curriculum and integrate international brands into our systems. Hopefully if we blend our education system with international trends the gaps which we already identified can easily be bridged and those deficiencies which I observed will easily be addressed.We are working very hard and the future is bright because we are determined to raise the bar as far as education is concerned.
Pakistan and Nigeria have enjoyed robust relationship over the years.In the area of education,how do you think both countries can collaborate for the mutual benefits of both sides?
One of the ways is to have MoUs between Pakistan and Nigeria universities. Currently,we have a number of students from not only Africa but Nigeria as well. Basically, in some of our departments especially the sciences, there are a lot of African students but we can increase the number. About twenty to thirty years back we had the majority of students coming from Africa but now because of certain factors some of that traffic have been diverted to some other countries. But if we work sincerely and we can really have that understanding we can improve the number of students to Pakistan while our students too can go to Africa and we can learn from each other. We can also have a teachers’ exchange programme .Our higher education commission is very active in this particular area and we have been receiving a lot of teachers from other countries.
How many Nigerian students are presently studying on this campus?
We have some students from Nigeria at the college of pharmacy who are doing very well. We have also dedicated one full hospital to our international students.
Can you tell us about the girl child education because we have heard a lot, especially the issue of Malala which has been associated with repression of the girl as regards education . What would you say to those whose impression you might want to change in that regards?
The ground reality is totally different from the image projected by the media because if you take a look around the university you would see that there are more female students than males.This perception that we are restricting the girls’ education is not true.Even in the remote parts of Pakistan people are willing to send their daughters to colleges and universities. There is a very small gender gap and over the years the gap has been declining. So it is not true that the girl child is not given equal opportunities as the boys – we are promoting our girls in all aspects of life .We can assure you that we are very fair and attracting the girl students as well as boys. We are also open to giving them admissions in any area of their interests.