The value a nation attaches to education reflects the relative importance of brain and brawn – the power of logic versus the logic of power. An educated society is supposedly more civilised, tolerant, and progressive. The inability to understand social and natural phenomena from diverse perspectives leads to a myopic approach to life and the resultant bigotry. History is witness to the fact that civilisations have decayed and ultimately perished whenever use of force has been directed against intellectual development. What we experience all around us – political instability, moral degeneration, social disintegration, and economic downturn – is the outcome of power-property nexus devoid of morality. The poor victims in this vicious struggle for power and property are people like Prof Ajmal Khan. Prof Ajmal Khan, the vice chancellor of Peshawar’s Islamia College University, has been in captivity since Sept 7, for no crime other than his being a blood relation of a person believed to be partly in charge of running the show of an “imposed” war. In his latest video he was seen beseeching for life with faltering tone and glum appearance. For me it is a slap on the face of human civilisation when teachers have to pay for the lust and follies of others. God knows where the buck ultimately stops, but the trend of abductions for ransom and exchange continues to shatter our society from the root. The universities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have been closed as a mark of solidarity and protest. One cannot exactly measure the impact of how such actions would translate into his release but the message is loud and clear that the current state of affairs may lead to volcanic eruption. Bloody revolutions are potentially around the corner when people lose confidence in structures that support the prevailing socioeconomic order. Hopelessness invites radical change. What we see in Pakistan is the phenomena of pervasive corruption, increasing inflation and rampant insecurity that push us all to the wall. Prof Ajmal Khan was emulating his uncle Ali Khan (who is also the uncle of Asfandyar Wali Khan) in university administration. As VC of the ICU, he was working with missionary zeal to transform society through education. I happened to hear him in TV interviews about his vision for higher education in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, ICU in particular. He believes that socio-economic development in Pakistan is linked to taking tertiary education to rural areas where people generally cannot afford to send their children to big cities. In this regard he always advocated distance-learning programmes and opening satellite campuses in remote areas to help educate the underprivileged ones. But unfortunately the war against terrorism has taken its toll in terms of deaths of innocent people, destruction of infrastructure, and psychological disorders in addition to regressing human development. In my view, the devastation is simply beyond measure. As part of the teaching community, I earnestly request the captors as well as the government authorities to ensure the safe release of Prof Ajmal Khan. The agony of his family, his association with a noble profession, his age and, above all, his innocence make a strong case for clemency. Sparing his life would do a lot more for social recovery and rapprochement than the opposite, which would further tear apart the bond of fraternity as Muslims and Pakhtuns. There are so many instances one can provide from the history of Islam that clemency has achieved objectives that otherwise would never be possible through violent means. Let us all forget and forgive for the sake of a bigger cause of Islam and humanity and make the world a peaceful place to live in. Forgiveness is a sign of strength, not weakness.
The writer is an assistant professor at FAST-NU, Peshawar. Email: zeb.khan@ nu.edu.pk