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EDITORIAL: Surely, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government could have handled the matter of protesting teachers, who wanted nothing more than a withdrawal of allegedly unfair reforms, than giving them the old police treatment complete with tear-gassing, baton-charging, injuring and arresting at least 21 unarmed, peacefully protesting and otherwise very respectable citizens of the state. The provincial chapter of the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (Fapuasa) has been advocating for the withdrawal of proposed education reforms because they call for a reduction in allowances of university employees and ending free education for their children. The body has also been demanding a provincial chapter of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) under the 18th Amendment. And when their calls and protests went unanswered for five days they decided to march from the Peshawar University to the KP assembly and blocked the main road very briefly, which seemingly unleashed the state’s fury instead of a high-level effort to acknowledge, if not address, the teachers’ demands.

It’s a bit rich, given the circumstances, of the KP police chief to defend his force’s actions by implying that while peaceful protest was the right of every citizen, the police was forced to act because protesters in this case blocked a road and inconvenienced citizens. Nobody would have had issue with such statements, or indeed procedures, if only it weren’t so blatantly obvious to everybody that the police only acts when it is certain that protesters are not backed by powerful lobbies and that they would not, in turn, thrash the force in addition to blocking roads. For, when political and religious groups block roads, and the latter even openly destroy public property, the police high command and even the government feels it is fine, for some reason, to engage in negotiations with them. Not so for teachers who feel their salaries should not be reduced at a time when government servants are literally salivating at the prospect of a 10 or 20 percent increase in their wages in the upcoming budget. And what is so wrong with demanding a provincial chapter of HEC for KP, just like Sindh and Punjab, and asking the provincial government to increase the higher education budget instead of arbitrarily reducing it?

It’s no surprise really that just as the police force was putting teachers in their place outside the assembly, lawmakers inside it were regretting the ‘unprecedented powers’ given to the force under the KP Police Act, 2017, which made it answerable to the Inspector General (IG) instead of the Chief Minister (CM) in a bid to make it more independent and free of political influence. It seems that no sooner than the ink had dried on the Act that police officers began harassing not just ordinary citizens but also powerful politicians from all sides of the spectrum; except perhaps the ruling party. And now a reforms committee of the ruling party is already apparently very busy finalising recommendations that would cut some of the powers given to the police. The experiment, which counted on law enforcement authorities to become more responsible with more autonomy, was clearly a very bad idea that simply did not work.

It’s a crying shame, all things considered, that teachers are given such little respect in this country. Perhaps the one, true way of putting this country right is educating its youth properly, but low pay and a life without respect are just some of the issues that keep our best minds well away from professions like teaching. The result has been a very obvious disintegration of society right before our eyes over the last few decades. And now, learning from the treatment meted out to teachers simply for demanding their legitimate rights, it’s not very likely that the best Pakistani minds of the next generation would be too inclined towards the noble profession either. That this is happening during the ruling tenure of PTI, which made sure that everybody could hear the noise it made about things just like education reforms, is particularly disheartening. You can make all sorts of new rules you like but unless you have the personnel with the capability needed to implement them they would be neither here nor there. This is exactly what happened to police reforms and also what is happening to education reforms. It seems it is the government that needs to do its own homework before requiring others to do theirs.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021