Published: April 10, 2015

At least LUMS could attempt to hold such a discussion.

At least LUMS could attempt to hold such a discussion. PHOTO: MUSA NAJAM/DEVIANT ART At least LUMS could attempt to hold such a discussion.

Eight years ago, on a November afternoon, I stood with hundreds of students at LUMS protesting against a military dictator. The students held placards, shouting slogans, and we were effectively having a stand-off with the police. Riot police with heavy armour, shields and batons was employed by the government to silence our voices. The police had warrants to arrest several students, and professors, on phony charges of ‘wall-chalking’ and vandalism. The scene was set for a direct confrontation.

The impasse was broken by the direct intervention of the then Vice-chancellor of LUMS, Dr Syed Zahoor Hassan. The police retreated from entering LUMS and we were allowed to safely protest away from the gates. If this happened in Balochistan, I wonder how many of us would have ended up on the infamous ‘missing persons’ list.

On Wednesday, a talk organised at LUMS featuring the Baloch activist Mama Qadeer was ordered to be cancelled. The report of the intervention from security forces has not been confirmed but the event was henceforth cancelled.

What is confirmed is that the event was cancelled after pressure from officials. Befittingly the posters of the event titled ‘Unsilencing Balochistan’ were rechristened to read ‘Resilencing Balochistan’.

This is not the first time the state has directly intervened to curb freedom of speech in the country. The state heavily regulates the educational institutes in the country effectively acting as a censor watchdog. However, this is the first time the students protested against such an encroachment on their freedoms.

The students of LUMS protested in the university, and social media was array with protests, and condemnations to the extent that #ShameOnLUMS was trending in Pakistan.

However, I found it strange to find out that the hashtag was not being perpetuated by people criticising LUMS for buckling under the pressure and cancelling the event but rather LUMS was being criticised for inviting Mama Qadeer for the talk in the first place.

LUMS prides itself on promoting divergent opinions, debate and discourse. As a former student of the university, I have freely debated history, religion and the state of Pakistan in class rooms. My professors engaged me to think critically, and crucial to critical thinking is being open to the other side of the debate.

You may have an opinion on every single matter but that should not preclude you from weighing the opinion of others on its merits. Whatever anyone’s position on Balochistan, or Mama Qadeer specifically, might be, they should still be open to listening to his point of view.

The unwarranted intervention of the state into this debate has quashed any possibility of the debate on the matter on the pretext that the debate might “malign Pakistan”.

The idea of Pakistan is this mysterious idea that can be enforced anytime to silence anyone. The judiciary, the government, or even the constitution does not stand a chance in front of this idea. Nobody is quite sure what this idea is but we have heard it enough times to know that it does surely exist. It is like the idea of honour. You may not have it but you can use it to justify killing people in its name.

It may be coincidental that the social media outpour of criticism against LUMS for inviting Mama Qadeer comes not after the event was announced but after the event was cancelled. There is no evidence to show that such hashtags are deliberately created and promoted in Pakistan by specific organisations.

The ‘organic’ trend covers everything from the size of clothes women wear in LUMS to the size of Sohail Naqvi’s moustache, from the dance parties to the re-tweeting of opinions, there is a plethora of evidence against LUMS repeatedly “maligning Pakistan”. The fact that most of this evidence is photo-shopped is irrelevant. In the modern age, if a statement is re-tweeted enough times, it de facto becomes true.

People have taken private pictures of individuals from various universities to act as representative of the ‘LUMS culture’. These pictures include swimming pools, women in saris, dance parties, and hooli/rang parties. With a handful of tweets, the prestigious educational institution has been reduced to the very definition of everything that is wrong with Pakistan.

Suddenly, LUMS is not only anti-Pakistan but it is also ‘clearly’ funded by RAW and worships India. The debate has been hijacked from the human rights violation committed in Balochistan to the culture at LUMS. It will eventually be reduced to people abusing each other on social media, and everyone will forget about the issue at hand.

It is an effective strategy used multiple times by the state to distract the attention of the masses. Too much focus on Pakistan’s military assistance in the Yemen conflict? Let’s have PTI and PML-N fight it out in Parliament instead.

There will be more human rights violation in Balochistan, there will be more people silenced for allegedly challenging the mysterious idea of Pakistan, and there will be more freedoms curtailed in the name of security in Pakistan but with every new news story, the old one will be forgotten, especially if it is a news story concerning Balochistan.

Unfortunately, our attention spans will only be limited to the latest news story. We will focus on the controversial and confrontational aspects of the debate rather than its merits. With a few cock fighting matches, the debate will be forgotten.

If we continue to discourage critical thinking in our educational institutions, if we continue to disregard the other side solely based on our misplaced ideas of religion, or nationhood, or morality, then we will continue to live in our age of ignorance.

#ShameOnLUMS for trying to be different.

At least LUMS could attempt to hold such a discussion. If it was a university in Balochistan, you would never hear about the event, let alone its cancellation. And the organisers would not be complaining on social media. They would add to the voices you never hear but just because you can’t hear them does not mean the voices are not there, which is why it is critical to ‘unsilence Balochistan’.

If only the powers that be let us be, let us be free.


Shehzad Ghias

A graduate from the LUMS Law School and is running his own theatre production company, Cogito Productions.He works as a theatre teacher at various schools. He tweets @Shehzad89 (twitter.com/Shehzad89)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nouman Ahmed

    This is nothing new. Army and agencies are the gods of Pakistani awam. The attack on Hamid Mir was also because of his show in which he exposed the role of army in Balochistan. I stand with Lums. One thing is sure that Lums is brave. first the talks over blasphemy law and now Balochistan. Way to go Lums. Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    I stand with Lums. First talks over blasphemy law and then this, Lums is definitly on right track. Way to go Lums.Recommend

  • saif

    The best comment was why dont you invite RAW chief to talk, I think that won’t be such a bad idea, lets hear the other side out .Recommend

  • Ammar

    it seems that lesson would never be learnt, that’s what the real shame is…Recommend

  • islooboy

    Still waiting for them to invite kashmiri refugees from occupied kashmir in Azad KashmirRecommend

  • Wahab Zaki

    so what are you expecting from us ? just let them terrorist to killed anyone? or just give them free space to move anywhere or give space to indian to controll our country.Recommend

  • Kiran

    A very sensible, well balanced and well written piece.
    I have a hard time understanding how our youth, people who use the Internet, go to prestigious colleges, have access to information on any topic could be so blind ? Why can’t we have a debate on this issue ? Why can’t we listen to this man? we suffocated these people and put them in a corner and thus turned their struggle for human rights into a war ? We have done this before, it’s time we learn from our mistakes.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Well written.

    Pakistan’s selection compassion for Muslim brothers affected *only” by Indians and Israelis, is laughable.Recommend

  • nimra

    Well written piece!
    If only we have more people like you, we will be witnessing a tolerant and sensible Pakistan certainly.
    Critical thinking is demotivated to facilitate ignorance which leads to extremist thoughts absolutely.See, when you don’t have the right information, you will always rush towards wrong conclusions and the best way to do that is hide the reality, letting only few people speak on the subject. Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    I am expecting from army that it will only do what its paid for (even though Army has failed to perform its duty). It won’t poke its nose in other matters. No matter how much wrong a party has done, we are still liable to listen their side of story. Besides, if Army has sone nothing wrong in Balochistan, then why ban any talks?Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    The purpose was to get the other side of story of what has been happening in Balochistan. I am sure you have already heard Army’s point of view but you ever listened the activists’ point of view? No, because army and agencies never let you listen that. When did you listen.
    And please stop waiting. It is not LUMS duty to invite people of your choice. They will invite anyone they want to. Have the guts to listen of everyone’s side of story. Army is not god and they have committed atrocities in past (hint: creation of Talibans) and they are still committing.Recommend

  • Zahra Rhm

    well, i want to hear separatists point of view too , once i tried to talk to some guy on fb that what is his problem why he wants separation (mind it Blochistan do not grow anything so how will they survive on their own if …. ) but that guy could not answer me , he was so full of hatred and was abusing Pakistan only .i think we need to talk about this openly . my cousins in army told me they dont let build roads there , and army builds everything very forcefully . so we really need to understand this problem . talks are only way .Recommend

  • Nouman

    Even if they are traitor of country or terrorist or whatever we labelled them. let them at least be heard and let the people decide.
    If we continue to discourage critical thinking in our educational institutions, if we continue to disregard the other side solely based on our misplaced ideas of religion, or nationhood, or morality, then we will continue to live in our age of ignorance.Recommend

  • Faisal Ur Rahman

    People who are using words like RAW agent or traitors should get a life. This was the attitude which led to 1971 Dhaka fall. Even if some people disagree with Mama Qadeer then it is not a reason to shut down his voice on every forum.

    They do not label Musharraf as traitor when he was giving lectures on Indian forums or even at American Israel Public Affairs Committee forum just because he can do whatever he wants without getting a label of being a traitor.

    We need to listen to the grievances of Baloch people and for once start thinking of them as equal human beings. It is a real disappointment to see many people in Pakistan especially in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi to treat people in Balochistan, KPK or FATA as inferior human beings. If you cannot treat them equally and cannot listen to their voices then just let them go on their separate path and instead of blood shed like 1971, let it be a peaceful one so that we can at least live peacefully in the future as good neighbors if not as one country where everyone is treated as a equal and the status of a person’s humanity is not defined by the rules set by Military establishment.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Mama Qadeer’s story is a strong ‘ human interest ‘ story………..the mistake the LUMS organizers made was to portray it as a ‘ political story ‘. Considering whats happening in Baluchistan, much of it not clearly known to the general public, the idea of allowing a forum to be innocently ‘ misused ‘ to create a wrong impression…..was not a good idea. I repeat, it should have been portrayed as a human interest story, which it is.Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    This man gives many time his point of view on TV. What are you trying to portray? If Lums seriously interested in result oriented debate, then it must also invite pro Pak Balochs like #Sarfraaz bugti etc.


  • SA

    Under the law, critsizing armed forces without evidence and proof is a culpable offence, hence those people like mama qadeer can not be invited to any forum in pakistan spreading vicious propaganda. otherwise RAW cheif also has a right to speak at lums since they dont believe in pakistan existance.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    Even if was portraied as “political story”, there is no logic in banning the talks. Army and agencies have no role in intruding into an educational institute’s matter.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    Oh really? Then, why does not Army starts a trial against LUMS and Geo? And I don’t know the story of Mama Qadeer, so how should I trust army that it is doing a right thing in Balochistan? And why should I trust army when it is the same army who created Talibans?Recommend

  • Imran

    For your kind information sarfraz bugti was invited back in 2010 or 2011 to shed light on the same debateRecommend

  • islooboy

    It was either create the taliban or be engulfed by soviets so at that time it was a good decision however we messed up by not dismantling them post soviet breakupRecommend

  • Parvez

    The army’s interference in all affairs of the state is a very debatable subject. Here my contention is that LUMS should not have packaged the discussion provocatively ….there is such a thing known as treading carefully in order to achieve ones goal, especially when you know that the subject is a ‘ touchy ‘ one.Recommend

  • Zee

    Mama qadeer has been on many news channels in the past so just use daily motion to hear him out. And yes LUMS did the right thing by cancelling the event otherwise tomorrow someone is asking Mullah Fazlullah to invite.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    The army’s interference in the matters of state is not debatable. Constitution clearly keeps army out of the state’s matters. As far as LUMS is concerned, there was nothing provocative.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    Put a list of all the guest speakers LUMS has invited and you will get to know that most of them are pro-state (pro-state according to your standards).Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    Sarfraaz bugti to answer mama’s allegations. So that nation knows what is reality of Baluchistan situation.Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    Dear champion of freedom of speech #Tribune, why do you edit my comment. Why can not you absorb a simple comment against media???
    You all day speak against Pakistan on the name of so called freedom of speech. But you edit comments if it goes against filthy liar media. You hypocrite media, you mental slave of west.Recommend

  • saami

    now call the BLF terrorists n listen their side of story too, y they killed innocent pplRecommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    Those who kill innocent peoples in Turbat and those who do their advocacy are not pro state elements according to any standard.Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    According to official statement of LUMS, they cancel said debate on the order of govt. Why are you blaming army?
    Now you say that army must have asked the govt to do this. Then i will say, it is army’s duty to tell govt what is happening against state.Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    “Even if they are traitor of country or terrorist or whatever we labelled them. let them at least be heard and let the people decide”

    Then why not US provide forum to ISIS, Al Qaida etc to tell people their narrative? Why india did not give such forum to Moists etc.?

    You are talking against the norms of civilized society.Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    Mutual talks are the best way to solve this problem. But here is different scenario, LUMS try to provide them forum to bash state and state institutes.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Academically you may be correct……pragmatically looking at ground realities you are way off the mark.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    because you cant do that.things r not that straightforward. Or a better idea, why dont you take the initiative of doing so since you still believe things r so straightforward.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    When LUMS invited DG ISPR, did you ask for a balanced panel? No, they why now?Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    If Mama qadeer is from BLF, why does not army starts a trial against him?Recommend

  • Muhsin Hasan

    Don’t judge a book by its cover- There has always been an another side of the story here .Our media is biased and doesn’t show that because of their own interest , state interfere or some mirchi masala thing for the sake of rating . Who is Mama Qadeer , an activist who travelled on foot from Balochistan to Islamabad to stage a protest against the missing Balouch Persons. Those who are labelling him a terrorist GET a life and don’t become a puppet of the so called “MEDIA” ! Be rational and see both sides of the picture. You will find a lot of blank spaces filled with dark ink….
    The second thing, LUMS as a prestigious institution has always arranged talks and seminars for academic purposes to uplift the analytical skills of her students and to increase their knowledge by remaining neutral. So the state intervention regarding the unsilencing balochistan is NOT a shame on lums rather its a shame on the state to silence those who want to potray whats being done for national integrity for the poor balouchs !Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    ET where r my comments?Recommend

  • anugrah

    Mr. Doval would be glad to go and give a talk and Pakistanis would do well to listen and heed to his talk.Recommend

  • anugrah

    Not my place to interfere but all those who support Kashmiri separatists talk with Pakistani FO should support Balochi dialogue with the wider Pakistani public at least.Recommend

  • No to desi liberals

    Instead of condemning the decision to invite a member of a terrorist organisation for a debate at an academic institution, instead you are praising it. If you had called a politician or parliamentary representative of Balochistan to discuss the grievances of a Balochistan, I would’ve welcomed that idea as the issues of that neglected province do need to be highlighted and discussed. I live in the UK and can assure you that never ever will Britain or any other western country, which the desi liberals are mesmerised by, allow non state actors a voice on the media, academic institutions or any other public forum. Desi liberals are touching new lows everyday.

    If you can invite a bla terrorist then why don’t you invite TTP so they can discuss their grievances. Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    If he is really a terrostist then how come he has not been arrested and trialed in the court of law?

    Do you even know the meaning of desi? Desi might be a derogating term for you but I am okay with being a “desi liberal”. There is nothing wrong in being desi. So next time you use the term “desi liberal’ for me, think again. Shed your insecurities and then argue.

    As far as inviting TTP is concerned, they are terrotists. Everyboy know it. But I don’t know about Mama qadeer and I want to know which is my basic right. By the way, army and ISI allowed TTP to air their narrative on TV for years. It is just after the Peshawar attack that they were banned otherwise army and ISI were sleeping before.Recommend

  • Nouman

    ISIS, Al qaida are not the part of US, We’re talking about our very own province, our own people and I don’t find it against the norms of civilized society.Recommend

  • Khizer Saeed

    Blame it on raw, USA or “beurooni hath”,,,that’s we are at good at right??….nice work shehzadRecommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    MOIST in india are their very own people. What about them?Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    MOIST in india are their very own people. What about them?Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    DG ISPR is a spokesperson of a state institute. How can you compare a state institutes with few anti sate elements? They sacrifices their lives for motherland when people like you bashed them sitting in a air conditioned rooms to make your handlers happy.Recommend