In the last ongoing session of the Parliament, before it completes its tenure on the 13th of August, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed several bills in a hurry, there was one bill that caught the attention of almost all academics and politicians and that was granted a charter to 25 Universities that were to build all across the country, among them, was a Pak-Chian Gwadar University that ought to be enacted in Lahore.
Now given the political scenario of Baluchistan and the way the government of Pakistan was projecting CPEC to be a game changer for the whole province, especially Gwadar, this was a bit shocker and it once again sparked a debate on social media, and many politicians, academics, and activists severely criticized this decision to enact yet another educational facility in central Punjab rather than building something in far-flung areas.
Before going any further, it is important to mention here that this sentiment is not just confined to politicians but the general public of Baluchistan is also very skeptical about the center and Panjab, they think their resources are being exploited to meet the needs of the people of Punjab. To address this issue, several policies were introduced under various regimes, including the inclusion of educational quotas for students hailing from ex-FATA and Baluchistan in the public sector universities of Punjab, Sindh, and Islamabad. But still, people and politicians of Baluchistan were demanding to build universities in the province so that their people should not have to travel to get an education. The federal Minister of Planning who is overseeing the CPEC project has been claiming that state-of-the-art universities will be built under this project and the sense of deprivation among the Baluch citizens of Pakistan will eventually fade away, thanks to Chinese investment.
But as soon as the notification started circulating on social media, it brought up the old sensibilities of Baluch people on the surface. The leader of “Haq do Tehrik” a mass movement demanding the rights of the people of Gwadar, Molana Hidayat Ur Rehman Commented on his Twitter account, “When Baluch register their protest against such acts, they are labeled as “extremists”
پاک چائنہ گوادر یونیورسٹی لاہور میں بنایا جا رہا ہے ، کیا یہ زیادتی نہیں ہے ۔۔۔۔ جب بلوچ اس طرح کے متعصبانہ غیر منصفانہ اقدامات کی مخالفت کرتے ہیں تو پھر کہا جاتا ہے کہ انتہاپسند ہیں، ترقی و سی پیک کے خلاف ہیں۔ بلوچستان/ گوادر کو چیک پوسٹیں نہیں یورسٹی دو pic.twitter.com/Wl0We6Jh9T
— Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman Baloch (@MHidayatRehman) August 2, 2023
The former Chief Minister of Baluchistan, Dr Abdul Malik also criticized the notification along similar lines and said “We strongly oppose this resolution passed in National Assembly. Pak-China Gwadar University should be established in Gwadar, for the children of Gwadar. It is their right.”
We strongly oppose this resolution passed in National Assembly. Pak-China Gwadar University should be established in Gwadar, for the children of Gwadar. It is their right. pic.twitter.com/j7jTTDPruT
— Dr.Abdul Malik Baloch (@DrMalikBalochNP) August 2, 2023
Another legal expert from Islamabad also severely criticized the bill and said that this bill speaks of inherent Punjabi chauvinism.
پاک چائنا گوادر یونیورسٹی ، لاہور
جناب یہ ہوتا ہے پنجابی شاؤنزم جو چھوٹے صوبوں کے لوگوں کو انسان نہیں سمجھتا۔
اس ملک پر مسلط چند بڑے عذابوں میں سے ایک عذاب پنجابی شاؤنزم ہے۔
میں پنجابی ہوں لیکن ملک کے وسائل میرے باپ کی جاگیر نہیں۔ پشتونون بلوچوں سندھیوں مہاجروں سب کا حق ہے۔
— Asif Mahmood (@m_asifmahmood) August 2, 2023
Later on, the Federal Minister of Planning and Development tweeted that the University being enacted was a private entity, hence the criticism meted out to the government was unwarranted and that government had already announced the enaction of the University of Gwadar (UG) in Gwadar and had released the funds as well.
یہ یونیورسٹی نہ تو سی پیک کے تحت ہے اور نہ ہی کسی سرکاری فنڈنگ کی ہے۔ یہ کسی نے پرائیوٹ یونیورسٹی کا چارٹر منظور کروایا ہے جسکا حکومت سے کوئی تعلق نہیں ہے۔ حکومت نے گوادر میں یونیورسٹی آف گوادر کے نام سے یونیورسٹی قائم کردی ہے اور اسکے نئے سینکڑوں ایکڑ پہ مشتمل کیمپس کی تعمیر کے… https://t.co/1Xjsia7MCU
— Ahsan Iqbal (@betterpakistan) August 2, 2023
But some commentators were still not happy, especially some people from Punjab commented that government should not build any more universities in Punjab as they are already plenty of them, rather government should focus on building more educational institutions in ex-FATA and Baluchistan and end the quota system.
We don’t need 25 universities in Punjab, we already have more than we require. Govt should focus on developing more universities in Balochistan and……..scrap the so-called scholarship programme for Baloch students in Punjab.
— Usama Khan ☪︎ (@Usamakbhatti) August 2, 2023
This ongoing debate depicts the underline problem that the Federation of Pakistan is facing with regard to the problem of integration. Majorly due to the law-and-order problem in Baluchistan, there was hardly any development done, especially when compared to Punjab, the only province of Pakistan having a state-of-the-art metro system and public transportation. And that adds up to the feelings of deprivation among the people of Baluchistan. The recent spree of terrorism in the region has made it almost impossible for any government to launch developmental projects in areas that are prone to terror activities. But that is the problem that both China and Pakistan will have to address if both states are serious about giving the benefits of CPEC to the general public of Pakistan, especially to the people of Gwadar and Balochistan.
The writer, Muhammad Saad, is an M.Phil scholar of Political Science at GCU Lahore.