PESHAWAR: Though the decision of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to stop the launch of Malala Yousafzai’s book shocked Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, yet a minister defended the move.
After scathing criticism against PTI-led provincial government in the press and social media, Imran Khan had to intervene to do damage control. “I am at a loss to understand why Malala’s book launch stopped in Peshawar. PTI believes in freedom of speech/debate, not censorship of ideas,” the tweet said.
The two tweets were widely re-tweeted in approval and replied to by Twitter users, appreciating Imran Khan for expressing displeasure over the action of his party-led provincial government. The book launching ceremony of “I am Malala” was scheduled to be held on Tuesday at the Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar. The ceremony was jointly organised by the Area Study Centre, Bacha Khan Education Foundation and Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO). The provincial government pressurised the university administration and the director of Area Study Centre not to hold the event.
After the director’s resistance, the campus police refused to provide security to the gathering, which resulted in the cancellation of the book launch.
However, the official handout issued by the provincial Minister for Information Shah Farman defended the decision instead of repenting it. He justified cancelling the book launch by saying it had no relevance to the university.
“Unveiling the book at the Area Study Centre University of Peshawar was not allowed because the same book had no relevance with curricular and co-curricular activities of the students,” the minister said in the statement.
Some expressed surprise that how a book could be irrelevant to a university. “It is an interesting argument. If books have no relevance with curricular activities, then I wonder what else? asked Nauman Khan, a college teacher in the city.
The minister argued the government had not stopped the event from taking place instead the venue was not “suitable.” The government has not stopped the unveiling of the book, “I am Malala”. The real issue was of a suitable place and security for holding the ceremony,” it explained. However, the handout did not say the government had suggested an alternate venue.
He said the book was a biography of Malala Yousafzai, which has no connection with Area Study Centre and other educational institutions.
The minister added the PTI government believed in the freedom of expression, therefore, some other suitable venue should have been selected for unveiling the book, as Area Study Centre being an educational institution was not a ‘proper venue’.
The government has a focused approach to make educational institutions and other centres of excellence apolitical and therefore no one would be allowed to make political scoring in educational institutes, he concluded.
Director of Area Study Center Dr Sarfaraz challenged the assertions made by the minister. “Anything which is relevant to Afghanistan, Pakistan, war on terror, regional war is the mandate of the centre given by the Parliament,” he stated.
He said their job was to disseminate knowledge. Dr Sarfaraz wondered at the minister’s argument that the book was irrelevant to the centre and said it had organised hundreds of books launching ceremonies in the past.
Besides a number of foreign dignitaries including ambassadors, foreign ministers and even heads of state from US, UK, Hungary and other countries had addressed the students at the centre.
He denied making political point-scoring by hosting the book-launching ceremony. “We are dealing with politics in academic way,” he said and added “Tomorrow one will demand to close down the department of political science as it teaches politics,” he said.
When contacted, Khadim Hussain, a scholar and the Managing Director of the Bacha Khan Education Foundation, criticised the provincial government for not allowing the book launching.
He termed the decision a violation of all norms of decency and academic freedom. “Those having difference of opinion should come and speak as well, but this is not the way to suppress the voices with which the government doesn’t agree,” he stated.
He said Malala Yousafzai is an indigenous voice of struggle against the forces of retrogression and people have the right to know about her.
I am Malala was launched on October 9, 2013 the world over. The 276-page book carries details of Malala Yousafzai’s life in Swat valley and describes her struggle for girls’ education and her ordeal after she was critically shot in the head by Taliban in October 2012. Taliban have threatened action against the bookshops selling her book.