Ammar Ali Jan, a progressive academic and youth activist, announced that he was fired from Punjab University on Friday. He detailed the reasons for being fired in a social media post, which quickly went viral.

It is encouraging to see so many speak up for Ammar.

What jumps out in Ammar’s statement is that he was “accused of giving ‘unnecessary encouragement’ to students due to which they are becoming ‘needlessly vocal” about ” non-issues” such as women empowerment, racial profiling, etc. The fact that a professor encouraging his students to think critically is grounds for firing him, is problematic, to say the least. It is an affront to the democratic right to think freely and be able to express concern for marginalized communities in the country.

The bone of contention seems to be Ammar Ali Jan’s support for the Pashtun Tahffuz Movement (PTM), an ongoing political march in the country.

The ethnic minority of the Pashtuns have been protesting against state oppression and human rights abuses that they have been facing for decades. The movement took force following the extra-judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a Pashtun himself. He was shot in a staged encounter in a case that saw a great public outcry against police brutality and corruption. The PTM since January has gained momentum to demand justice for many similar cases in which Pashtuns become the target of ethnic profiling by state organs.

Since even a morsel of criticism against army operations gets heavily censored from the state narrative, the PTM has not gained mainstream media attention. Ammar seems to have advocated critical thinking regarding the march. This seems to have led to him being fired from Punjab University. The academic’s case is an interesting study in how the state shuns criticism against itself and how people are indoctrinated to follow suit on an individual level.

Case in point: the following tweet.

Even those adopting a less extreme route, are subsumed by the greater nationalistic narrative.

Question is, what is the ‘right time’ to cry out against innocent deaths and systemic ethnic discrimination? Asking students to reflect upon minority rights is not treason, which is alleged against Ammar currently. On the contrary, he might actually be opening positive dialogue in addressing grievances of the marginalized. So that the manpower of this country, including the invaluable Pashtun community, mobilizes itself towards developing a more cohesive social fabric. Glossing over a plethora of ethnic and religious identities will not automatically translate into a unified Pakistan. Ammar merely encouraged students to break free from the stringent monolithic state narrative. So, for those who think that he is acting against Pakistan’s interests, think again. He is actually helping the country far more than any politician or cleric. Especially more than those who conduct divisive politics to gain particular groups of loyalists or voters for themselves. Ammar Ali Jan is not the threat this country faces. Rather it is the suppression of already oppressed people, which is creating a pressure cooker of grievances that will eventually blow in the face of this supposed national unity.

It is important we raise our voices now, in Ammar Ali Jan’s favor. If he takes Punjab University to court, let’s stand by him to ensure justice prevails. And, let’s ensure that the right to educate and inform is taken back from state organs and returned to our academics.



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