Dee Jay Mathal
When it comes to development and progress of a nation, it is not the skyscrapers, wide roads and flow of money that is considered its bedrock, but education that too higher education. Only through higher education, a nation can cross the pinnacle of development and sustain it for the overall welfare of the people. Today wherever we see nations progressing in all walks of life, it is because of the weapon of education that they have reached such a stage. Without education, a nation can get transient progress but cannot use it for its durable progress.
The misfortune of Gilgit-Baltistan is that this region has never been on the priority of successive governments as far as promotion of literacy, let alone higher education, is concerned. During the previous government of Gen Pervez Musharraf, the country saw development of higher education with opening of new university under the leadership of then minister for science and technology
Dr Attaur Rehman but again it can be termed a misfortune of Gilgit-Baltistan that at the same time the disputed region of Gilgit-Baltistan was in the limelight in the world not for any good reason but due to the Kargil war. Hundreds of youth from this region were sent across the bored in the guise of militants who were later killed or trapped in the dirty game being played by the two countries. Even then, the former dictator had soft corner for Gilgit-Baltistan and due to his initiative, the Karakoram International University
was set up in the Gilgit city. This was indeed a major step towards spreading the rays of higher education in the backward region. With the establishment of the KIU, the students of the region were saved from running from pillar to post in taking admission in other parts of the country. As usual, the university saw hard times in its early days, especially regarding shortage of finance, and its employees had to take to the streets and later moved the courts of law for their rights. But since
the incumbent vice chancellor took the charge, things have started improving and now the university has become truly a centre of research and higher learning.
With the coming into of Mehdi Shah in the region, demands for the opening of the university campus in Baltistan started rising and this was a genuine demand because the students from that region had to travel over 230 kilometres to reach the university. When the pressure continued building up on the government, the chief minister announced to open the campus in Baltistan and promised that the government would provide funds for the project. However, a few months back the campus was opened in Baltistan but the issue of provision of funds has not yet been resolved. The members of the legislative assembly
from Baltistan had promised to give Rs1 million each from their allocated funds but so far they have not fulfilled their commitments. As a result, this campus is near closure putting a large number of students in the lurch. When the authorities concerned the Higher Education Commission for funding, it even did not bothered to listen to the request while the ministry of finance led by Dr Hafeez Sheikh also refused to provide funds saying education was now a provincial subject after the 18th amendment. Officials say that Rs300 million are needed to keep the campus continuing work but it seems that there is no one to help the institute get the required amount.
The government of Gilgit-Baltistan ahs already been complaining about lack of funds and it is also a fact that as the chief minister also happens to be not highly educated, he cannot be expected of realizing the importance of higher education. He considers it a great success, when delegation after delegation come and meet him and his statements and pictures are published in the local press. Like any other politician, he also think that the masses would blindly believe what he is saying and what he is considering to be right or good. This type of thinking has drifted us towards destruction. Had the chief minister been working for promotion of higher education, it would have brought a greet breakthrough in the region. For the last over three years, the government failed to put the Skardu campus of the university into a working condition let alone establish another campus at Chilas and any other remote area to facilitate the students. But alas, the chief minister and his team lack vision and their thinking only revolve around Zardari and Gilani and giving some
employments to their favourite persons. An amount of Rs300 million is not a big deal for any government that too for promotion of education when the members from Baltistan region are given millions of rupees in the name of development funds. The story state of affairs regarding the higher education sector does not end here. The chief minister has
also put into the cold storage two other vital projects – setting up of an engineering and a medical colleges in the region.
The government had come out with tall claims of establishing the two colleges in the region and also prepared a feasibility report besides setting aside some funds but after that, as usual, no one in the corridors of power considered them worthy of taking up. The youth of the region have been deprived of a golden chance of getting higher education at their doorsteps only because of the incompetency and lack of vision of the chief minister, Mehdi Shah. Billions of rupees are being doled out in the region in the name of construction of a mega dam to provide electricity to Pakistani cities and irrigate the lands of Punjab and Sindh but there is no money for establishment of higher educational institutions in the region. The intention of the chief minister is evident from the fact that he never took up the matter of the two colleges in his meetings with the president and the prime minister. The president had during his visit to Skardu also promised opening up of Benazir Bhutto university campus in the region but later no one damned care to have a follow-up on the
matter. It is time the people of the region stood for forcing the government to give priority to establishment promotion of higher educational institutions in the region otherwise their children and the coming generations would remain deprived of higher education.
The contributor is chief editor of Weekly Baang and Daily Bang-e-Sahar.