PAKISTAN: Strike over vice-chancellor's abduction

Just weeks after Pakistan's universities shut down in protest against cuts to higher education funding, institutions in the sensitive north-west region of the country have again been closed, this time to put pressure on the government for the safe recovery of a prominent vice-chancellor kidnapped by the Taliban.

The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Associations (FAPUASA) has said the strike could spread countrywide if action is not taken soon by the provincial and federal governments.

Ajmal Khan, Vice-chancellor of Islamia College, University of Peshawar, was abducted in broad daylight by the Pakistani Taliban on 7 September, while he was on his way to the university. His driver is also in Taliban captivity.

But in an escalation of the situation, his captors have threatened to kill him by 20 November unless the government releases Taliban commanders captured by the military.

Universities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, in the north-west of the country considered to be a base-camp of the Taliban's terrorist activities in Pakistan, said they would continue a boycott of all academic activities until the government initiated moves to recover Khan.

Teachers and students also took to the streets of Peshawar chanting slogans against government inaction over Khan's abduction.

In a video clip released by the Taliban and broadcast on 7 November by local news channels, three militants, clad in commando jackets and with their faces covered and guns in their hands, were standing behind the vice-chancellor who pleaded for the government to act swiftly to save his life.

Academics believe the strike could last much longer than the countrywide shutdown in October, which ended after a few days when the government caved in over funding for universities.

Ziaullah Sehrai, president of Islamia College University Teaching Staff Association, a constituent of FAPUASA, told University World News in an emotional telephone interview:

"Initially, we are on strike in the provincial universities as we want the provincial government to act to recover the kidnapped educationist and we are going to extend the strike to the country level in order to awaken the federal government to take action against the kidnappers and secure the life of our vice-chancellor.

"This time we shall continue our strike for indefinite time until the government realises its responsibility of saving the life of an educationist and one of its functionaries," Sehrai said.

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