In early May, I was asked to speak at the University of Gujrat on Pakistan’s foreign policy in light of the Arab awakening and upcoming US Presidential elections. The event was chaired by its dynamic Vice Chancellor Dr. Nizamuddin.
The students and faculty asked tough questions, ranging from internal dynamics of Pakistan politics, character of the ruling elites, hurdles in the path of social progress, Pakistan’s future, relations with the United States, and the nexus of India and Israel.
The one negativity among Pakistani youth, particularly on campus, is a lack of optimism about their own chances. Openness is connected with being directionless. While fault lies with existing setups, which have not produced leaders who can give inspiration and direction, there is also a clear sense of unhappiness over the incapacity of elders to guide and to lead. It is important that parents and faculty attack a mindset prone to give up quickly, and instill the value of self-scrutiny.
At the heart of the campus are 7 unique structures, which the Vice Chancellor’s daughter, Rabya, has called “the 7 ships of wisdom.” I was taken to the School of Art, Design, and Architecture, where I was impressed by the creativity. This school, if it continues to have proper equipment and commitment, can quickly become an institution of international standing. I also visited the Department of Mass Communication and Media where I was interviewed on campus radio. It was good to see young men and women working together efficiently as a team.
There is also an Institute of Hotel and Restaurant Management, similar to Cornell University’s program, where young interns are taught the basics of hospitality management and skills. I was served a nice lunch there, prepared and well-presented by staff and students.
The University of Gujrat is quite a surprise. Perception-wise, Gujrat is not associated with academia. But, although formed only 9 years ago, this university has taken major steps. There are 9000 students and over 10% of them are boarders. This University in the heart of polution-free rural Punjab can set an example of excellence, provided the momentum of progress is sustained.
My experience at the seminar was confirmation of the promise of Pakistani youth. All they need is a glimmer of hope. As a Chinese saying goes, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. There is another saying, that you can’t prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair.
The University of Gujrat is a ray of light.
With all its pitfalls, Pakistan remains the Muslim country with the most to offer its youth. Much like Arab youth have broken barriers of fear and shattered the status quo in the Middle East, so can Pakistani youth shed the shackles of despair and stride confidently forward.
n The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.