Pakistani activists and academics have strongly criticized a provincial government's decision to ban the launch of Malala Yousafzai's autobiography at a university in the country’s volatile northwest region.
The Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf-led administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province forced a public university in Peshawar, the regional capital, to cancel the launch of "I Am Mala," a memoir written by the children's rights icon, on January 28.
The ban was the subject of a panel discussion on this week’s edition of Radio Mashaal's call-in show, "Along the Borderland."
Arshad Haroon, provincial chief of Strengthening Participatory Organization, an NGO, said the ban violates the fundamental right to free expression.
"You can’t imagine universities without books and discussions on important issues of life," he said on the show. "Without encouraging critical thinking we can’t defeat intolerance and restore peace to the volatile region."
Ijaz Khan, a former international relations professor at the University of Peshawar, said book launches are an established practice on Pakistani campuses.
"The book was about the region and it was written by a girl from Swat Valley [in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa]," he said. "It is the fundamental function of the academic institutions to debate and discuss books and research work and help in shaping a debate on important issues."
Khan said the ban establishes a dangerous precedent. "It is not only the issue of Malala’s book. Tomorrow if I am discussing Marxism and realism in the class, they can intervene and even threaten me for discussing such ideas."
Khadim Hussain, head of the nongovernmental Bacha Khan Education Foundation and one of the organizers of the book launch, described the book’s importance in symbolizing resistance to the Taliban in a part of the country most affected by Taliban violence.
But he told Radio Mashaal that two provincial ministers directly intervened to cancel the event. "After we resisted the pressure from the university management, campus police chief was sent to tell the organizers not to hold the book launch citing security concerns."
Shah Farman, one of the two ministers, said that a public university was not "an appropriate" venue for the launch and authorities were worried about providing adequate security.
He told the Radio Mashaal audience that a public university should be confined to "curricular activities" and that the book’s sponsors should launch it outside the campus.
"Malala's book is not relevant for educational institutions in our province," he said. "It is a controversial book and we can’t permit it on the university campus as it will pave way for holding launch ceremonies of other controversial books."
The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the main insurgent faction in the country, is helping to enforce the ban by threatening booksellers in major cities to refrain from selling it.
After the book was published last year, it was banned by some private schools in Pakistan for being "anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam."
"Along the Borderland" is a weekly, hour-long Radio Mashaal call-in show known for interactive debates on social and political issues. Every Tuesday millions of listeners in the Pakistani borderlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces tune in to the show.