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Saturday, March 8, 2014
- Taliban members have resorted to invoking fictitious links of academics with writer Salman Rushdie in a bid to boost their popularity.
Senior professors at the University of Peshawar have received death threats from persons claiming to be Taliban members. The professors have been told they will be killed because of their plans to include Rushdie in the university curriculum. The university says Rushdie books are not a part of the curriculum – and that there are no plans to include them.
“The Taliban who are active in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region near the Afghanistan border will make any move that brings them some respect in the public eye,” Prof Javid Khan of the political science department at the University of Peshawar told IPS.
“They know that threatening or killing anyone for siding with Salman Rushdie would restore their dwindling popularity – which has been eroded by Taliban’s targeting of mosques, funeral ceremonies and marketplaces where innocent people have been killed.”
Two professors received identical letters May 1 allegedly from militants, asking them to prepare for their death and arrange their funerals. “I put you on the list of those people liable to be killed….It deeply shocked me to know about your friendship with blasphemer and apostate Salman Rushdie,” said one letter.
“This is not the first time that Taliban have sent letters to professors at the University of Peshawar,” police officer Sajid Khan tells IPS. “One year back they made telephone calls to the same teachers.”
The letters bore the signature of Muhammad Tariq Afridi, who described himself as Taliban chief of Orakzai Agency and of the adjacent Dara Adamkhel, 40 kilometres north of Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.
Activists from a radical student wing had held a protest late April alleging that the University of Peshawar’s academic council has included Rushdie Midnight’s Children and Shame in the curriculum. The protest is believed to have alerted the Taliban. But the professors deny any plan to include Rushdie novels in the English literature courses. “There was no such decision,” Mujeebur Rehman, one of the threatened professors told IPS. “We never discussed Rushdie, let alone making him part of the courses.”
Prof. Rehman, who heads the English department at the University of Peshawar, says he had written to the vice-chancellor and to the government after receiving the threats. “We cannot ignore these threats. We know the Taliban can do whatever they want.”
The letters have spread fear across the local University of Peshawar, the University of Engineering and Technology, the KP Agricultural University and Islamia College University. The campuses include 20 hostels with 55,000 students, many of them also now worried.
The abduction of Muhammad Ajmal Khan, vice-chancellor of Islamia College University in September 2010 is still fresh in the memory of the academic staff. Khan is still believed to be in the Taliban’s custody. The Taliban have said they would release him only if the KP government releases some hardcore militants from jail.
In August 2010, Prof. Naeem Khalid, chairman of the physics department of the Islamia College University (ICU) was given threats, and asked to help the Taliban make bombs.
In October the same year, Taliban killed Swat University vice-chancellor Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan who had spoken against suicide bombing. A religious scholar and psychiatrist, Dr Farooq had been threatened again and again by the Taliban. But he had continued to oppose the Taliban openly.
The Taliban have long targeted academics. They had kidnapped the vice-chancellor of Kohat University of Science and Technology Prof Lutfullah Kakakhel in November 2009. The government paid ransom to his captors to secure his release after six months.
Leaders of the proscribed jihadist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba forced their entry into a Peshawar campus mosque in February and made speeches against the U.S. and India. They sought recruits to fight those they called the enemies of Islam.
Over the past five years, insurgents have blown up about 800 schools in KP and in the northern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Five students have been killed in the attacks carried out by Taliban on schools.