In August 2022, my colleague, Dr. Farhan Zahid PSP DIG called and asked me if I would be interested in teaching a semester on Terrorism and Counterterrorism at Quaid e Azam University (QAU) that he taught earlier? Teach? Me? Really? “Sure”, I said. The university contacted me, and we agreed on the modalities. “Eat at Majeed Huts”, were my daughter’s directions from the UK.
I had been to the University once or twice for a talk but never to regularly teach a semester. Didn’t know much about it but the rankings were quite high and I was keen on my new role. So, I got the syllabus, prepared the first few modules and was set to go.
Laptop on my shoulder and Socrates in my head (I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.), on 26th September 2022, I went for the class at the awkward time of 2 PM, my afternoon siesta time. So where do I go, I wondered after reaching the School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR)? Someone guided me to the office and was asked to sit down on a broken chair for a while till someone came to take me to the classroom.
In a quick and rather judgmental glance, the few students present in the class appeared a cocktail of keen, disinterested, apprehensive, don’t-care lot. At the podium, I opened my laptop, asked someone to connect me to the multimedia system. “It’s not working”, I was told. “Am I actually at QAU, top ranked in all the parallel universes?”.
I looked around at the classroom and found broken chairs, hanging electric wires, dangling electric switches, peeling distemper. We did the introductions, and I began teaching. The next day was better, and we started sailing.
I developed an understanding with the students, acknowledging those who were rather regular, appreciated those who sought knowledge, sympathised with those who wanted to have cushy time, was concerned about those who just happened to be there, and was empathetic with those who never wanted to be there.
There was nostalgia about my own student days, where despite strict disciplined environment at Cadet College Kohat and Pakistan Navy Engineering College, we endeavoured to avoid studies. I could see myself among the students.
Books and movies have been with me all through my life and thus my lectures were studded with references to books and movies. I tried to lure my students to reading and to join my Book Club, which they did. Some out of curiosity, some peer compulsion and some because of love for books.
When the date for the monthly Book Club meeting arrived and theme of discussion resonated with their subject (“16th December, from 1971 to 2014”), I invited them all to participate. It was a sight to behold, the bright young boys and girls in their colourful attires mixed with the old and not so old members of the Club.
We missed classes due to my visit abroad, students’ strike due to the Bara Koh bypass issues, political agitations etc. but we made up for the lost time through online sessions and extra classes.
Mid-term exams came in November, and I decided against ratta and for Socrates. Breaking the tradition of written exams, I opted for simulation exercises based on the modules they had studied. Students were apprehensive but results were outstanding, I was thrilled, and we all loved the stimulating activity.
One day, as usual when “I” was waiting for the students to join the class, I had a little chit chat with those present and asked them what career path they had in mind. CSS and going abroad dominated, with few exceptions. A little discussion ensued, and the Class Representative asked me if I would be willing to hold an interactive session with the SPIR students on “Is bureaucracy a worthy career?”. I agreed and a few days later I spoke to them on the subject.
After the session, the students took me to Majeed Huts for late lunch, that I thoroughly enjoyed, specially the “Crises Dish”. A few days later, as promised I reciprocated the gesture and invited the class for High Tea to my house.
Things stayed well and calm till submissions of assignments, Thought Papers, and final exams neared. Requests for grace marks ensued, some acquiesced to, some politely declined and some ignored.
So, how was the experiment? I loved it despite the lows of poor students’ attendance but that was compensated by the regulars, casual attitude but that too was compensated by the keen ones, poor administration, neglect and infrastructure but even that too was compensated by the students’ enthusiasm.
To end, I wish all my students (now friends) a bright future with the advice to seek knowledge and not just degrees.
*Yes, the title is taken from the “Stanford Prison Experiment”, a 2015 film (highly recommended).
*The Author is a Former Inspector General of KP, Director General of the Intelligence Bureau, and National Coordinator NACTA*