The board of governors of Peshawar’s historic Edwardes College has finally appointed a full-time Christian principal, however, the news has drawn mixed reactions from the Pakistani Christian community who are demanding a complete handover of the prestigious missionary institution to the church authorities.
According to reports, the BoG held its fourth meeting on Jan 4, for the purpose of appointment of the principal with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shah Farman, who is also the chairman of the board, presiding over the session.
The official handout circulated after the meeting stated that three out of the five recommended candidates appeared for the interview. Two were not eligible for the position and only one, Dr Sharoon Hanook was deemed fit for the post. Therefore, instead of keeping the matter pending anymore, the BoG decided to appoint Dr Hanook as principal.
Dr Hanook is currently an assistant professor at the National University of Science and Technology or NUST, Islamabad.
A news report claimed that a number of board members were unhappy with the appointment process.
Quoting an unnamed board member, the report claimed that the list had been “manipulated” as four ineligible and one eligible candidate had been proposed and the board was left with no other choice but to appoint him.
“The candidate was not even interviewed,” the unidentified member reportedly told the media outlet. He claimed that the only question asked from Dr Hanook was as to how he would run the affairs of the institution for which he could give just a 17-second long answer.
The report went on to claim that the official members and the representatives of the Diocese of Peshawar were adamant to appoint Dr Hanook, claiming that they were under tremendous pressure.
“I have been receiving phone calls from many people including Prime Minister Imran Khan to decide the matter at the earliest. I can’t hold it further,” the governor was reported as saying during the meeting.
The governor reportedly said that as per the Supreme Court’s decision, the Lahore Diocese Trust Association had to recommend a panel of five candidates for the office.
Among the five recommended names only one was eligible and they had no other choice but to appoint him, the unidentified board member was quoted as saying.
CHRISTIANS DEMAND COMPLETE CONTROL
Christians took to social media soon after the news was shared by a minority member of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on her Facebook page. While some welcomed the development, others demanded the church’s complete control over the institution.
Announcing the appointment of Dr Hanook, MNA Shunila Ruth said: “We praise and thank God that Edwards College matter has been solved. I sincerely wish to thank my beloved Prime Minister who has always stood with the minorities and with Christian Community. Thank you Imran Khan PM and Governor Shah Farman who was pivotal in resolving Edward College’s issues.”
Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Peshawar Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters termed the Christian principal’s appointment “a New Year gift” for the community.
“The church has finally regained its hold over the college. The change includes a Christian principal and the return of executive orders to the Church of Pakistan. We thank the acting Muslim principal Prof MS Zaki for his services,” he told Kross Konnection.
“The identity of the college as a church body has been regained. We were struggling for this for the past several months and now we have 75 percent control over the college. It’s time for thanksgiving,” he claimed.
However, some Christians questioned how the principal’s appointment was a complete victory for the community.
They demanded the Church of Pakistan leadership to “come forward and save the mission properties.
The Church Mission Society founded Edwardes College in 1853, but it plunged into controversy after foreign missionaries left in 2014, and a retired Christian brigadier was appointed its first Pakistani principal.
The appointment of the new principal was challenged in the Peshawar High Court in 2016. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government took over the college in 2019 through an administrative action validated by the provincial high court.
In October 2021, Bishop Humphrey was restored as the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the college.
The then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 nationalized education in Pakistan by taking over all educational institutions. However, in 2004, the then president Pervez Musharraf ordered the conditional privatisation of minority educational institutions. But at least half of the nationalised missionary schools have not been returned to Christians.
On Jan 4, 2022, the senior leadership of the Church of Pakistan in a press conference in Lahore demanded that all missionary educational institutions nationalised in the 1970s be returned to the custody of the church authorities.
“Our people have suffered a lot since the nationalisation of our institutes and it’s important that we regain their custody for imparting education to our community members. Nationalisation led to commercialisation of education that resulted in denial of quality yet inexpensive education to the poor and vulnerable communities,” they said.