Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) had organised an online conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bangladesh War of Liberation from 23 to 27 March. However, it was cancelled earlier this week without any explanation, which raised a plethora of questions regarding the absence of academic freedom in Pakistan.
The conference, arranged by the university's School of Humanities and Social Sciences, was to be titled, "War, Violence & Memory: Commemorating 50 Years of the 1971 War", was to take place in collaboration with the National Institute of Pakistan Studies (NIPS), Quaid-i-Azam University, reports the Print.
According to Hassan Javid, a professor of politics at the university, there were concerns raised over scheduling the conference on 23 March, which was also the day when Pakistan officially adopted its first constitution and became a republic in 1956.
"Rather than seeing 23 March as yet another opportunity to indulge in unbridled jingoism, it might make sense to reflect on whether the state has learnt any lessons from the factors that led to the independence of Bangladesh in 1971," tweeted Javid.
LUMS is often regarded as a prominent institution in Pakistani higher education, and is also ranked as the country's best university in the QS World Rankings. After the LUMS conference was cancelled several people took to Twitter to express their concerns about the same.
"Utterly unacceptable for a university to cancel a soul searching event about the 1971 tragedy because of unwarranted criticism. We frequently and systematically stifle debate and then ask how we got to being such an intolerant society," said Abbas Nasir, the former editor of Pakistani daily Dawn.
The lead up to the 1971 India-Pakistan war, which involved grave human rights abuses in East Pakistan, has been a neglected aspect in Pakistan's academic discourse.
However, according to commentators, this stifling of academic free speech reflects a state-coordinated system that has aimed to suppress any uncomfortable reflections on the 1971 war.
The now-cancelled LUMS conference had planned to discuss several controversial aspects of the war. Some of the panel discussions included "Containing East Bengal: Hindus, Communists, and Bengalis – Oh My!"; "The unquenched fire in my heart: Violence and suffering in the 1971 war"; "Violence in 1971: The politics of evidence"; "Parallel Trends between the ongoing Rohingya Refugee Crisis and the situation in East Pakistan in 1971"; and "71: Pakistan's Past and Knowing What Not to Narrate".