THE Supreme Court of Pakistan has upheld an earlier ruling that Edwardes College, Peshawar, a higher-education institution in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, is to be governed by a board of governors formed by the provincial government, against an appeal by the Bishop of Peshawar, the Most Revd Humphrey Peters (News, 11 October 2019).
Edwardes College was founded in 1900 by the Church Missionary Society, and transferred to the Lahore Diocesan Trust Association in 1956. Many Christian educational institutions in Pakistan were nationalised in 1972 and at later stages. Bishop Peters and others maintain that Edwardes College has always remained a private institution (News, 24 May 2019).
The Supreme Court order sheet, issued after a hearing on 7 May, states that the college will be “run and managed strictly on professional lines under the overall supervision of the Board of Governors headed by the Worthy Governor, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as provided in the ‘The Privately Managed Schools and Colleges (taking over) Regulation 1972’.”
The latest ruling sets out a process for the appointment of the college’s Principal: the criteria will be proposed by the provincial government. Once approved by the board of governors, it will be sent to the diocese of Lahore for candidates to be sought, and five who meet the criteria to be nominated. The board will then choose from the nominees and their decision will be final. In recent years, conflict has arisen between principals, the board, and the diocese (News, 25 April 2014; 8 July 2016; Books, 11 October 2013).
Bishop Peters has argued that this settlement will mean “the character of the institution would be completely changed.” Last year, a communiqué from the Primates’ Meeting noted with concern “the taking over by the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, of Edwardes College”, and urged the government to “enter dialogue with the diocese of Peshawar, Church of Pakistan, with a view to restoring management of the College by the church authorities” (News, 15 January 2020; Letters, 24 January 2020).
A 1974 notification from the governor of the province, used in the latest case, set out the composition of the board of governors, stating that it shall be chaired by the governor with both the Minister for Education, and the Bishop of Peshawar serving as vice-chair.
Professor Gulzar Jalal, head of the English department at Edwardes and a former member of the board of governors, welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling. The board, he said, was a “representative body consisting of government and community members and leaders”.
Bishop Peters completed his term as Moderator of the Church of Pakistan this year. Last month, the Bishop of Raiwind, Dr Azad Marshall, was elected as his successor.
“Pakistani Christians are facing extraordinary challenges and it is important that the church leadership engages with the government and other stakeholders to find concrete solutions to these problems,” he said.
“Being a Pakistani Christian, it is also my responsibility to remove the negative perceptions about my country. Issues like forced conversion and underage marriages of minority girls, misuse of the blasphemy laws, rising intolerance in our society, poverty, etc., bring a bad name to Pakistan and affect the efforts being made to project a positive image of the country.
“Therefore, it’s important that the government and other stakeholders work with us to address these crucial issues on priority so that we are able to allay the concerns in the Christian world emanating from propaganda by Pakistan’s enemies.”
In 2018, Dr Marshall spoke of his desire for a government “deeply committed to democracy, that can stand shoulder to shoulder with other democratic nations and is accountable for the treatment of all, that says ‘no’ to terrorism, and recognises the Church as an integral part of the country’s identity and future, allowing her an even playing field, with an amendment to the Blasphemy Law” (News, 27 July 2018).
From 2007 to 2016, Dr Marshall served as Bishop in Iran (News, 10 August 2007), which formed a diocesan link with Peshawar in 2011 (News, 7 January 2011). He has also served as President of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan. In 2019, he co-hosted a GAFCON gathering in Dubai.