Peshawar’s iconic Edwardes College was initially founded as a high school by the Church Missionary Society in 1855, which later expanded it to a college in 1900.
Named after Sir Barbet Edward, the Church Missionary Society aimed to establish the region’s first institute offering western-style schooling. From its inception, only foreigners were appointed as principals, thereby ensuring a prime standard of education.
Situated in a scenic backdrop of Peshawar’s cantonment locality, with beautiful landscaping and plantation, the building features Mughal era architectural designs undertaken by foreigners at the time of construction. The college became renowned for its repute and devotion to the prime cause of education.
However, with time, and especially after the nationalisation drive in the 1970s, the institute got mired in disputes over its ownership and resultantly, the standard of education plunged.
The institute has been facing a power struggle between the provincial government-appointed board of governors (BoG) and the Diocese of Peshawar.
In 2019, the Diocese of Peshawar’s petition in the Peshawar High Court which had claimed its right to the position of BoG chairman was dismissed. The high court had also accepted the opposing petition by a group of faculty members and held that the college was nationalised as per the relevant laws and rules at the time, and observed that it was run by the BoG which was constituted by the provincial government in 1974.
The Diocese then challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court.
In October, hearing the Diocese’s appeal, the Supreme Court directed the provincial government to hold a meeting of the board and resolve the matter amicably.
The apex court was ensured by the provincial government’s law officer that they would take on board all parties as the court directed for a ‘workable solution’.
A way out?
Senior lawyer Hamid Khan, who is representing the Diocese, shared that their position is that the BoG headed by the governor is only an arrangement of convenience and does not come under the relevant martial law regulation under which the college was nationalised. The Supreme Court appears to be favourably inclined and does not want to change the character of the institution, stressed Khan. He explained that the Christian representatives can take advantage of the last order and get the best terms, including a majority on the board.
Diocese of Peshawar Bishop Humphrey Sarfraz Peter agreed that the recent Supreme Court order suggests a path of reconciliation. A representative of the Lahore Diocesan Trust Association will also be invited for the negotiations, he informed, adding that it is however mala fide that the Church of Pakistan, Diocese of Peshawar, who is in fact the owner of the college, has not been made party to the negotiations.
“Why has the Pakistani Church been deprived of its constitutional rights. When the college was never nationalised, why is the government interested to take over the only Christian college in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” questioned Peter.
He urged the apex court to review its order which has excluded the owners from being part of any discussion on the college’s future.
Casting doubt on the ‘pro-minorities’ emphasis of the ruling party, Peter claimed that the governor is trying to wrest control over the college. He stated that of the 13 board members, only three are Christians, adding that the church has also been denied its due control over the college’s administration, management and appointment of principal — handled by the BoG with the governor as its chair.
He shared further that the church has nothing to do with the college’s finances but the Diocese contributes around Rs1.3 million annually to support students from religious minorities.
James Thomas, a national lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), informed that he had spoken with the prime minister on the issue of Edwardes College and assured that PTI does not want to take over any missionary institute. However, he added that there is a ‘mafia’ within the institute that is hatching schemes against the college in collaboration with the provincial governor.
Thomas also regretted that of the 1,400 students admitted in 2019, only 56 were Christians. Even then, he asserted, “the missionary institute should always remain as such and no other entity has any right to take that away.”