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ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said on Monday that the ban on student unions in the country’s educational institutions was ‘unconstitutional’ and referred the matter to a Committee of the Whole House to submit recommendations.

On the opening day of the new session, the house adopted five resolutions and saw introduction of a Constitution amendment bill seeking omission of Article 182 which allows the chief justice of Pakistan to appoint ad hoc judges. The bill moved by Babar Awan of the PPP was referred to the committee concerned by the chairman after its initial opposition by the government.

Mr Rabbani gave the ruling after senators from both sides expressed concern over the continuing ban on student unions since the era of military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq and called for their immediate revival.

The issue came under discussion on a motion tabled by Rubina Khalid of the PPP stressing the “need for revival of student unions in educational institutions in the country, particularly colleges and universities”.

The chairman said the ban on student unions through a martial law administrative order had been imposed by the dictatorial regime in violation of the Constitution which allowed every citizen the right to form an association or union.

He said Gen Zia had banned the unions after he saw formation of a students’ alliance against his dictatorial rule. The students’ movement had played a key role in restoration of democracy and forced dictator Ayub Khan to bow out, he added.

Taking part in the debate, members called for revival of the student unions, terming them “nurseries” of future politicians.

Rubina Khalid said that a political vacuum had been created in the absence of student unions.

PPP’s Saeed Ghani said student and trade unions and local government institutions were necessary for grooming future leaders. He said it was strange that army generals were allowed to take part in politics whereas students, who had the constitutional right to do politics were being denied of this fundamental right.

Nehal Hashmi of the PML-N said student unions had always played a leading role in movements against martial laws and there was no need to continue with the ban during the democratic era.

MQM’s Tahir Mashhadi said revival of student unions was necessary for the country’s development.

PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan said the establishment considered student politics a threat and succeeded in getting student unions banned after the success of student movement against Ayub Khan.

Shahi Syed of the ANP drew the attention of the members to negative activities of some student union leaders who, he said, were behaving like mafias in Karachi and were found involved in car snatching and extortions.

Abdul Qayyum of the PML-N supported the motion, but called for some checks on the activities of student leaders.

RESOLUTIONS: Meanwhile, the government faced a defeat during voting on a resolution moved by Azam Khan Swati of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf asking the government to provide “an additional amount of Rs2 billion to the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) to facilitate its operations and fulfil requirements of national security”.

The Senate chairman had to put the resolution for voting when Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq challenged his decision for a voice vote. There were nine members on the treasury benches and 13 opposition members when the voting took place.

Before the voting, the government came under criticism from the opposition when Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman opposed the resolution.

Mr Swati said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had himself stated on the floor of the house that the government had allocated Rs1.6bn for Nacta which was not sufficient. He said the government had spent billions of rupees on “non-productive foreign tours”, but it was not ready to provide resources to an institution that had been set up to ensure national security.

PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said the refusal by the government to allocate additional funds to Nacta showed that that it was not serious in fighting extremism. He said Nacta had no office building and was housed in the premises of the National Police Bureau and had only five officers against 33 sanctioned posts.

Under the law, he said, the Nacta Board of Governors headed by the prime minister should meet at least once in a quarter, but it had not met even once during the past year. He said it was unfortunate that the government refused to provide funds to this premier organisation which showed that it was only paying lip-service to fighting militancy.

MQM’s Tahir Mashhadi alleged that the government lacked the will to fight “barbarian Taliban”.

PPP’s Aajiz Dhamra said it appeared that the government was relying entirely on the military-led Zarb-i-Azb Operation and not interested in playing any role.

Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman said the government wanted to strengthen Nacta and was ready to provide additional resources whenever needed. He said the government had increased Nacta’s funding from Rs100 million to Rs1.6bn.

The house unanimously adopted a resolution moved by MQM’s Mohammad Ali Saif urging the government “to immediately ban the VIP protocol in the country in order to save the people from hardships due to protocol”.

The house passed two resolutions, moved by Mr Mashhadi, calling upon the government “to explore new markets abroad for Pakistani goods” and “to take effective steps to improve performance of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council”.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2016