KARACHI: Amid reports of students’ involvement in some recent terror activities in the city, student unions in universities are needed to be revived to provide them a platform for raising and discussing their issues, according to political leaders and analysts.

Getting the students involved in healthy extra-curricular activities is not a difficult task, as powerful young minds are ever ready to eliminate social and political ills of society, and to seek reply from those in power.

Unfortunately, student unions were banned by the military regime of Gen Zia-ul-Haq across the country in 1984 to suppress those agitating against his coup d’etat and questioning the validity of his government.

‘Mashal Khan’s murder would not have taken place had there been student unions’

The students were thus deprived of the fundamental right to freedom of association, guaranteed by Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan. They now have to submit an undertaking at the time of taking admission in an educational institute that they would not take part in politics.

The ban resulted in loss of an effective platform that was not only playing an active part in keeping the students engaged in cultural and intellectual activities but was also providing them a chance for releasing their anger and frustration through proper channels of debates and dialogues.

Due to lack of student unions, one may notice that more and more students are now falling prey to terrorism. Abdul Karim Sarosh Siddiqui, who is believed to be a mastermind of the attack on Leader of the Opposition in Sindh Assembly Khwaja Izharul Hassan, was a student of Applied Physics at the Karachi University (KU); Saad Aziz was an alumnus of the IBA and was found to have been involved in the killing of Shia-Ismaili community members at Safoora; and MBBS student Naureen Leghari from the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences was found to have had links with the Islamic State, are some examples of students’ tilt towards extremism.

Discussing the importance of student unions, Dr Jaffar Ahmed, who retired from the Pakistan Study Centre, KU, as its director, said: “Student unions used to be highly productive and were present in every college and university. They would involve students in creative writing and bring out annual journals and monthly magazines. They used to hold mushairas, mock court trials and debates where students were critical of each other in healthy atmosphere.

“In 1976, a question and answer session called “Rubaru” took place at the KU in which students put questions before Nasim Wali Khan, Malik Qasim, Abdul Sattar Khan Niazi and Munawar Hasan. The programme was organised by the students’ union and there were thousands of students sitting and listening.

“The best thing that the student unions provided was the political leadership from the middle-class. Pakistan Peoples Party’s Taj Haider, Raza Rabbani and Fauzia Wahab were products of student unions.

“Balochistan’s former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, Afrasiab Khattak, Hasil Bizenjo, Sheikh Rashid and Liaquat Baloch all rose to top leadership from student politics.

“Besides, a number of renowned names such as Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi were in student politics.

“After the ban on Democratic Students Federation in 1954, the National Student Federation (NSF) was formed in 1958. Mairaj M. Khan was its president.

“The NSF played an active role against the military government of Ayub Khan who expelled 12 of its students from Karachi. The students went to Hyderabad where they received rousing reception. The Hyderabad administration expelled them and they took refuge in Sukkur where again they received warm reception. Every administration kept expelling them and every new city kept welcoming them with open arms. They were finally brought back to Karachi as the administration realized its mistake.

“I believe the ban has left a vacuum in universities and colleges. At the time of student unions, everything was an open affair, now, we do not know if a student is in contact with a terrorist on the Internet.

“The unions were banned because there was no mechanism of controlling negative activities. Instead of addressing those issues, we banned the unions.

“The ban on student unions brought violence to cities from campuses.”

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, who took active part in student politics, when contacted, told Dawn: “It is absolutely incorrect to say that revival of student unions will promote violence. The student unions are not allowed to operate these days, yet we experience violence. There are other causes of violence. Those who want to keep the unions banned, give this argument that unions would give rise to aggression.

“The unions were banned during Zia’s dictatorship which was a conscious decision taken by civil and military bureaucracy.

“One of the factors which were dangerous for military regime was student power. Liberal and progressive student bodies were banned, while right-wing parties were somehow allowed to do business as usual. That gave rise to just one school of thought at that time.

“The ban is now producing extremists from colleges and universities. Mashal Khan’s murder would not have taken place had there been student unions.

“In order to counter militancy, two things are needed to be done in my opinion. First, total revision of curriculum and syllabus, which was distorted by Gen Zia, and second, revival of student unions.

“The Senate has passed a resolution and sent its copies to the prime minister for its implementation at the federal level and to all chief ministers for its implementation at provincial levels, because education is now a provincial subject.

“We now need to legislate to revive student unions.”

Former chief of Jamaat-i-Islami Munawar Hasan said: “Student unions are supported all over the world. They were an elected platform where all political parties used to present their respective manifesto and contest it.

“The students are now looking for individual interests instead of struggling for collective goals. These students are fully capable of not only solving their own issues but are good enough to provide future leadership to the country.

“It is important that we inculcate in students the norms of voting at a young age through student unions.”

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2017

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