ISLAMABAD: Amid a strong countrywide demand by students for restoration of unions in educational institutions, Prime Minister Imran Khan hinted on Sunday that his government might lift the 35-year-old ban on student unions after devising a comprehensive code of conduct for grooming the youth as leaders of the future.

“We will establish a comprehensive and enforceable code of conduct, learning from the best practices in internationally renowned universities, so that we can restore and enable student unions to play their part in positively grooming our youths as future leaders of the country,” he said in a tweet.

However, the prime minister regretted that unions in the country had forgotten their responsibilities, went off-track and turned campuses of educational institutions into battlefields. “Universities groom future leaders of the country and student unions form an integral part of this grooming. Unfortunately, in Pakistan student unions became violent battlegrounds, destroying the intellectual atmosphere on campuses,” he said in another tweet.

Says comprehensive code of conduct will be devised for grooming youths as future leaders

On the other hand, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb criticised the prime minister for calling student unions “violent battlegrounds”.

Student unions in colleges and universities had been banned across the country through a martial law order by military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq on Feb 9, 1984. The reason cited for imposing the ban was violence on university campuses allegedly perpetrated by student wings of political parties.

In 1988, then prime minister Benazir Bhutto lifted the ban and elections were held in colleges and universities in 1989, but for the last time so far.

Students across the country have been holding demonstrations for the past one week, calling upon the government to restore unions in colleges and universities. During their protest, many students were detained and cases registered against them.

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari lashed out at the government for registering FIRs against the students.

Several politicians of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, including Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry, have supported the lifting of ban on student unions.

Two years ago, the Senate Committee of the Whole had recommended unions’ revival in educational institutions and adopted a resolution. The senators were of the view that Gen Zia had banned student unions because he wanted to sack teachers with an independent voice and to nip resistance in the bud. They said the unions provided a platform for students to excel and groom themselves for politics and raise voice for their rights.

In 1993, the Supreme Court had prohibited the formation of student unions and called for a proper mechanism if the government wanted to revive them. But successive governments did not take any step for the revival of traditional student politics and took shelter under the judicial verdict.

The Senate adopted the resolution and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani gave a ruling after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed concern over the continuing ban on student unions and called for an 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”.

Raza Rabbani said the ban through a martial law 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 student alliance against his rule.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019