• Dictator Zia banned student unions in 1984 to quell uprisings
• CJP Isa lends support to syndicate’s decision
ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa on Friday lent his support to a decision to revive the Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) students’ union, a move that, it is hoped, will pave the way for the revival of student unions in other universities as well.
The decision was taken during a syndicate meeting chaired by the university’s Vice Chancellor, Niaz Ahmad Akhtar, and attended by the chief justice of Pakistan, who is a member of the forum by virtue of his position. Justice Isa is the second CJP, after former chief justice Rana Bhagwandas, to have attended a QAU syndicate meeting.
Student unions were banned in 1984 by the dictator Ziaul Haq in an effort to quell student uprisings against his oppressive policies. The decision had left a significant vacuum in Pakistan’s political landscape. Four decades thence, the students at QAU seem poised to be the first to get their democratic rights back.
According to a statement issued by the QAU, the syndicate had been discussing the engagement of students in positive and healthy activities when the matter came up. The Federal Education Secretary, Waseem Ajmal Chaudhary, expressed an opinion in favour of reviving the student unions. He was seconded by the chief justice, who observed that Gen Zia’s Martial Law Order had been repealed by an Act of Parliament in 1989. He also pointed to a 1993 Supreme Court judgement which, though it had disapproved of students’ indulgence in politics, also allowed for and appreciated the existence of elected bodies which address students’ issues and arrange co-curricular activities for them. The syndicate also factored in a unanimous resolution passed by the Senate in 2017 on the same subject into its decision.
After discussion, the syndicate unanimously decided to revive QAU’s students’ union, which is an elected body representing all students of the university. A committee was also constituted to come up with a detailed proposal on the modalities of elections and other relevant issues. It will comprise a representative of the education ministry, the QAU Registrar, as well as the director of the university’s School of Law. The committee will study earlier practices and rules, as well as contemporary best practices from the wider world. It will submit its report to the syndicate in two weeks.
Informed sources said that the chief justice had also urged that the union not be allowed to seek support on any ethnic, religious or political basis; rather, it should be a platform for the welfare and excellence of students and for the flourishing of democratic culture.
He also recommended that the union be modelled around Oxford University’s student union, which has graduated a number of world leaders.
Though successive governments made several commitments for the revival of student unions, no practical steps were ever taken to this effect.
In 2017, the Senate, then headed by Mian Raza Rabbani, had approved a resolution and recommendation of the Senate Committee of the Whole for the revival of student unions, but the matter fizzled out.
Later, during the PTI regime, then prime minister Imran Khan also expressed support for the restoration of student unions following protests across the country. However, once again, no practical step was taken in this regard.
Environment and other concerns
Sources said that, during the meeting, the CJP emphasised environmental sustainability and directed the management to finalise a comprehensive environment management plan, which should include effective waste management and the sustainable consumption of water resources.
The CJP asked that the QAU be made a plastic, weapon and drug-free institute and also sought a report from the university administration on gender equality on the campus. Justice Isa also reportedly expressed concerns for the longstanding land issues plaguing the QAU and instructed the syndicate members to prioritise and expedite the resolution of all land-related challenges.
The sources said that the syndicate also discussed the use of unfair means by some students. University representatives also told the meeting participants that the university had sometimes faced political interference.
The sources said that the CJP had recommended that the administration should consider lodging police reports against such elements.
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2023