Student politics: a brief history

Published February 10, 2008

Before student unions were banned by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in 1984, their activities were conducted through regular annual elections in universities and colleges.

Student politics in Pakistan has had a tumultuous but rich democratic history.

Before student unions were banned by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in 1984, their activities were conducted through regular annual elections in universities and colleges. Student parties that participated in these elections played an important role in looking after vital academic, cultural and political interests of the students. The following is a history seen through brief profiles of some of the country's leading student parties

National Students Federation (NSF)

One of the oldest progressive student organisations in Pakistan. Began as the student wing of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). Exhibited electoral supremacy in student union elections through the 1960s and early 1970s. Was at the forefront of the movement against the Ayub Khan dictatorship in 1968. Experienced a split in early 1960s when a pro-China faction broke away and formed theDemocratic Students Federation (DSF). Electoral influence started to vain from 1973 onwards as another faction broke away and formed the Liberal Students Federation (LSF).

In the late 1970s and 1980s the NSF became part of the progressive electoral alliances, the United Students Movement(USM) in Karachi and the Progressive Students Alliancein Punjab. Currently the NSF has a small presence in a couple of colleges in Sindh, Punjab and Azad Kashmir.

IdeologyMarxist (1960s-70s); progressive (1980s-90s).

Famous former membersMiraj Mohammad Khan (former minister); Fatyab Ali Khan (politician); Raja Anwar (former minister/writer); Ammanullah (politician); Dr Haroon Ahmed (psychiatrist).

Islami-Jamiat-i-Taleba (IJT)

The student wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). Repeatedly defeated by the NSF in student union elections in the 1960s. Gained electoral strength in the early 1970s and sustained the momentum through the decade. Played a significant role in the 1977 movement against the Z A Bhutto regime. Accused of introducing firearms in student politics when some members fired upon an NSF rally at the University of Karachi in 1979.

The IJT became more violent after student politics were banned in 1982 by Ziaul Haq. Eventually it lost ground in Karachi to the rise of the All Pakistan Muttehida Students Organisation (APMSO) in the late 1980s. It showed unimpressive performance in Punjab when student union elections were briefly revived by the first Benazir Bhutto government in 1989.A more populist faction broke away in early 1990s and formed Pasban.

IdeologyIslamist (1960s-70s-80s-90s-2000s).

Famous former membersLiaquat Baloch (former minister); Shaikh Rashid Ahmed (former minister); Mohammad Ali Durrani (former minister); Hussain Haqqani; Farid Paracha.

Peoples Students Federation (PSF)

The student wing of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Formed in 1972. Part of progressive students' alliances, the USM and the PSA in the 1970s and 1980s. Exhibited electoral strength in interior Sindh and northern Punjab. Played a leading role in the anti-Zia agitation in the late 1970s and then again during the MRD movement in 1981 and 1983. Many members were flogged and tortured by the Zia regime. Currently the organising strength behind the PPP rallies.

Ideologysocialist (1970s); progressive (1980s-90s-2000s).

Famous former membersJehangir Badar (former minister); Masroor Ahsan (former senator); Qasim Zia (former minister/hockey player); Salamullah Tipu (notorious radical).

All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO)

Urban Sindh-based nationalist students' group formed in 1978; in retrospect the student forerunner of the Muttahida and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement. Was part of the progressive students alliance, the USM, until becoming an independent force in 1988. Sidelined the IJT's influence in Karachi. Still strong in Karachi.

Ideologyethnic-socialist (1970s); militant-ethnic (1980s-90s); liberal (2000s).

Famous former membersAltaf Hussain (politician); Azeem Ahmed Tariq (former minister); Imran Farooq (politician); Dr Farooq Sattar (former minister).

Muslim Students Federation (MSF)

The student wing of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). Supported Ayub Khan till 1965, but joined the NSF's agitation against the Ayub regime in the late 1960s. Withered away in the 1970s before being revamped and revived in the late 1980s by the Zia-backed PML. Supported the Nawaz Sharif faction of the PML in the 1990s.

Ideology populist (1960s); conservative (1970s-80s); populist-conservative (1990s-2000s).

Famous former membersNawaz Sharif (former prime minister); Jawad Ahmed (pop singer).

Progressive Students Alliance (PSA)

Electoral alliance formed in late 1970s to counter the IJT's rise in Punjab colleges and universities. Included theNational Students Federation, Democratic Students Federation and the People's Students Federation. Defeated the IJT in 1977 and 1978 student union elections in northern Punjab. Played the leading role in the anti-Zia movements at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad in the 1980s. Dissolved in 1988.


United Students Movement (USM)

An electoral student alliance formed in Karachi in 1979. Included the National Students Federation, the Democratic Students Federation, the People's Students Federation, the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation, the Baloch Students Organisationand thePakhtoon Students Federation. Managed to route the IJT in the last student union elections held in Karachi in 1981. Survived as an anti-Zia/anti-IJT alliance throughout the 1980s; also worked against the militant Jeeay Sindh Students Federation (JSSF) and the pro-Zia Punjabi Students Federation.

Dissolved in 1990 after the APMSO left in 1988 and the PSF left it in 1989.




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