During its election campaign for 2008 general elections, Pakistan People’s Party had pledged to revive student union after coming into power. The promise was part of party’s manifesto as well.
On February 9, 1984, Ziaul Haq imposed a ban on student union in all the colleges of the country. Apparently, the ban was enforced to curb violence on the campuses between the Left and Right wing parties. In 1988, during her first tenure as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto restored the student unions. Three years later, the unionization was challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the ground that they were inciting violence. In 1993 a three-member bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice Afzal Zullah, reinstated the ban on the ‘political nature’ of the student union. The court, however, asked the government to develop a mechanism for the peaceful revival of the student union in the country.
In January 1953, the Democratic Student’s Front under the leadership of Dr Sarwar, then a student of Dow Medical College, began a student movement to bring to light the anomalies affecting the academic institutions of Karachi. The movement gained momentum within no time and spread across the country. DSF also started publishing a fortnightly called Student Herald. When the US joined the alliance against communism DSF was banned along with the communist party of Pakistan. Herald too was shut down. Later many students of DSF joined the National Student Federation (NSF). The 1969 protest and then the downfall of 1969 the military rule of General Ayub Khan, was led by the students of NSF.
Giving reasons for the ban on the Student Union the leader of Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf, Ijaz Chaudhry, who himself had led student union from the front, told Truth Tracker: “Violence on campuses was engineered by different political parties to perpetuate their ancestral hold on politics. Circumstances were created to deny the emergence of leadership from academic institutions through division within the student unions on ideological lines. It not only rendered the union weak but also became the reason for its demise.”
PPP won 2008 elections and formed a government in the center. Standing by its promise, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in his inaugural speech in the National Assembly ordered to lift the ban on the student union. Notification to that effect was issued, and a committee was formed under the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan. Nothing happened. To find out what led to the procrastination, Truth Tracker talked to the leadership of PPP and other political and student organizations.
Pakistan People Party’s Punjab Chapter President, Qamar Zaman Kaira, talking to Truth Tracker said his party had always wanted to see Student Unions revived. He added that the reason why his party could not make any effort in this direction was its inability to garner enough support within the assembly. Secondly, said Kaira, the party had so many targets before it from 2008 to 2013 that virtually no space was left for it to concentrate on other issues. However, he said being an essential component of the democratic process; the party had been raising voice for the revival of Student Union. “I agree my party could not implement the order passed by our Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani.” Said Kaira.
On January 12, 2017, the Senate Committee of the Whole with Mian Raza Rabbani in the chair had decided to draft a resolution on the revival of the student union in education institutions.
Sheikh Rasheed, the leader of Awami Muslim League, said though it was a good idea to have the student union, it was also, he acknowledged not advisable to have students running around the campuses with guns in hands. “So much intolerance has penetrated in the society that people are not at ease to listen to one another or give space to the opinion of others in a peaceful manner,” Unless the culture of intolerance was done with said Rasheed to Truth Tracker, student union would not deliver productive results.
Former Chairman Higher Education Commission, Dr Atta ur Rahman told Truth Tracker that the committee formed to spearhead the revival of student union had partially worked under his supervision; however, nothing had been heard of it since his retirement, since October 2008, said Rehman.
Former Nazim-e-Aala Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba Pakistan and former president of Muttahida Talaba Mahaz, Muhammad Naveed Anwer, giving detail about the reasons why student unions were banned said the students were divided on ethnic lines leading to sectarian sentiments in the campus. It was a turf war that resulted in the weaponisation of campuses, he elaborated. Further adding, he said, the mind-set behind this polarization was the fear in communities that if they failed to raise voice for their rights, they would be left behind. “The situation had become so intense and volatile that the unions were at last banned in colleges.” Talking about the effects of the ban, Naveed said since the prohibition the quality of education, teacher, teacher-student relations and leadership has gone down.
Jabran bin Salman, the President Lahore Chapter, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, agreed that the revival of the student union is significant. Talking to Truth Tracker, he said for the restoration of quality in education system students should be allowed to become the stakeholder, so that they could participate in policy making. “The new student union should be an amalgamation of student, teacher and non-teaching staff so that all issues affecting an academic institution are addressed.” He further said that it was a lie that student unions were banned because of the fear of violence. “More student had died after the ban than when there was no ban.” An 18-year-old person, Salman retorted, is allowed to elect his representative in elections, but he is considered immature to lead a student union, what a dichotomy!
Iqbal Haider, a social activist, who had done extensive work on the Student Union from the platform of an NGO, Bargad, while talking to Truth Tracker, said the ban on student union was laid because of unstoppable violence that had ripped the peace and academic environment of campuses across Pakistan. The same situation prevailed in India as well, but the Indian government, Haider informed, handled the situation professionally. He further explained that the Indian government after applying the temporary ban on the student union revived it with the condition that the student would not represent any political party in the campuses and that only those students would be allowed to contest election who had secure relatively higher marks in exams. These measures Haider told Truth Tracker could be replicated in Pakistan as well. “The main issue in Pakistan is that political parties had been given a free hand to use students for their political interests,”
In spite of repeated promises and resolutions, the PPP had been unable to restore student union in the colleges.