“If there is the expected response from colleges and universities from Karachi to Peshawar, it could be one of the most exciting moments in the country’s history as student activism, previously destroyed by military rulers and autocrats, comes to life”
For the first time in 34 years, Pakistan’s poorly treated students will be collectively demanding their rights, improved working conditions, more facilities, and a better education when they come onto the streets in countrywide demonstrations on November 29th.
If there is the expected response from colleges and universities from Karachi to Peshawar, it could be one of the most exciting moments in the country’s history as student activism, previously destroyed by military rulers and autocrats, comes to life again.
Pakistan’s student unions were banned by General and President Zia-ul-Haq in 1984 as he tried to promote the Jamaat-e-Islami on campuses and took a tough line against liberals and democrats. The students conducted heroic resistance against the suppression of their rights but they were divided and were unable to link up with other groups such as workers and trade unions who were also being crushed.
The result was that campuses were emptied of student activities from culture to sport events and in order to combat the Jaamat, students formed ethnic and sectarian groups that destroyed genuine student activism.
Today’s students do not even know what student unions stand for or what they can achieve. Their first aim must be to mount sufficient pressure so that student unions are restored by the government and students are able to re-establish activities they once enjoyed from hosting plays and films, to sports, debates, societies and politics. All this needs a movement of student activism that will awaken the slumbering giant of students in the country.
Ahmed Rashid is a distinguished journalist and author. His bestsellers include Taliban, Jihad and Pakistan on the Brink. He brings unrivaled expertise to forums on South and Central Asia.