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Student Politics in Pakistan

Student Politics in Pakistan

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Published by: shaljam on Apr 02, 2009
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Student politics in Pakistan: A celebration,lament & historyNadeem F ParachaStudent politics in Pakistan has had a history of mixed shades. Though extremelytumultuous, itis also a history of rich democratic traditions. Before student unions were bannedby the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship in 1984, their activities were conducted through regular annualelections inuniversities and colleges. Student parties that participated in these electionsplayed an importantrole in looking after vital academic, cultural and political interests of thestudents. Event thoughstudent electoral activity was revived again soon after the first Benazir Bhuttogovernment tookover in 1989, it was banned once more by the first Nawaz Sharif government in1992, citinggrowing cases of violence in universities and colleges.Detractors of the ban maintain that Zia’s actions undermined and damaged thenursery-likepotential of student politics of putting out astute, urban and middle-classpolitical leadershipacross Pakistan’s political landscape, and that the ban consequently set intomotion thedepoliticalization of the country’s student culture, an event that can have atelling impact on thequality and nature of future political leadership in the country.1950s: All Left and nowhere to goIn 1947 the only established student organization in the newly created country ofPakistanwas Muslim Students Federation (MSF), the student wing of the ruling MuslimLeague.However by 1950 the situation in MSF started to reflect the fragmentary nature ofits motherparty that had remained intact as a powerful political party until 1948, but hadbegun todisintegrate soon after coming to power as Pakistan’s first ruling party. It brokeinto variousself-serving groups.Consequently, MSF too started to fracture into factions (MSF, MSF-Union, etc.); somuch sothat certain disgruntled members of MSF encouraged by a few progressive members oftheMuslim League got together with varied small left-leaning independent studentgroups andformed the Democratic Students Federation (DSF).Though not exactly conceived as a left-wing organization, and more as a studentplatformconstructed to address the growing number of problems being experienced by thestudents ina country facing serious teething problems, DSF’s ideological orientation quicklyturned left.This was mostly due to the progressive and left-leaning point of reference of mostof itsleadership. Some of the leading members of DSF in this era were (Dr.) MohammadSarwar,(Dr.) Haroon Ahmed, (late) Hassan Nasir, Abid Manto, A T. Naqvi and Hassan Naqi.After establishing itself in all the main colleges and universities in Karachi,
Lahore andRawalpindi, DSF, apart from pushing the government of the day to be moresympathetic andresponsive towards the many academic issues facing the students, also started toexhibitsupport for various progressive causes through demonstrations and rallies. Theseincludedshowing solidarity with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Eygpt over the Suez Crisis, andrallies againstBritain, Israel and the United States.DSF also showed its displeasure over Pakistan’s growing role in supporting theWest againstthe Soviet Union and its satellite states, and demanded that the government take amoreindependent stance in its foreign policy.By 1951, DSF began to sweep student union elections in almost all majoruniversities andcolleges in the country. Its main counterparts in these elections, the MSF, hadlost most of itselectoral steam and influence due to factionalization. In fact some prominent MSFfactionsactually ended up supporting DSF.As DSF grew in size, influence and confidence, so did its voice against therapidly pro-Westand anti-Soviet establishment, so much so that the organization started to beassociated withthe Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), of which one DSF sympathizer, Hassan Nasir,actually became an active (and legendary) member.The panicky regime responded to the rising influence of leftist thought andpolitics on thecampuses and coffee houses by first banning the CPP, accusing it of being involvedin MajorGeneral Akbar Khan’s abortive coup attempt against the government of (late) LiaqatAli Khan(the “Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case”), and then, attempted to thwart DSF by erectinga parallelstudent organization.Failing to unite the many MSF factions to tackle “the DSF menace,” the governmentfundedthe creation of a pro-establishment student party, calling it the NationalStudentsFederation (NSF).Still unable to inflict any serious dents in DSF’s structure and strength, thegovernmenteventually banned it all together.The 1954 banning of the CPP and DSF was also said to be a part of the Pakistangovernment’smimicking of the highly dramatic anti-communist/anti-Socialist moves and purges intheUnited States during the peak of the infamous era of “McCarthyism” in the earlyand mid-1950s.The DSF leadership’s response to the banning was to bring together somedisgruntled MSFfactions and independent student clusters, and along with former DSF members andstudentgroups operating in former East Pakistan, form the All Pakistan StudentsOrganization
(APSO).APSO became a large gathering of diverse student groups both from the right andthe leftsides of the ideological spectrum. It was never an electoral alliance, but ratherworked as apressure group. But its existence was short-lived. After a few rallies in Karachithat turnedviolent due to overenthusiastic police action, APSO too was banned by thegovernment.Meanwhile, and most interestingly, some DSF members managed to infiltrate theestablishmentarian National Students Federation (NSF) and (by 1956), “hijacked” ittocompletely change the ideological orientation of the organization, eventuallyturning it frombeing pro-establishment and conservative, to becoming increasingly independent andleftleaning.In fact, by the early 1960s, NSF would become the country’s leading progressivestudentparty.The hijacking and change of ideological course in the NSF was first initiated byformer DSFleaders like Hassan Naqi and (in the late 1950s), by progressive student leaderslike (Dr.) SyedEhtisham.The irony is, as the bickering regimes of quarrelling Muslim League starlets andformer MLturncoats were concentrating on keeping the CPP and DSF quiet (both had goneunderground), NSF that was initially constructed as a pro-establishment studentorganization, changed its ideological shape and started wining student unionelections just asDSF had done in the early 1950s.Some officials within the ruling circles eventually did begin to sound the alarm,but by then itwas too late. In 1958, the eleven-year-rule of assorted Muslim League factions andotherestablishmentarian groups of feudals and bureaucrats came to an end when FieldMarshalAyub Khan imposed the country’s first Martial Law.Though DSF and CPP continued to be put under duress, their gravest tragedy arrivedin 1959when DSF sympathizer and CPP activist, Hassan Nasir, was arrested by the Punjabpolice,taken to the Lahore Fort and tortured to death.Student Union Elections (West Pakistan) 1950-59 – Leadingparties & approximations of the number of elections won:1: Democratic Students Federation (DSF) – 50%2: National Students Federation (NSF) – 35%3: Muslim Students Federation (MSF) – 10%3: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba - 5%Approximations gathered from student union election data at University ofKarachi, Dow Medical College, Islamia College(Karachi), SM College Karachi, Punjab University, Government College Lahore,Gordon College Rawalpindi.________________________________________________1960s: Revolutions and then someIn a quirky twist, just as the majority of the country had actually celebrated theinitial arrivalof Ayub Khan’s martial law, so did almost all student groups. Just as most people

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