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Student politics in Pakistan: A celebration,

lament & history

Nadeem F Paracha
Student politics in Pakistan has had a history of mixed shades. Though extremely
tumultuous, it
is also a history of rich democratic traditions. Before student unions were banned
by the Zia-ul-
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. Event though
student electoral activity was revived again soon after the first Benazir Bhutto
government took
over in 1989, it was banned once more by the first Nawaz Sharif government in
1992, citing
growing cases of violence in universities and colleges.
Detractors of the ban maintain that Zia’s actions undermined and damaged the
potential of student politics of putting out astute, urban and middle-class
political leadership
across Pakistan’s political landscape, and that the ban consequently set into
motion the
depoliticalization of the country’s student culture, an event that can have a
telling impact on the
quality and nature of future political leadership in the country.
1950s: All Left and nowhere to go
In 1947 the only established student organization in the newly created country of
was Muslim Students Federation (MSF), the student wing of the ruling Muslim
However by 1950 the situation in MSF started to reflect the fragmentary nature of
its mother
party that had remained intact as a powerful political party until 1948, but had
begun to
disintegrate soon after coming to power as Pakistan’s first ruling party. It broke
into various
self-serving groups.
Consequently, MSF too started to fracture into factions (MSF, MSF-Union, etc.); so
much so
that certain disgruntled members of MSF encouraged by a few progressive members of
Muslim League got together with varied small left-leaning independent student
groups and
formed the Democratic Students Federation (DSF).
Though not exactly conceived as a left-wing organization, and more as a student
constructed to address the growing number of problems being experienced by the
students in
a country facing serious teething problems, DSF’s ideological orientation quickly
turned left.
This was mostly due to the progressive and left-leaning point of reference of most
of its
leadership. Some of the leading members of DSF in this era were (Dr.) Mohammad
(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 and
Rawalpindi, DSF, apart from pushing the government of the day to be more
sympathetic and
responsive towards the many academic issues facing the students, also started to
support for various progressive causes through demonstrations and rallies. These
showing solidarity with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Eygpt over the Suez Crisis, and
rallies against
Britain, Israel and the United States.
DSF also showed its displeasure over Pakistan’s growing role in supporting the
West against
the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and demanded that the government take a
independent stance in its foreign policy.
By 1951, DSF began to sweep student union elections in almost all major
universities and
colleges in the country. Its main counterparts in these elections, the MSF, had
lost most of its
electoral steam and influence due to factionalization. In fact some prominent MSF
actually ended up supporting DSF.
As DSF grew in size, influence and confidence, so did its voice against the
rapidly pro-West
and anti-Soviet establishment, so much so that the organization started to be
associated with
the 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 and
politics on the
campuses and coffee houses by first banning the CPP, accusing it of being involved
in Major
General Akbar Khan’s abortive coup attempt against the government of (late) Liaqat
Ali Khan
(the “Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case”), and then, attempted to thwart DSF by erecting
a parallel
student organization.
Failing to unite the many MSF factions to tackle “the DSF menace,” the government
the creation of a pro-establishment student party, calling it the National
Federation (NSF).
Still unable to inflict any serious dents in DSF’s structure and strength, the
eventually banned it all together.
The 1954 banning of the CPP and DSF was also said to be a part of the Pakistan
mimicking of the highly dramatic anti-communist/anti-Socialist moves and purges in
United States during the peak of the infamous era of “McCarthyism” in the early
and mid-
The DSF leadership’s response to the banning was to bring together some
disgruntled MSF
factions and independent student clusters, and along with former DSF members and
groups operating in former East Pakistan, form the All Pakistan Students
APSO became a large gathering of diverse student groups both from the right and
the left
sides of the ideological spectrum. It was never an electoral alliance, but rather
worked as a
pressure group. But its existence was short-lived. After a few rallies in Karachi
that turned
violent due to overenthusiastic police action, APSO too was banned by the
Meanwhile, and most interestingly, some DSF members managed to infiltrate the
establishmentarian National Students Federation (NSF) and (by 1956), “hijacked” it
completely change the ideological orientation of the organization, eventually
turning it from
being pro-establishment and conservative, to becoming increasingly independent and
In fact, by the early 1960s, NSF would become the country’s leading progressive
The hijacking and change of ideological course in the NSF was first initiated by
former DSF
leaders like Hassan Naqi and (in the late 1950s), by progressive student leaders
like (Dr.) Syed
The irony is, as the bickering regimes of quarrelling Muslim League starlets and
former ML
turncoats were concentrating on keeping the CPP and DSF quiet (both had gone
underground), NSF that was initially constructed as a pro-establishment student
organization, changed its ideological shape and started wining student union
elections just as
DSF had done in the early 1950s.
Some officials within the ruling circles eventually did begin to sound the alarm,
but by then it
was too late. In 1958, the eleven-year-rule of assorted Muslim League factions and
establishmentarian groups of feudals and bureaucrats came to an end when Field
Ayub Khan imposed the country’s first Martial Law.
Though DSF and CPP continued to be put under duress, their gravest tragedy arrived
in 1959
when DSF sympathizer and CPP activist, Hassan Nasir, was arrested by the Punjab
taken to the Lahore Fort and tortured to death.
Student Union Elections (West Pakistan) 1950-59 – Leading
parties & 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 of
Karachi, Dow Medical College, Islamia College
(Karachi), SM College Karachi, Punjab University, Government College Lahore,
Gordon College Rawalpindi.
1960s: Revolutions and then some
In a quirky twist, just as the majority of the country had actually celebrated the
initial arrival
of Ayub Khan’s martial law, so did almost all student groups. Just as most people
were now
exhausted with the unsettling power plays of politicians and the rising corruption
witnessed in
the 1950s _ a time when the students were constantly harassed and subjugated _
most of
them felt a sense of relief with the overthrowing of the many (similar looking)
governments” of the preceding decade.
However, still very much under the umbrella and influence of the United States and
set to
further push in stark capitalism in and around the country’s economics, the Ayub
maintained the ban on the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), even though the DSF
start to trickle back in on the campus political scene, albeit as a far less
influential group,
especially in the event of the rise of NSF.
By the early 1960s, NSF had dramatically ascended to become Pakistan’s leading and
progressive student party. But unlike DSF, which had started to get got more and
associated with the pro-Soviet CPP, NSF remained largely independent and held a
ideological base encompassing leaders and members ranging from communists,
social-democrats and left-liberals. It became an all-round progressive entity
joined, supported
and patronized by all shades and shapes of the left.
NSF also maintained its winning streak in student union elections, galloping
towards victory
in almost all major universities and colleges. But this time it had a tougher
opponent in the
making and not just depleted MSF factions or a struggling DSF.
At the start of the 1960s, the student wing of the right-wing politico-religious
party, the
Jamaat-e-Islami finally announced its complete entry into the spectrum of
Pakistani student
Even though the Jamat’s student wing, the Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT), had a
presence in
educational institutions in the 1950s as well, it was less aggressive in asserting
itself and
spend more time in trying to check DSF and NSF’s rampant influence.
By the late 1950s, many colleges and universities had already started to report
between NSF and the IJT, and by 1961, the later was turning out to be a tough
competitor for NSF.
However, NSF remained to be the student group with the most attractive and
electoral pull and influence in student union elections right up till 1968.
IJT’s main aim was to limit NSF’s far-reaching ideological and electoral sway on
and for this it challenged NSF both through the ballot and at times otherwise.
Though somewhat unable to check NSF’s electoral strength for much of the 1960s,
IJT did
succeed in firmly rooting itself as the main opposition student party, especially
in universities
and colleges of Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi.
By 1962 both of the main left and right student parties of the country (NSF and
IJT), had
more or less turned against the Ayub dictatorship, (NSF due to the regime’s
continuing pro-
US foreign policy and emphasis on capitalism, and IJT for the regime’s modernizing
which the organization saw as being “anti-Islam”).
On the other end, MSF tried to reunite its many factions when Ayub created a
Muslim League
comprising of his supporters amongst the feudal/landed and the burgeoning
capitalist elite.
But soon this Muslim League too split when a group pf Muslim Leaguers opposed to
formed the Council Muslim League. Ayub’s League became the Convention Muslim
MSF decided to support the pro-Ayub Muslim League.
MSF never really managed to wrest any significant electoral influence in student
elections, but did start to gather a relatively stronger support base in colleges
of Rawalpindi
and Peshawar.
Some of the top leaders emerging from MSF were Raja Anwar and Ammanullah. They
represented the progressive wing of the student organization and eventually joined
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1967. Raja Anwar went on to become a minister and
in the first PPP government (1971-76).
In a rare show of unity, both NSF and IJT opposed Ayub Khan’s Presidential
against his challenger, Fatima Jinnah, in the controversial 1964 Presidential
IJT was at the forefront of holding demonstrations against Ayub (when he defeated
accusing the dictator of rigging the polls.
This improved IJT’s electoral performance in student union elections, especially
in Karachi
and Lahore, even though NSF still reigned supreme as the country’s leading student
organization and continued to win the bulk of student union elections in the
country’s main
colleges and universities.
Also, after a brief respite during the 1964 Presidential elections, clashes
between NSF and
IJT returned to the fore.
Paralleling the start of the celebrated students’ movement in the United States
and the West
that began taking shape in 1964, the spark in Pakistan in this respect was set
alight by the
aftermath of the country’s 1965 war with India.
The official media had thumped in hard a skewed perception of the war, proclaiming
that the
country’s armed forces had dealt India a hard, decisive blow. But when the Soviet
brokered a peace treaty between the two countries, the opposition parties claimed
“Pakistan had lost on the negotiation table what its forces had won in the field.”
At once there were demonstrations against the treaty by NSF, IJT and even MSF.
Also against the treaty was Ayub’s dynamic young Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto. He
made a passionate speech at the United Nations (UN) against the treaty and the
United States
(which, though allied to Pakistan, had put an arms embargo on the country, whereas
Soviet Union continued to arm India). The only support coming to Pakistan was from
newest friend, the Peoples Republic of China.
Bhutto was eased out of the cabinet by Ayub mainly due to his speech at the UN. He
welcomed back as a hero by thousands of common Pakistanis and students.
NSF was the first student party to hail Bhutto as a hero, and even though NSF had
progressives and leftists of all shapes and sizes, it started moving closer to
China instead of
the Soviet Union in ideological orientation.
DSF had by now become staunchly pro-Soviet and communist in nature, whereas NSF
gotten nearer to the left-leaning, pro-China Bhashani faction of the National
Awami Party
As Bhutto’s stature grew and he became one of the main opposition leaders in West
NSF galvanized around him, seeing in him a potential catalyst for an actual
revolution in the country.
NSF also became the most active student organization in arranging and
participating in the
violent 1967 and 1968 anti-Ayub student protests in Karachi, Rawalpindi and
Peshawar. They
were amply supported (especially in Punjab), by members and supporters of MSF that
turned anti-Ayub after the war.
Already the leading student organization, it was no surprise that NSF hit a peak
in student
union elections between 1965 and 1968.
However, with further growth in size and standing, also came NSF’s first round of
With the international Sino-Soviet split over the leadership of the international
movement getting deeper, it tore and split many leftist parties around the world,
putting them
into separate Chinese and Soviet camps. The affects of the tear also reached the
highly volatile
progressive student groups in Pakistan.
DSF remained to be pro-Soviet, but a majority of NSF leadership moved towards the
camp (Maoist), leaving the pro-Soviet membership of NSF to continue as a much
The main pro-China factions of NSF became NSF (Meraj) and NSF (Kazmi), whereas
NSF (Rashid) became recognized as being pro-Soviet, even though it claimed to have
remained independent of both Chinese and Soviet influence.
NSF (Meraj) moved in the closest to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and one of its leaders,
Muhammad Khan, became a founding member of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party in
Meraj, (along with veteran leftist ideologues, J A. Rahim and Dr. Mubashir
Hassan), become
an important member of PPP’s “socialist intellectual wing” and a minister in
Bhutto’s first
cabinet in 1972.
Apart from Meraj, other major NSF leaders of the anti-Ayub movement also included
Hassan, Tarek Fathe, Fatehyab Ali Khan, Ameer Ahmed Kazmi, (Dr.) Rashid Hassan,
Butt and Sibghatullah Qadri.
NSF (Meraj) and NSF (Kazmi) were the strongest in Karachi, whereas interestingly,
though still the strongest student party in most universities and colleges of
Lahore and
Rawalpindi, NSF remained somewhat intact and faction-less in the Punjab.
One of the reason maybe the shape MSF was taking after 1965. It too had become a
supporter of Z A. Bhutto and along with NSF played a significant role in the anti-
What’s more, many MSF members were radicalized during the movement and in 1969-70,
influential progressive portion of MSF eloped with some leaving members of NSF and
evolved into a separate NSF faction called NSF (Bari).
This faction of NSF was also influenced by some progressive former Muslim League
who (in the 1950s), along with intellectuals like Hanif Ramay, were one of the
first in the
country to float the idea of “Islamic Socialism.”
Islamic Socialism became an important plank of the first PPP manifesto.
After reaching a peak in 1968 and eventually helping Bhutto’s PPP drive out Ayub
exhaustion started to set in NSF across all of its factions.
Even though these factions remained on the left sides of the ideological divide,
further fissures
appeared among them.
NSF (Mearj) was staunchly pro-PPP and pro-China, very nationalistic, anti-India
and also
anti-Mujib-ur-Rheman, the nationalist leader of former East Pakistan.
NSF (Kazmi) was also pro-Bhutto and pro-China, but more subtle about its views on
happenings in East Pakistan.
NSF (Rashid) somewhat remained associated with the National Awami Party (NAP), and
was more likely to get into alliances with new-found nationalist student
organizations, such as
the Marxist Baloch Students Organization (BSO).
The BSO emerged in 1967 as a fall-out of the “second Balochistan insurgency” in
1962-63. It
soon dug in deep in educational institutions in Balochistan and also managed to
have an
impressive presence in Karachi where it allied itself with various NSF factions in
union polls across the 1970s and 1980s.
NSF (Bari) was the least radical of the NSF factions. Unlike other NSF splinter
which remained firmly on the left, NSF (Bari) was in the center and was seen more
of a
progressive-liberal group instead of being staunchly socialist.
An NSF faction, Sindh National Students Federation (SNSF) also emerged in
educational institutions in the interior of the Sindh province. It soon became the
left-wing/progressive student group there.
Though each of these factions remained popular, when campus poll votes started to
between these groups, IJT was finally rewarded with the opening it had been
looking for.
In 1969, IJT for the first time swept student union elections in a major
university when it
finally defeated NSF in the union elections at the University of Karachi.
Student Union Elections (West Pakistan) 1960-69 – Leading
parties & approximations of the number of elections won:
1: National Students Federation (NSF) – 60%
2: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 35%
3: Muslim Students Federation – 3%
3: Democratic Students Federation (DSF) - 2%
Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of
Karachi, Dow Medical College, Adamjee College,
Islamia College (Karachi), SM College Karachi, Punjab University, Government
College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi,
Polytechnic College Rawalpindi.
1970s: Left vs. Left vs. Right
All factions of NSF celebrated the sweeping victory of the PPP in the 1970 general
They saw Bhutto’s and PPP’s victory as the climaxing of their struggle against
(Ayub Khan, Yayah Khan), and the arrival of socialism in Pakistan.
However, there was a mixed reaction among the factions regarding the landslide win
Mujib-ur-Rheman’s Awami League in former East Pakistan.
NSF (Meraj) in particular was the most vocal in condemning Mujeeb for holding
NSF was also instrumental in tackling Bhutto’s detractors in IJT, whom the Jamaat-
had used to attack PPP rallies and spread anti-Bhutto propaganda, claiming that
Bhutto was a
non-believer and if his party wins, his socialist regime will “destroy Islam.”
A number of clashes took place between NSF and IJT over such issues before the
general elections, and when the Jamaat and IJT increased their attacks and
campaigns, the PPP formed its own “Peoples Guards” created by plucking “street
from various NSF factions and MSF.
These brigades of young fighters armed with clubs and knives started to accompany
and various other PPP leaders during the election campaign and worked as tough
against riotous Jamaat and IJT instigators.
The most violent clashes between the two groups took place in the streets of
Lahore and the
Punjab University in 1969 and early 1970.
Subsequently, by late 1972, these young PPP brigades would eventually evolve into
PPP’s own student wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF).
On the student electoral front, IJT repeated its victory in the 1970 student union
elections at
the University of Karachi with the NSF factions coming in a close second.
By 1970 IJT had started to make crucial electoral inroads at the Punjab University
as well,
coming in second to NSF.
NSF (especially NSF-Kazmi, NSF-Rashid and NSF-Miraj), however maintained their
winning ways in most colleges in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, a feat NSF had
repeating for more than a decade now.
But the growing ideological tussle between NSF (Miraj), NSF (Rashid), NSF (Kazmi)
and NSF (Bari) started to take its toll on leftist politics on campuses like never
This helped IJT to once again win University of Karachi union elections in 1971
(its third
consecutive victory here); and manage to clearly triumph in the student union
elections at the
Punjab University for the first time.
However, the same year (1971), NSF and IJT were united in lamenting the Pakistan
defeat at the hands of their Indian counterparts and the subsequent dismemberment
of the
country when former East Pakistan nationalists (backed by India), broke away to
Bangladesh after a vicious civil war against the West Pakistan Army.
However, NSF were upbeat when in 1972, the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government began
implementing its reformist and socialist policies.
NSF (Rashid) and NSF (Kazmi) once again swept the 1972 student union elections in
almost all major colleges in Karachi. But this time they had to ally themselves
with left-wing
nationalist student groups, BSO and the newly formed, Pakhtun Students Federation
(PkSF), the progressive Pushtun student party of the Wali Khan wing of the
National Awami
Party (NAP).
However, once again making the most of the factionalization in NSF, the IJT won
again in
the student union elections at the Punjab University and University of Karachi,
but unions at
major colleges in Rawalpindi remained in the hands of NSF factions.
1972 was also the year when the Pakistan Peoples Party’s student wing, the Peoples
Students Federation (PSF) started to make its way into mainstream campus politics.
At the end of 1972, alarmed at the rise of “unIslamic activities” at the
University of Karachi,
the IJT began giving shape to a sort of campus moral police called the “Thunder
Squad.” The
squad, mostly made up of IJT’s muscle men, would start roaming the university’s
looking to “correct wayward students.”
They claimed this is the kind of “moral cleansing” the students of University of
Karachi had
been voting the IJT into power for.
1973 turned out to be a rather ironic year for NSF. Even though Bhutto had put his
polices in high gear, he was constantly pushed by the PPP’s “socialist
intellectual wing” to
further accelerate and widen the scope of his government’s polices. The wing
leaders also
protested the growing number of feudal lords joining the party.
Accusing the wing leaders of hotheadedness and impracticality, Bhutto’s response
was to start
purging the leadership of the wing. The biggest casualties of the purge were PPP’s
most senior
ideologue, J A. Rahim, and the party’s youngest minister, Miraj Muhammad Khan.
All NSF factions condemned the purge and finally withdrew their support for the
The continuing factionalization of the student left and the fall-out of the purge
dealt NSF its
most serious electoral blow thus far.
It once again lost to the IJT at the University of Karachi and the Punjab
University and
struggled to maintain its hold even in colleges in which it had been winning
student union
elections for more than decade.
In a cruel twist, NSF (Meraj) was almost wiped out as the other NSF factions had
to bank
unconditionally on BSO and PkSF to merely survive the debacle.
1973 also saw the further splitting of NSF factions, when discontented members and
supporters of NSF (Rashid), NSF (Bari) and NSF (Kazmi) formed the Liberal
Students Organization (LSO).
What’s more, the SNSF in interior Sindh was now up against the newly formed
student wing
of the separatist G M Syed’s Jeeay Sindh Movement, the Jeeay Sindh Students
Federation (JSSF).
The year also saw BSO plunging itself forward against Z A. Bhutto when his
strong-arm tactics against Baloch nationalist parties in the Balochistan Assembly
the beginning of the “third Balochistan Insurgency” in the remote mountains of the
A number of BSO members joined the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a militant
Marxist-Nationalist guerilla group fighting for an independent Balochistan, even
though it
insisted it was only fighting for the Baloch people’s democratic rights.
Bhutto’s growing tendency towards authoritarianism had not only disheartened the
student groups, but also gave momentum to the Islamists and conservatives who had
otherwise been wiped out in the 1970 general elections.
IJT continued with its upward momentum when it yet again won the student union
at the University of Karachi and the Punjab University in 1974.
It also made deeper inroads in colleges where it was still trailing behind NSF.
However, in the 1974 student union elections at University of Karachi and Punjab
IJT got its toughest fight in four years from the progressives.
NSF (Kazmi), NSF (Rashid) and NSF (Bari) came together with Liberal Students
Organization (LSO), BSO, PkSF and the fast emerging student wing of the PPP, the
to form the Progressive Alliance.
It was now being felt that after wining four consecutive elections in these two
universities, IJT
was becoming complacent and its “Thunder Squads” were becoming increasingly
violent and
unpopular. In fact the squad had gotten into some serious clashes with NSF at the
The Progressive Alliance had also accused the IJT of co-opting senior faculty
members at
the universities and using them to influence the election results.
Though it is true that by now a majority of faculty members at the two
universities started
exhibiting sympathies towards IJT, the accusation that they were influencing
election results
was laid to rest when the Progressive Alliance now led by LSO, routed the IJT at
University of Karachi and across all colleges in the city in the 1975 student
union elections.
This was IJT’s biggest defeat in Karachi in five years.
The same year at National College, a group of ex-IJT members led by one Altaf
began contemplating the creation of a “Mohajir” students’ front.
Splitting the right-wing vote and thus affecting IJT’s vote bank in Punjab’s
colleges was the
emergence of Anjuman-e-Taleba-Islam (ATI), a student organization loosely
with Shah Mhamood Noorani’s Jamiat-Ulema-Pakistan (JUP). It had been formed in
in 1969 as a reaction to the increasing left-wing activity in Pakistan’s politics
and educational
institutions. By 1975 it had risen to become an electoral force in various
collages of Southern
1975 also saw the Gordon College student union in Rawalpindi, that had remained to
be a
bastion of progressive student groups (DSF, NSF) ever since the 1950s, finally
fell to the IJT.
The IJT won again here in the 1976 student union elections, led by leaders such as
Rashid Ahmed and Javed Hashmi.
However, the Progressive Alliance returned to power at the University of Karachi
in 1976,
with the alliance still led by LSO and comprising of NSF (Kazmi), NSF (Rashid),
(Bari), PSF, BSO and PkSF. Joining them was also Punjabi Students Association
(PSA), a liberal student party formed in Karachi to look after the political and
interests of Punjabi speaking students.
1976 was also the year of general elections.
Though aggressively and passionately supported by progressive and left-wing
student groups
(especially NSF), before and during the 1970 elections, this time none of the NSF
were ready to support the PPP. They had been angry with Bhutto ever since he
purged hardline
leftists from his party in 1973, and then send in the Army to act against Baloch
nationalists. They also accused Bhutto for rolling back the PPP’s original
socialist manifesto
and alienating the leftists by inducting feudal lords and capitalists in his
post-’74 cabinet, and
then caving in to the pressure of Islamists by proclaiming the Ahmadiyya community
as non-
Muslims in 1974.
The only progressive student group willing to support the PPP was, of course, the
party’s own
student wing, the PSF.
PSF had established it self well in universities and colleges across Pakistan. And
even though
it was able to win student union elections single handedly in interior Sindh and
in some
colleges of Rawalpindi, it had to get into alliances with other
progressive/socialist student
groups in Karachi and Lahore.
The aftermath of the 1976 general elections was tumultuous. The nine-party
grouping, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) that was led by the Jamaat-e-
Islami, accused
the Bhutto regime of rigging the polls.
To counter the PPP’s proclamations of “Islamic Socialism”, the PNA had run in the
on the platform of “Nizam-e-Mustapha” (Prophet’s system/Islamic Sharia).
Right away the PNA began a movement of mass protests against the PPP government.
of these protests turned violent in Karachi and Lahore, enough for Bhutto to send
in the Army
and impose a curfew in the disturbed areas.
Mass anti-PPP demonstrations were organized by IJT at University of Karachi before
it was
shut down, while the movement in the Punjab was given great impetus by IJT
activists at the
Punjab University and Gordon College.
Using the disturbances as a pretext, Bhutto’s handpicked General, Muhammad Zia-ul-
(a closet Jamat-e-Islami sympathizer), imposed the country’s second Martial Law (5
In the 1977 student union elections, the IJT regained the turf it lost to
Alliance in the 1975 and 1976 elections at the University of Karachi.
In this year’s election NSF (Bari) and NSF (Rashid) were wiped out just as NSF
was in 1973. Most of their leadership split and joined either LSO and PSF as some
would go
on to join the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO) in 1978.
NSF (Kazmi) was the only NSF faction left standing. Though a much smaller
some quipped that at least it was now the only NSF.
And even though NSF (Kazmi) was associated with a senior former progressive
leader, Ameer Ahmed Kazmi, and had, like all other NSF factions, stopped
supporting the
PPP from 1973 onwards, Kazmi himself would join the PPP and become a Federal
Minister in
Benazir Bhutto’s first government in 1989.
When Zia brought in members of the Jamat-e-Islami to form his first cabinet (to
help him
“Islamize Pakistan”), IJT’s “Thunder Sqauds” went on a rampage, harassing and
manhandling their opponents at the University of Karachi and Punjab University.
In 1978, NSF, PSF, LSO and DSF formed the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance
(PPSA) at the Punjab University, Gordon College, Rawalpindi and the newly built
Azam University in Islamabad.
Gaining sympathy due to Zia’s harsh crackdown on PSF and NSF members and the
cases of violence and harassment by the IJT, the PPSA routed IJT in the 1978
student union
elections in Rawalpindi, Islambad and in many colleges of Lahore. This was the
IJT’s biggest
defeat in Punjab ever since it started to dominate student politics in the
province in 1971.
DSF which had almost vanished under the shadow of the bludgeoning NSF, started to
reemerge in 1976 when some Marxist students got BSO, PkSF and Jam Saqi’s SNSF
together to reform the veteran student party.
In the University of Karachi student union elections of 1978, the Progressive
Alliance (now
comprising of NSF, PSF, DSF, BSO, PkSF, and PSA), almost regained control of the
student union. But this was also the year when incidents of violence between IJT
and the
progressives increased dramatically.
Also in 1978, Altaf Hussain’s All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO)
finally came into being. It was a small group of former-IJT members who were then
joined by
a few progressive members loitering from the break up of two NSF factions in 1977.
It claimed
to hold progressive views and wanted to work for the Urdu speaking students
whom it claimed were bitten by Bhutto’s quota system and “Punjab’s political and
Despite the violence (usually involving PSF and NSF against IJT), the University
did manage
to hold its 1979 elections.
The elections saw the Progressive Alliance defeat IJT on a number of union posts,
but the
union’s top slot was won by IJT’s top man at the varsity, Hussain Haqqani.
It was Hussain Haqqani (who many years later would join PML (N) and then the PPP),
introduced the usage of latest weaponry at the University. Even though he never
carried a
weapon himself, he moved with a well armed group of Thunder Squad members led by
infamous, Rana Javed. Haqqani’s opponents also accused him of being “on CIA and
the ISI’s
When Zia hanged Bhutto and both PSF and NSF started to aggressively protest
against the
dictatorship, Zia increased the harassment and punishments against the members of
the two
student groups.
With the help of arrests, jailing and torture, coupled with the violent pressure
added by IJT,
the dictatorship finally managed to dismember the Progressive Alliance.
Meanwhile in the Punjab, the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PPSA), went on
once again defeat IJT at the Quied-e-Azam University in the 1979 student union
and then won back Gordon College for the progressives which they had lost to IJT
in the 1976
Student Union Elections 1970-79 – Leading parties &
approximations of the number of elections won:
1: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 45%
2: Progressive Alliance
(National Students Federation; Liberal Students Organization; Peoples Students
Baloch Students Organization; Pakhtun Students Federation; Democratic Students
Federation; Punjabi Students Association) – 25%
3: Punjab Progressive Students Alliance
(National Students Federation; Peoples Students Federation; Democratic Students
Federation) - 20%
3: Anjuman-Taleba-Islam (ATI) – 10%
Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of
Karachi, Dow Medical College, Adamjee College,
Islamia College (Karachi), NED University, Karachi, Punjab University, Government
College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi,
Polytechnic College Rawalpindi, Quied-e-Azam University Islamabad, Peshawar
1980s: The levy breaks
Further emboldened by Bhutto’s downfall and the Jamat’s growing influence in Zia’s
Law regime, the IJT started devolving from being a democratic-conservative student
into a group with growing fascist tendencies. At times it became uncontrollable
even for its
mother party the Jamat-e-Islami!
PSF, now under tremendous pressure from arrests and harassment by the Zia
too became a lot more violent, but for different reasons. Many of its members were
tortured and even flogged, sometimes simply for raising a “Jeeay Bhutto!” slogan.
From this pressure cooker emerged one of PSF’s most notorious leaders in Karachi,
Salamullah Tipu.
Every day dozens of PPP and PSF workers were being arrested and thrown into
cramped jails
and since 1978, thousands of them had been jailed across Pakistan.
Colleges in interior Sindh and Rawalpindi, The Quied-e-Azam University and the
University were the most vigorous venues of PSF’s anti-Zia activism.
PSF had risen appreciably at the Peshawar University, and it was in Peshawar that
some PSF
leaders saw IJT members receiving AK-47s and TT pistols from Afghan traders who
started to arrive into the NWFP after the takeover of Afghanistan by Soviet
forces. These IJT
members then got the same traders to meet with IJT workers arriving from Karachi.
It is said
that since arms from the United States had also started to pour in for the so-
called anti-Soviet
“Mujahideen” groups, many of them were sold at throw away prices (by Pakistani
and related Afghan traders) to the visiting IJT workers.
Back at the University of Karachi, the Progressive Alliance had capitulated and
folded under government repression and the strong armed tactics of the now well
armed IJT.
The alliance also lost a member, Qadeer Abid, when in 1980, NSF clashed with IJT
Qadeer was mercilessly shot dead, allegedly by the time’s leading IJT henchman,
Rana Javed.
Getting in touch with the same Afghan traders in Peshawar who had been supplying
arms to
IJT members, a group of PSF activists from University of Karachi bought themselves
a cachet
of AK-47s and TT pistols as well. This group was led by the notorious Salamullah
Tipu, a
former member of NSF (Kazmi), and who later joined PSF and became a self-claimed
defender of “Bhuttoism.” He also belonged to PSF’s militant wing that propagated
an armed
rebellion against the repressive Zia dictatorship. But foremost on his mind was to
“give IJT a
taste of its own medicine in Karachi.”
With the Progressive Alliance in tatters and member student parties trying in vain
to come
to grips with Zia’s repression and IJT violence, Tipu headed back to the
University of Karachi.
The same year (1980), when an Army Major’s jeep arrived at the University, members
of PSF,
NSF and BSO set it on fire. The next day Tipu and a group of PSF militants emerged
on the
campus, roaming in a car with a PPP flag (a crime of sorts in those days), and
shouting “Jeeay
Bhutto!” slogans.
Seeing Tipu, a senior IJT leader, Hafiz Aslam, whipped out a TT pistol and fired
at Tipu’s car.
He fired twice, but missed. Tipu braked, rushed out of the car holding a recently
bought AK-
47 fell Hafiz with a burst of bullets. Hafiz died on the spot, his gun lying
besides him.
The chaotic violence that began with men associated with the time’s IJT leader at
the Karachi
University, Hussain Haqqani, gunning down an NSF worker, (Qadeer Abid), and then
Tipu reciprocating the murder by shooting dead a senior IJT member, coupled with
fist fights and gun battles and the burning of an Army Major’s jeep by the
progressives … all
this created one of the most uncertain situations before student union elections
at the
University of Karachi.
The top slots of the union had been won by the IJT in 1979, but by 1980 the IJT
with the help
of government repression had tendered the Progressive Alliance a most damaging
The withering away of the six-year-old Progressive Alliance saw the student groups
of the
now defunct coalition, NSF, LSO and PSF field individual candidates, while the
nationalist/regional parties of the alliance (BSO, PkSF), along with JSSF fielded
IJT easily won the top slots of the union, while the rest of the seats were
divided between
PSF, LSO and the regional student parties. NSF failed to win a single seat.
In the neighboring NED University, PSF and NSF gave a tougher fight, but IJT
managed to
hold on to power, albeit with a dwindling minority.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, IJT swept the elections in most Lahore colleges and at
University, while the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance held on to power in the
colleges of Rawalpindi, while again taking the Quied-e-Azam University for the
consecutive year. At University of Peshawar, union seats were split between IJT,
PSF and
The following year (1981), turned out to be one of the most tense and dramatic for
politics in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. Salamullah Tipu, against whom the IJT
had lodged
a case for killing Hafiz Aslam, escaped to Peshawar along with a group of PSF
activists. From
Peshawar this group secretly crossed the border into Afghanistan. They walked and
hitchhiked their way in to Kabul which was then under the control of Soviet troops
and a
Soviet-backed communist government led by Babrak Karmal.
There they were met by the sons of the slain former Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali
Murtaza Bhutto and Shanawaz Bhutto had escaped to Kabul when Bhutto was hanged by
Zia dictatorship in 1979. In Kabul they had formed an anti-Zia guerilla front
called Al-Zulfikar
Organization (AZO) with the backing of the pro-Soviet Afghan government.
Bulk of AZO’s membership was made up of activists from PSF’s militant wing who had
escaped Zia’s wrath by slipping into Kabul. Among them was also Raja Anwar, a
student radical belonging to MSF, who in 1965 had become a Bhutto loyalist and
then made a
minister by Bhutto. After Bhutto’s fall, Anwar had taken charge of PSF’s militant
organizing various rallies and action against the Zia regime between 1977 and
1980. He
eventually escaped to Kabul to join AZO.
But by the time Salamullah Tipu and his group arrived in Kabul, Anwar already had
had a
falling out with Murtaza Bhutto and on latter’s request thrown into a Kabul jail
by the Afghan
intelligence agency, KHAD.
AZO had pulled off a number of bank heists and an assassination, and attempted to
slay the
Pope who was visiting Karachi in early 1981. Anwar suggested that AZO terminate
operations and support Z A. Bhutto’s young daughter, Benazir Bhutto, who had begun
to lead
an affective campaign against Zia with the help of the anti-Martial Law alliance,
Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Murtaza disagreed and threw Anwar
into a Kabul jail.
Meanwhile, Salamullah Tipu and his group of PSF militants were provided training
before they slipped back into Pakistan and hijacked a domestic PIA flight. The
flight was first
taken to Kabul Airport where Tipu and his men provided a list of political
prisoners that they
wanted the Zia regime to release. These included a number of PPP and PSF activists
and a
few NSF members, all of whom had been loitering in various Pakistani jails ever
since 1977
and 1978. On the Pakistani government’s initial reluctance to comply, Tipu
executed a
Pakistani army man who was on the plane, mistaking him for being part of Zia’s
agencies. He wasn’t.
The murder caused panic in the Zia camp which was already under tremendous
pressure by
the growth of the MRD movement. After thirteen days, the demands were met when the
hijackers forced the plane to fly to Damascus, Syria. Most of the political
prisoners were
released, some of them traveling to Kabul, others to Syria and Libya.
Tipu’s fellow hijackers too decided to travel to Libya after the hijacking,
whereas Tipu traveled
back to Kabul.
Ironically AZO’s gory triumph turned out to be a damaging blow to MRD, as Zia now
repressed the movement more brutally than ever. Hundreds of anti-Zia activists
were rounded
up and tried in military courts; these also included some leading PSF activists
from Karachi’s
Lyari area who were eventually hanged to death.
At the university of Karachi, with the Progressive Alliance now defunct, the IJT
its violence against PSF and NSF.
In response, a senior NSF leader, Zafar Arif, pleaded for a brand new alliance of
student groups to challenge the government’s repression and IJT’s hegemonic ways.
A meeting was held at Zafar Arif’s home and United Students Movement (USM) came
into being. The new progressive coalition included NSF, PSF, DSF, BSO, PkSF, PSA
APMSO. The LSO however, which was a leading party in the old alliance had stopped
functioning after 1980.
A two-pronged strategy was chalked out by USM. The first involved the alliance to
work as a
new united electoral group against right-wing student parties like IJT in student
elections at University of Karachi, NED University and in all the major colleges
across the city.
Secondly, the new alliance also decided to take IJT head-on in other matters and
for this
USM planed to arm itself as well as the IJT had already done.
Tipu had armed PSF a year before, and the student party now got BSO and NSF
members to
get in touch with the Afghan arms suppliers who had also sold arms to the IJT.
Whereas the
Jamat-e-Islami had funded IJT’s arms buying spree, and was also helped in this
pursuit by
the Jamat’s connections with “mujahideen” commanders like Gulbadin Hykmatyar, the
had to struggle to generate funds. Various PPP leaders were requested to dish out
while certain other opposition party leaders belonging to Baloch and Pushtun
parties were also approached.
Groups of PSF, NSF and BSO members traveled to the NWFP and Balochistan and
back catches of AK-47s and TT pistols. The arms were stashed in hostel areas
controlled by
PSF and BSO at the University of Karachi and NED University.
The strategy also included working against the government which was believed to
have let lose
intelligence agents working together with certain high ranking IJT members.
Then, as expected, violence erupted on the day of the 1981 student union elections
in Karachi.
To neutralize IJT’s armed wing, the Thunder Squad, a group of USM militants led by
Boro Baloch and Shireen Khan entered the University of Karachi (from NED) to
Thunder Squad members there.
Soon, a gun battle ensued between the two groups. Armed IJT members holed
themselves up
at the varsity’s student union offices while the USM men climbed on top of an
building. The firing was intense and went on for about half an hour. The outcome
was bloody.
There were injuries on both sides but an IJT member was critically injured. He
later died in
the hospital.
The 1981 student union election results in Karachi saw USM sweeping the elections
at NED
and most major colleges of the city. Bulk of the seats were won by PSF and NSF
while nationalist student groups like BSO pitched in. However, the IJT (albeit
only barely)
managed to hold on to the union at University of Karachi.
The same year the IJT members shot dead a USM activist at the university.
Ironically the
dead student was a former Thunder Squad member who had quit IJT and joined USM.
Elsewhere in the year’s student union elections, the Punjab Progressive Students
Alliance notched up yet another victory at the Quied-e-Azam University in
Islamabad and in
colleges in North Punjab, while IJT once again bagged colleges in Lahore and the
The start of 1982 saw members of a small component party of USM, the APMSO, being
denied entry to the University of Karachi by IJT. The APMSO was formed by a group
former IJT members who quit in 1974 and formed a nationalist student party for the
speaking students of Karachi in 1978. The APMSO described itself as a progressive
when it joined USM in 1981. It was still not in a position though, to offer
winnable candidates
to USM in the student union elections.
Fearing that it will not be able to withstand the pressure that was being applied
on its
members by IJT, it asked its larger USM contemporary parties for arms. PSF and NSF
offered to sell them a limited number of arms for defense purposes.
The student union elections of the year turned up similar results as they did in
1981 with
USM component parties winning the majority of union slots at NED, Dow Medical
and in various other colleges of Karachi, while giving a tougher time to IJT at
the University
of Karachi. Lahore colleges and the Punjab University were swept as usual by IJT
while the
Punjab Progressive Students Alliance once more held on to power at the Quied-e-
University. PSF and PkSF finally toppled IJT in the union elections at Peshawar
And though there were incidents of violence, 1982 remained to be a comparatively
less violent
year. However, by now, almost all major student organizations were well armed,
with reports
of IJT even getting itself a couple of rocket launchers which it stashed in the
rooms of the
hostel areas that were controlled by the party at the University of Karachi.
There was concern in Islamabad about the electoral revival of progressive student
parties in
Karachi, Sindh, Northern Punjab and Peshawar, especially of left-
alliances like USM and Punjab Progressive Students Alliance. The government felt
these alliances might be used by MRD in its upcoming protest movement, even though
student organizations like PSF and NSF had already been involved in various anti-
Advisors to the Sindh government under the governorship of General Abbasi warned
regime that even though the Jamat-e-Islami had been supporting the Zia
dictatorship and
using IJT to subdue leftist politics and sentiments in educational institutions,
the 1981 and
1982 student union elections proved that IJT’s influence was fast receding. The
advisors also
warned the government that this situation will not only increase the level of
violence on
campuses, but this violence may turn outwards as well against the government.
As the government was reviewing these warnings, 1983 witnessed the eruption of the
MRD movement, especially in interior Sindh where protest rallies turned violent
and the
province eventually getting engulfed by a mini-insurgency.
It was a PPP led movement amply activated by PSF cadres across the interior Sindh.
movement was soon joined by Sindhi nationalists as well. Most of these were
members of the JSSF who had opposed their mother party, the Jeeay Sindh Movement’s
negative stance towards the MRD movement. These students soon went on to form the
breakaway Jeeay Sindh Progressive/Tarakee-Pasand Students Federation
The intensity of the violence was such that Zia had to send in the Army with
tanks. Hundreds
of protesters and insurgents were killed. Thousands were jailed and tortured. Many
PSF and
JSPSF activists, especially from areas like Dadu, Moro and Larkana hid inside the
forests near Dadu and many would become notorious dacoits in the coming years.
There were no student union elections held in interior Sindh in 1983, while in
Karachi they
were postponed. In the Punjab IJT was given a tough fight by the progressives at
the Punjab
University, while PSF swept the elections in colleges in semi-urban areas of the
province. The
Punjab Progressive Students Alliance still being led by NSF, PSF and groups of
under the DSF banner, once again swept the elections in Rawalpindi colleges and
the Quiede-
Azam University, while PSF bagged the largest number of union posts in the
elections at
Peshawar University.
Some PSF militants who had joined Murtaza Bhutto’s AZO in 1980 and did not move to
either Syria or Libya, returned to Karachi. Some were arrested and tried by
military courts
and some hid. They reported that Salamullah Tipu too had had a falling out with
Bhutto and had been jailed in Kabul.
In early 1984 news arrived that Tipu had been hanged by Kabul authorities. He had
become a
threat to Murtaza who was said to have become increasingly paranoid. However, Raja
was released and he went into exile in Germany. He returned soon after Zia’s
assassination to
become an accomplished author and journalist. Tipu is still buried somewhere in
Kabul, while
his PSF counterparts who helped him hijack the PIA plane and then moved to Libya
are still
said to be residing there.
Just before the 1984 student union elections in Karachi, the government announced
that it is
banning student politics. It cited growing cases of violence as a reason. Of
course, the decision
was based on reports that anti-government student alliances like Punjab
Students Alliance and USM had gained great electoral and political momentum and
in the future be in a position to initiate a students’ movement, the sort that
helped topple the
Ayub Khan dictatorship.
The regime’s plan to repress progressive student groups through its allied party,
the Jamat-e-
Islami’s student wing the IJT had left IJT in the clutches of uncontrollable
violence so much
so that the support it had managed to gather through student union elections in
the 1970s,
now stood eroded, triggering a sympathy wave for the anti-IJT student
organizations. The
devastating defeats the IJT suffered in the 1981 and 1982 student union elections
in the
colleges of Karachi and North Punjab and at the Quied-e-Azam University and the
University reflected well the scenario.
The most ironic fallout of the ban was the way IJT reacted to the interdiction. It
defied its
mother party’s approval of the ban and joined opposing student groups when they
right away
began a protest movement against the government’s decision. IJT demanded its
mother party
to withdraw its support for the Zia regime.
Karachi saw the most aggressive exhibition of protest rallies, where in the course
of two
months protesting members of IJT, PSF and NSF burned dozens of government cars and
buses and fought street battles with riot police.
Under pressure from its student wing and now conscious of the negative fallout the
party had
started to suffer from supporting Zia, the Jamat-e-Islami pulled back the more
blatant aspects
of its support for the dictatorship. However, it came to a compromise with the
regime and
continued giving it indirect support. One of the conditions it aired for this
support was that
the regime continued allowing IJT to exist in universities and colleges. This deal
saw IJT
suddenly withdrawing from the anti-ban movement as the regime began a fresh round
harassment and arrests against USM and Punjab Progressive Students Alliance. The
student parties of the two alliances that suffered the most from this new cycle of
aggravation were PSF, NSF, BSO and PkSF.
At the University of Karachi, the harassed students retaliated by forcefully
taking over hostel
areas that were formerly held by IJT. Expecting retaliation from IJT, new caches
of arms
were brought in and stored inside hostel rooms. In the hectic process, PSF and NSF
handed out APMSO a small number of arms. This was to be APMSO’s first experience
owning sophisticated weaponry.
In the winding months of 1984, the police reacting to reports that anti-government
groups were “planning an armed uprising” at the University, entered the campus in
numbers. As they tried to evacuate USM militants from the hostels by lobbing tear
gas shells,
and firing in the air, the students retaliated with loud bursts from AK-47s and TT
pistols. The
police fired back and the duel turned into an almost two-day-long siege. Hundreds
of rounds
of machinegun and pistol fire were used by both sides and the police had to call
for constant
reinforcements to finally smoke out the determined USM militants. Foremost among
militants were activists from PSF, NSF, BSO and PkSF. Surprisingly apart from the
injuries on both sides, there were no deaths.
The following year, 1985, saw the Zia dictatorship announcing to hold general
elections. He
had already got himself elected as “President” through a dubious referendum and a
handpicked national assembly (Majlis-e-Shura). But to keep progressive and
opposing parties
away from the elections, Zia decided to hold “party-less elections.” The idea was
to get as
many Zia loyalists as possible in the new assembly.
The opposition MRD parties led by the PPP boycotted the polls, which, as expected,
were won
by Zia loyalists and members supported by the Jamat-e-Islami. And ironically, even
the polls had been held on non-party basis, Zia was quick to sponsor the uniting
of various
Muslim League factions on a single party platform led by the new Prime Minister,
Muhammad Khan Junejo . Thus was born another “king’s party” version of the
Muslim League (PML). The first had been the pro-Ayub Pakistan Muslim League
(Convention) in the 1960s.
The impact of the elections and lifting of Martial Law (even though “President
Zia” was still a
General in the Army with the power to dismiss the government with a stroke of a
pen), saw
the new “democratic regime” allowing the revival of student union elections in the
colleges and universities. However, these too were now supposed to be on non-party
At least in theory. Because most student union elections held that year were
participated by established student organizations.
In Karachi no student union elections were held at the University of Karachi in
1985, but most
colleges of the city did manage to hold them. PSF and NSF picked up most union
slots at
Dow Medical College, NED University, Saint Patrick’s Govt. College and DJ Science
while the IJT was the leading party in colleges like Islamia College, Urdu
College, National
College and Premier College. Most interesting was the beginning of APMSO’s status
as a
viable electoral group, as for the first time candidates associated with the
managed to bag a few seats in alliance with PSF, NSF, BSO and PkSF.
In the Punjab, IJT swept clean the Punjab University, while Progressive Students
Alliance retained its hold over Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad. No elections
held in the NWFP.
In the interior Sindh, union seats in colleges and universities in Hyderabad,
Khairpur and Sukker were split between PSF and JSSF.
The pattern was repeated in 1986, even though in Karachi elections could only be
held in a
handful of colleges because the city was suddenly engulfed by riots when a female
student of a
college was crushed to death by a public transport bus. The death of the Urdu
speaking girl
and the riotous reaction that the accident sparked hastened the process of senior
leaders led by Altaf Hussain forming the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), which also
became the APMSO’s mother party.
Resentment was already brewing within Karachi’s Urdu-speaking/Mohajir majority
against the arrival of a large number of Afghan refugees who had been pouring into
ever since the start of the Afghan civil war in 1979. Much of the city’s public
business fell in the hands of the Afghan refugees, and many were also accused of
clandestine businesses involving the sale of guns and drugs. Most of the refugees
Pathans and since Karachi already had a significant Pathan population (people who
had first
arrived from the NWFP province during the Ayub regime), the troubles soon turned
vicious Mohajir-Pathan riots.
These riots in which both sophisticated and crude homemade weapons were used and
hundreds of Karachiites lost their lives was one of the first signs of the fallout
of Pakistan’s
involvement in the CIA backed anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. Because along
with the
Afghan refugees and millions of dollars worth of US aid for the war effort pouring
in, also
came mass corruption in the government; guns, ethnic tensions and violence, and
the easy
availability of destructive drugs like heroin.
Pakistan’s involvement in helping raise local militias and fighters for the civil
war also
included saw the ISI with help from religious political parties like Jamat-e-
Islami and Jamiat-
Ulema-Pakistan setting up and converting of madressas/religious schools into
and recruiting institutions, further radicalizing Islamist groups including IJT.
The post-riots scenario saw MQM rise as the representative party of the Urdu
population of Karachi (which were in a majority). This did not bode well with
parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat-Ulema-Pakistan (JUI) that had been
strong in
the city before MQM’s rise.
MQM’s accelerated elevation that year also saw a two-fold rise in the ranks of
number of former Urdu speaking student activists of IJT and NSF rushed in to join
this once
small component student party of the progressive USM alliance.
However, within the Jamat-e-Islami, which the Zia regime (or vice versa), had
started to
distance itself from, there were murmurings that the MQM had been formed by
intelligence agency, the notorious ISI, “to neutralize Jamat in Karachi.”
1986 also saw the return of Benazir Bhutto from exile. A rally outside the Lahore
airport that
was organized by PSF soon turned into one of the biggest processions the city had
ever seen.
Millions of Lahorites thronged the streets and roads of the city, accompanying
procession, as more joined in when she held her first public rally in Pakistan
after 1980.
The massive turnout seen at the young PPP leader’s rally encouraged MRD to
announce the
beginning of a new anti-Zia movement. Only a day after the rally, PPP activists
and supporters
held protest marches in Lahore. In one such march four people were shot dead by
the police.
Two of the dead belonged to PSF.
Benazir followed her Lahore triumph with an equally massive rally in Karachi. Now
about the large crowds Z A. Bhutto’s daughter was attracting, the Zia/Junejo
regime put her
under house arrest. The arrest sparked another round of protests in Lahore,
Rawalpindi and
Karachi. The runoff between protesters and police in Karachi’s Lyari area turned
into a gun
battle between the police and PSF activists.
The radicalization of various Islamist groups by the Zia regime’s involvement in
the Afghan
Civil War also saw a large faction of the right-wing student group, Anjuman-
(ATI), become the Sunni Thereek. Some ATI members also joined the militant
anti-Shia group, the Pakistan Sipah Sehaba.
Weary of IJT’s reaction and the violent lessons learned from the 1986 Mohajir-
Pathan riots,
the APMSO started to arm itself heavily. It had been previously sold and supplied
a limited
number of arms by PSF and NSF militants in 1982-83, but this time a group of APMSO
activists traveled to the Jamshoro University near Hyderabad and bought a heavy
cache of
AK-47s from JSSF members. The weapons were stored at Altaf Hussain’s residence in
Karachi and in a few hostel rooms at the University of Karachi that the APMSO
managed to
borrow from PSF and BSO.
In 1987, fresh local elections were held across Pakistan. MQM candidates swept the
in Karachi, while PPP candidates working under the name of Awam Dost Panel managed
bag the most seats in city councils in interior Sindh, Punjab and the NWFP. This
set alarm
bells ringing in Islamabad. The Zia dictatorship had spend millions of Rupees in a
to repress and cripple the PPP, using intelligence agencies, the police, student
like IJT and various “pocket journalists” but failed to stop the supportive wave
that had
started building around the PPP.
In the few colleges where student union elections were held in 1987 in Karachi,
PSF came up trumps, and at the Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad and the
University PSF swept clean the elections. This was also the last time the Punjab
Progressive Students Alliance (now led by PSF), will be seen in action. It would
disbanded in 1988. The USM in Karachi too was winding down as an alliance.
The same year, the PPP announced a long list of political activists that had been
loitering in
jails ever since the early 1980s. Many among them had been declared missing as
well, feared
to have been tortured to death. Most of them belonged to PSF, whereas there were
names on the list of student activists belonging to NSF and BSO. Most of the
activists who
were known to be in jails were all described by the Zia regime as being either
belonging to AZO” or “Soviet agents.”
In 1987, the pro-Zia Pakistan Muslim League (PML) revived the Muslim Students
Federation (MSF). MSF had splintered into various factions in the 1950s, before
as the student wing of the pro-Ayub Pakistan Muslim League (Convention), in 1962.
It split
from PML (Convention) in 1965 and was taken over by its progressive wing that
decided to
oppose Ayub and support Z A. Bhutto. Many MSF leaders later joined NSF and the
MSF withered away once again the 1970s, and when it was revived in 1987, it at
once went
out to wrest control of the many Lahore colleges and the Punjab University where
the IJT had
ruled supreme for more than a decade.
The same year two killings took place at Karachi’s Sindh Medical College. The
College had
been throwing up mixed results in student union elections ever since the late
1970s. On the
left, both PSF and NSF commanded solid support, whereas on the right side of
spectrum, IJT and to a certain extent, ATI had been equally strong. Punjabi
Association (PSA) which had largely remained progressive ever since its inception
a decade
ago, was now said to be “infiltrated” by pro-Zia operatives who had “hijacked” the
towards becoming more chauvinistic and expressive about its “Punjabiat.” In a
clash with
IJT, some of its members shot dead an IJT member. In retaliation, the PSA member
by IJT to have carried out the killing was himself shot dead the same year by IJT.
In 1988, unable to halt the PPP wave and with the “state-sponsored” formation of
backfiring, Zia blamed Junejo’s government. At once he dismissed a government he
had so carefully constructed through dubious methods and elections. Also, with the
conflict also coming to a conclusion, Zia had started to find himself pressed
against the wall
more than ever.
A PSF leader at University of Karachi, Najeeb Ahmed, had a few scuffles with
posted at the University. He then led PSF into a number of clashes with IJT before
arrested. Najib had been arrested on a number of occasions before as well, and had
leading PSF at the University since 1986. By 1988 he had emerged as the student
organization’s top man in Karachi.
Also in 1988, USM’s dissolution was complete when both PSF and APMSO decided to
the alliance. Out of the remaining parties of the alliance, NSF wanted to retain
the alliance
but when other component parties of the coalition, BSO, PkSF and PSA also left,
NSF then
attempted to unite with the remnants of DSF to form a new progressive front. But
by now,
DSF was simply too weak.
The thinking behind PSF, BSO and PSA was that the growing status of APMSO had
started to erode IJT in Karachi and the changing scenario required new tactics in
which USM
did not fit anymore.
And the scenario did change. In August 1988, a military aircraft carrying General
exploded in mid-air over South Punjab city of Bhawalpur. It was a meticulously
assassination. Not only was Zia killed killed, with him was his Army’s top brass,
and the
American ambassador to Pakistan as well.
First the finger was pointed at AZO backed by the Afghan intelligence agency,
KHAD. But by
1988 AZO was as good as over. Then the Soviet KGB was blamed. But somehow, the
accusation that struck the loudest chord among the public was the one that blamed
American CIA. It was said that at the fast approaching end of the Afghan Civil War
that ended
in the defeat of Soviet forces, Zia had become a liability for the US. And when he
expressed his
desire to continue and stretch his tenure as a General and absolute ruler of the
country, the
US used CIA to put him out of the picture. All this was, of course, speculation,
as till even
twenty years after the incident nothing conclusive has emerged as to who really
was behind
Zia’s assassination.
Zia’s end paved the way for elections based on party basis, the first of its kind
ever since Zia
overthrew Z A. Bhutto in 1977. Fearing a PPP sweep, the Pakistani intelligence
agency the ISI
bankrolled an electoral alliance of conservative parties led by the Pakistan
Muslim League
(PML) and also joined by the Jamat-e-Islami. The front was called the Islamic
Front (IDF), or the Islami Jamhoori Itehad (IJI). Despite many incidents of
rigging, especially
in the Punjab, the PPP emerged as the leading party, though it failed to gain a
To help it gain a government-forming majority in the parliament, the PPP offered
an alliance
to MQM which it agreed and Benazir Bhutto became the first ever woman Prime
Minister of a
Muslim country.
While lifting the many political and social curbs imposed by the eleven-year-old
dictatorship, the new PPP government also lifted the ban on student politics that
was imposed
by Zia in 1984. 1989 became the year when “officially recognized” student union
were held across universities and colleges after a four year gap.
In the 1989 student union elections in Punjab, MSF toppled the IJT in a majority
of colleges
and universities in Lahore and surrounding cities including the Punjab University
that had
been a bastion of IJT’s electoral influence and power ever since the mid-1970s. In
Rawalpindi, Okara and Southern Punjab, IJT faced heavy defeats delivered by PSF
by the ATI. At the Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad, PSF allied to NSF and DSF
up as the leading student party in the elections. At the Peshawar University, PSF
routed the
IJT, as PkSF came a distant second.
In the Balochistan province, various factions of BSO swept the student union
elections in the
Baloch speaking areas of the province, whereas the PkSF and PSF emerged as the
parties in the province’s Pushtu speaking areas.
The process of the reputation of IJT becoming dented had begun when its mother
party was
supporting the Zia regime and when IJT was accused of “doing the Jamat’s and the
dictatorship’s dirty work in universities and colleges.” It seemed the
disillusionment with IJT
was now complete and gaining from this mood the most were PSF and MSF, even though
MSF’s mother party, the PML was allied to the mother party of IJT in the
conservative anti-
PPP alliance, the Islamic Democratic Front.
Upbeat by the good results it had produced in student union elections in the
Punjab and the
NWFP, PSF was confident of gaining a lot of ground in Sindh as well. In all the
major colleges
and universities in the interior of Sindh, PSF easily swept aside the JSSF and
IJT. In Karachi
PSF did extremely well in colleges like Sindh Medical College, Dow Medical College
and St.
Patrick’s Govt College where in a loose alliance with NSF and BSO it bagged the
bulk of the
union seats. At NED University, union seats were split between APMSO and PSF,
whereas at
Premiere College, National College, SM College, Adamjee College and most
importantly, the
widespread University of Karachi, the APMSO routed the IJT, with PSF coming in
second in
terms of the share of votes.
The IJT it seemed had been completely whipped out.
Student Union Elections 1980-89 – Leading parties &
approximations of the number of elections won:
1: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 35%
2: Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PPSA)
(National Students Federation; Peoples Students Federation*; Democratic Students
Federation) - 30%
3: United Students Movement (USM)
(National Students Federation; Peoples Students Federation; Baloch Students
Organization; Pakhtun Students
Federation; Democratic Students Federation; Punjabi Students Association; All
Pakistan Mohajir Students
Organization**) – 30%
3: Anjuman-Taleba-Islam (ATI) – 5%
Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of Karachi,
Dow Medical College, Adamjee College, Islamia College
(Karachi), NED University, Karachi, Sindh Medical College Karachi, Punjab
University, Government College Lahore, Gordon College
Rawalpindi, Quied-e-Azam University Islamabad, Peshawar University.
1990s: Till the last breath
The euphoria of routing out IJT’s influence in major colleges and universities
through the
ballot was short lived. In Karachi, sensing the withering away of IJT, both APMSO
and PSF
tried to muscle in to fill the gap left behind IJT’s stunning electoral defeat.
This soon led to a
series of violent clashes between the two triumphant groups. The clashes occurred
at the
University of Karachi, NED University, Dow Medical College and Sindh Medical
College. By
early 1990 the nature and intensity of the clashes turned even more violent with
both the
parties using sophisticated weapons. The bloodiest episode of the already gory
tussle took
place at the gymnasium of the University of Karachi. An intense exchange of fire
between the
two groups at NED University saw PSF activists pushing their APMSO counterparts
into the premises of the neighboring University of Karachi. Then suddenly their
was a lull in
the firing when PSF militants ran out of ammunition. A frantic call was made to
comrades in charge of the student union at the Sindh Medical College who were
asked to send
out a fresh supply of bullets. Meanwhile, the APMSO men who were pushed away into
University of Karachi, took advantage of the lull by reentering NED and starting
to fire at the
hostel area from where the PSF militants had been shooting. It is about 35 minutes
from Sindh Medical College to NED, but this lull was enough for APMSO gunslingers
reach their PSF foils and haul them into their custody. PSF men were taken to the
gymnasium of the University of Karachi. It was reported there was around six who
captured and brought here, while another four who were with them at NED had
managed to
escape. The captured were then put in a huddle in the middle of the basketball
court, as the
APMSO militants surrounded them. The captured were then asked to make a run for
it, and
when they did, the APMSO gunmen opened fire, mercilessly killing all the PSF
militants who
were captured.
The incident shocked the city. Instantly a fresh round of gory violence broke out
between the
two groups in almost all major colleges of the city. A number of students from
both sides were
The violence put a tremendous strain on the already shaky ruling PPP alliance of
APMSO’s mother party, the MQM, was also a partner. The MQM finally decided to quit
alliance and join PML and Jamat-e-Islami in the opposition.
Even though dozens of students lost their lives in the violence, the most
prominent demise
was that of Najeeb Ahmed the strong-armed leader of PSF in Karachi and who was
accused of killing some of APMSO’s most formidable militants of the time. He was
by a group of APMSO men and shot multiple times. He died a few days later at the
Due to the violence no student union elections were held in 1990 in Karachi or the
rest of
Sindh, because in the interior Sindh, the bloody tussle had devolved into ethnic
between the Sindhis and Urdu speakers.
In the year’s student union elections in the Punjab, MSF once again routed IJT at
the Punjab
University and in colleges of most central Punjab cities. PSF was the leading
student group in
student union elections in Northen Punjab, Southern Punjab and Islamabad. At the
University it once again won most of the posts in the university’s student union.
However, at
the Punjab University and most colleges in Lahore, tension between MSF and IJT was
reaching a breaking point.
Due to troubles in Karachi and Sindh and accusations of mismanagement, President
Ishaq Khan still empowered by the constitutional power Zia had created for himself
to dismiss
a government, pulled off what was called (by the PPP), a “constitutional coup”. He
the PPP government and announced new elections which were won by the conservative
alliance of “Ziaists,” the IJI. The new government was led by former Punjab Chief
Mian Nawaz Sharif, who had also become the leader of PML after a faction under
Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo broke away and formed PML (J). Nawaz’s
would soon evolve into PML (N).
By 1991, the IJI was facing a split when a component party of the alliance, the
(JI), started to accuse Nawaz for failing to fully implement the Islamic Shariah
law he
promised he would after coming to power. JI’s break from IJI became imminent when
tension between its student wing, the IJT, and the student wing of PML, the MSF,
over. A vicious series of clashes took place at the University of Punjab between
the two groups
when MSF, now in control of the varsity’s student union for two years running,
started using
strong-arm tactics to eradicate IJT militants from the university.
A number of activists from both student parties lost their lives as the violence
spread across
other colleges and universities of Lahore, Gujranwallah and Rawalpindi.
The same year the United States Army launched an attack from Saudi Arabia and
against Sadam Hussein’s Iraq when the later invaded Kuwait. The Nawaz Sharif
supported the American action. As a reaction the IJT along with NSF and PSF
huge protest rallies against the United States and Israel. This would also be the
one of the last
big events to involve NSF that had been one of the country’s leading progressive
organizations ever since the 1960s. It had steadily started to lose influence from
the mid-
1980s onwards, pushed into a corner by progressive student parties like PSF,
student parties like APMSO and secular-conservative student groups like MSF.
Meanwhile another formerly leading progressive student party, the DSF, that had
first faded
away in the early 1970s and then was revived in the later part of the decade, had
again fallen
away by the late 1980s. By the start of the 1990s it had all but completely
withered away.
The violence in universities and colleges in Lahore and central Punjab left the
postponing student union elections in the Punjab in 1992 and the situation had
still not
become normal in Karachi and Sindh to hold the elections that were postponed in
But this didn’t stop the provincial government of Sindh now under Chief Minister
Jam Sadiq
Ali, a PPP turncoat, to start an obsessive round of harassment against PPP workers
leadership. His government was allied to the MQM and both (in accordance to their
ally in
Islamabad, i.e. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML), turned 1992 the most
repressive year for
the PPP ever since Zia’s death. In fact the MQM now became notorious for running
the city of
Karachi as a fiefdom and the party was accused of being run like a mafia outfit.
Apart from
PPP workers, dozens of journalists too were targeted.
In the spiral APMSO became a nursery for providing manpower to MQM’s militant
Through violence it had kept IJT at bay in almost all major universities and
colleges of
Karachi, and after the fall of the PPP government in 1991, the many battles of
muscle that it
seemed to have been losing against PSF, were reversed to their advantage.
Nawaz Sharif’s PML was still very much the party of the “establishment.” It had
deep links
with the Army and remnants of Zia loyalists in the intelligence agencies. It had
used Jam
Sadiq and MQM to suppress the PPP in Sindh, but when MQM’s harassing activities
also saw
some APMSO and MQM militants kidnapping and torturing some army men, the Army
responded by complaining to Nawaz Sharif, suggesting that an operation was needed
MQM. Nawaz agreed and sanctioned the start of the operation in Sindh that also
included the
Army taking action against the growing number of dacoit gangs roaming the forests
Dadu and Moro. Of course, much of the operation was concentrated on MQM.
Army men and Rangers rolled in as the intelligence agencies also tried to tackle
MQM chief
Altaf Hussain’s almost untouchable status. The agencies began by exploiting a rift
in the MQM. The results of this rift and clandestine agency maneuvers in this
appeared when the Army operation entered Karachi. A party calling itself MQM
(Haqiqi) and
led by some leading MQM leaders most of whom like Altaf Hussain were former APMSO
members, emerged and attacked some of MQM’s main strongholds with sophisticated
weapons. Supported by paramilitary forces like the Rangers, MQM (H) soon overran
much of
MQM’s stronghold areas. The aftermath of the intense gun battles between the two
saw the arrest of numerous MQM and APMSO activists as many (including Altaf
went underground.
Due to the Army operation, there were no student union polls in Sindh in 1992. And
even in
the Punjab, because of the escalating violence between MSF and IJT student union
were held only in a handful of colleges. In fact the Nawaz Sharif government was
thinking of
banning student politics once again, the way they were banned by Zia in 1984.
The ban did arrive right before the fall of the Nawaz Sharif government in early
1993. His
government too fell to the whims of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who dismissed the
government on grounds of corruption, nepotism and violence. New elections were
held in
which Benazir Bhutto’s PPP returned to power. But in line with a “understanding”
Nawaz, Benazir, the Army, Ishaq Khan was asked to resign and which he did. Benazir
managed to get her own party man, Farooq Ahmed Laghari, elected as the new
while she once again became Prime Minister. Though her arrival did allow the
majority of
student organizations to continue maintaining a presence in universities and
colleges, she did
not lift the ban on student politics that was slapped by Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz Sharif’s ouster gave the IJT an opening to reestablish its supremacy in
Lahore and
Central Punjab’s major universities and colleges that had been overrun by the MSF
through the ballot and the bullet. Meanwhile in Karachi, the new PPP government
decided to
continue the operation against MQM that the Nawaz government had sanctioned.
1993 and 1996, thousands of MQM and APMSO militants were arrested and hundreds
their lives in gun battles against the Rangers, police and MQM (H). And even
though the
government largely succeeded in neutralizing MQM’s militancy in Karachi, the
University of
Karachi and the city’s major colleges remained bastions of APMSO.
In “unofficial” student union elections in Lahore and Central Punjab in 1995,
backed by the IJT regained the ground the party had lost between 1989 and 1992. In
Northern Punjab and Islamabad PSF and MSF gained the most seats, whereas in
Punjab, PSF swept clean the student union elections, defeating both IJT and MSF.
In the
NWFP, especially the Peshawar University, PSF maintained its grip.
1996 saw the fall of the second Benazir Bhutto government, dismissed by her own
Farooq Ahmed Laghari. The accusations laid down were once again corruption,
mismanagement and growing incidents of violence. The breaking point came when
elder brother Murtaza Bhutto, the former head of the AZO, was shot dead by a
police party
just outside his residence in 1996. He had been opposing the PPP government and
had formed
his own faction, PPP (Shaheed Bhutto). Many believed he had “played into the hands
of the
clandestine intelligence agencies working against the Benazir government.”
Bhutto’s fall paved the way for the election of the second Nawaz Sharif and PML
government. PML (N)’s return saw MSF muscling its way back to regain the turf at
Central Punjab colleges and the Punjab University that it had lost to IJT between
1994 and
1996. A fresh round of clashes between the two groups ensued. With no elections
held under
the ban, the bullet did all the talking in the absence of the ballot.
In Karachi, the MQM and APMSO, though badly bruised by the Army operation, started
slowly trickle back into the mainstream scheme of things. However, right away it
went for the
throat of MQM (H). The remnants of MQM’s militant wing and a new generation of
cadres fell upon MQM (H) with a vengeance.
By 1999, the Nawaz Sharif government had had a falling out with the judiciary and
the Army
and was accused by the mainstream press of exhibiting arrogance and using strong-
tactics to subdue opposing journalists. In October 1999, he was eventually toppled
in a
military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf.
There is no doubt that Nawaz had become unpopular among large sections of the
public. In
fact, soon his party’s own student wing, the MSF, would turn against him and start
supporting the new “Kings party,” the PML (Q), after it came to power in the 2002
Student Union Elections 1990-96 – Leading parties &
approximations of the number of elections won:
1: Peoples Students Federation (PSF) – 40%
2: Muslim Students Federation (MSF) -35%
3:Islami Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 25%
4: Anjuman-Taleba-Islam (ATI) – 3%
5: National Students Federation (NSF) – 2%
Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of
Karachi, Dow Medical College, Adamjee College,
Islamia College (Karachi), NED University, Karachi, Sindh Medical College Karachi,
Punjab University, Government College
Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi, Quied-e-Azam University Islamabad, Peshawar

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