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June 28, 2018
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Are students only good for fuelling election campaigns?

Karachi

June 28, 2018

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Pakistan’s major political parties have not listed the revival of student unions in their manifestos for the July 25 general elections, but this has not stopped student organisations from gearing up for the polls to support their respective parent parties.

Federal and provincial lawmakers have been making vows to lift the ban on student unions for more than three decades, but no concrete efforts to deliver on those promises have been seen in the past 34 years.

Instead, most political parties have formed student committees for their electoral campaigns, leaving their student wings at different colleges and universities to mobilise their fellows to vote for their respective parties.

“Political parties use student organisations as workforce for their own agendas,” academic and former student counsellor Prof Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan said while talking to The News.

Khan said political student organisations are visionless, while student unions provide them with a real political platform that political parties cannot. Sometimes these political student organisations even attract those who do not agree with their goals, he added.

He said that majority of the politically motivated students are unaware of their rights, which is why they are unable to bring a positive change in the country’s politics.

He blamed Gen Ziaul Haq for the situation, saying that the former dictator had allowed only right-wing student organisations, which later transformed into mafias at educational institutions.

Since then scuffles have increased between students groups, while political parties have been influencing these organisations for their own vested interests, he said, adding that students can learn about politics from their own unions’ elections instead of being puppets in the hands of political parties.

Meanwhile, almost every student organisation formed on political grounds has a lot of supporting arguments to offer, but none of them has joined forces for the revival of student unions as they continue to campaign for their respective parent parties.

Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba

“The Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) has ideological affiliation with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which is why we are completely involved in the election campaign for the JI,” said IJT Information Secretary Aneeq Ahmed.

While the IJT has its own organisational structure, its office-bearers have been using their platform for the JI’s candidates contesting the polls under the banner of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a joint forum of the country’s religious parties.

“The IJT has been raising a voice for lifting the ban on student unions because we wish to raise political awareness in students,” said Ahmed, but he could not say why the JI has not mentioned student unions in its manifesto.

APMSO

Ahsan Ghauri, former chairman of the All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO), said the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was born of the APMSO. Therefore, he added, the APMSO always supports the MQM in every election.

Ghauri said that like always, students have formed committees to support the MQM, adding that these bodies will assist the party’s candidates contesting for the national and provincial assemblies’ constituencies across Sindh.

He said he wishes that the ban on student unions is lifted, but could not respond to the question why the MQM-Pakistan (MQM-P) has not listed the revival of student unions in its manifesto.

Student Federation of Pakistan

The Pak Sarzameen Party’s (PSP) student wing, named the Student Federation of Pakistan (SFP), has also constituted student committees for the upcoming general elections. “We are working with the PSP’s youth wing to expedite the door-to-door campaign for the party’s contestants,” said SFP General Secretary Muneeb-ut-Tauheed.

Tauheed said the SFP is committed to running the PSP’s electoral campaign. It is not necessary for the PSP to list the revival of student unions in its manifesto, but the party has a clear policy about the unions’ reformation, he added.

Anjuman Talaba-e-Islam

The Anjuman Talaba-e-Islam (ATI) does not believe in parliamentary politics, said ATI Spokesman Muhammad Moeenuddin, adding that the group will support all Barelvi candidates contesting the general elections, particularly the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan.

Pakhtun Students Federation

The Pakhtun Students Federation (PkSF) is opposing its parent organisation, the Awami National Party (ANP), in the 2018 general elections as far as Karachi is concerned.

Former PkSF Sindh president Fida Kakar said the group will oppose the ANP, particularly in the city’s NA-238, NA-250 and PS-120 constituencies, from where Senator Shahi Syed and former MPA Amir Nawab are contesting.

“Shahi Syed is not following Bacha Khan’s principles,” claimed Kakar, saying that the senator is playing a game with the PkSF. He explained that Syed and Nawab will make other ANP candidates in the metropolis withdraw in favour of the MQM-P.

He said Syed had already announced that the ANP supports the MQM-P, while Nawab had failed to serve his constituents after winning his seat in the previous elections.

However, Kakar clarified that the PkSF is not opposing the ANP anywhere else in the country. “We are campaigning for the ANP in other parts of the country, but people like Nawab, who had distributed fake appointment letters among PkSF workers, will face opposition from us.”

He said student unions are political nurseries that nurture leadership qualities in students. But, he added, the ANP’s manifesto for the general elections does not have a single word on the revival of student unions.

Peoples Students Federation

The Peoples Students Federation (PSF) has formed organising committees to assist the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) candidates in the general elections, said PSF Coordinator Syed Arshad Hussain Naqvi, adding that the PPP has a clear policy about the revival of student unions.

Last year the Sindh Assembly had passed a resolution to lift the ban on student unions. The motion was presented by Abdul Sattar Rajper, who had been a PSF activist during his student life. The PPP is the only party to raise a voice for students’ political rights, claimed Naqvi.

Lawmakers’ unfulfilled promises

In March 2008, while spelling out the first policy statement of his government, the then Pakistan prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani had announced that student unions will be revived. But there has been no follow-through since.

Last August Senator Raja Muhammad Zafar-ul-Haq had moved a resolution in the Senate to revive student unions in the Islamabad Capital Territory. The motion was unanimously passed by the upper house of the parliament.

Following that, the Sindh Assembly also passed a resolution to revive student unions across the province, with the legislators demanding that the ban be lifted without seeking help from the federal government.

However, there has been no implementation on these announcements or resolutions. Experts see the Supreme Court’s 1993 verdict banning student unions as a major hurdle in the revival of students unions.

Legal status of students unions

Advocate Faisal Siddiqi said that under Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan, every citizen has the right to form an association, union or organisation, adding that the top court’s ruling bans only politicised student organisations.

However, said Siddiqi, if any hurdle exists in the revival of student unions, the government should file a lawsuit in the top court for reconsideration of its decision. Similarly, he added, the government can also make necessary amendments to the Constitution.

He suggested that if lawmakers wish to allow student unions, they must either take administrative steps or give directions to officials of educational institutions to start working towards the revival of student unions.

The ban on student unions was originally imposed in 1984 by Gen Ziaul Haq through martial law orders on the reports that anti-government student alliances had gained considerable strength and could pose a threat to his government.

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