HAVING failed in mustering support from broad
masses, anti-Pakistan forces are looking for new
ways to create chaos and confusion in the country. After repeated kinetic, ideological and financial attacks on Pakistan orchestrated through some political leaders, sold out media men and shady activists, the new scenario is emerging in the name of Students Solidarity March or Campaign, which has triggered a country-wide debate. A video captured at the Faiz Festival organized by the Students Collective in Lahore had gone viral in which dozens of students can be seen reciting the poems of revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and sloganeering passionately against the state of governance in the country. It has already gained support from sections of the Pakistani leftists that were dormant after disintegration of the (erstwhile) Soviet Union. The left party, Awami Workers Party (AWP), was the latest to express its support to the organizers.
Special mention is being made to sexual harassment and blackmail in Balochistan where security forces are being accused of abusing their position to use surveillance and heavy-handed policing to curb the students movement, which is not true. The AWP demanded the “de-securitization of campus spaces in Sindh and Balochistan where security forces have been stationed to control student activities. They also demanded release of all students arrested for organizing protests in Balochistan and Sindh and the sedition charges against students of the Jamshoro University for demanding clean water should also be revoked. One can see that very cleverly issues of students and education system are being linked to security apparatus in an attempt to release pressure on anarchists in Balochistan and Sindh. This appears to be another attack on Pakistan in 5th generation warfare spectrum. The nefarious designs are well disguised to gain sympathies of students country-wide.
Students from across Pakistan are being mobilized against fee hikes, and what they say, criminalization of activists, removing ban on student unions and budget cuts. The campaign has made its way into the mainstream media including both social and electronic with a lot of buzz. Pakistan’s youth under the stewardship of students, made headlines across all media platforms after Student Solidarity March that took place on 29 November 2019, in more than 40 cities across Pakistan. They demanded from the government to withdraw an inclusive ban on the formation of student unions in universities, which resulted in students’ depoliticisation. They say that for more than three decades, students in academic institutes have been kept aloof from politics through a concerted effort. In fact, the ban on unions was placed after clashes in the educational institutions affiliated with different political parties.
Proponents of student unions believe that politics in essence is one of the core values of education. They say: “It helps you visualize the world from one’s own perspective; it enables you to not get lost in the clamour of masses and take a stand for what you believe in. Its essence lies in taking a stand for all those values in the form of women empowerment, justice for all, climate change, etc which help humanity attain its true potential”. They opine formation of students’ unions in universities will provide a channel for students to actually learn how to assert themselves for their rights and prepare themselves for dealing with the challenges which our society has been facing at large. Amnesty International has joined the fray and demanded end to the action against student protestors, conveniently ignoring their sloganeering against state and raising unreasonable demands.
Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed the government’s willingness to allow the restoration of student unions subject to the establishment of a “comprehensive and enforceable code of conduct”. This announcement came two days after students, activists and supporters across Pakistan came out to join the Student Solidarity March, led by the Student Action Committee (SAC), to present a charter of demands. The march demanded restoration of budget for the Higher Education Commission, end to the layoff of academics, allocation of five per cent of the GDP for education, and withdrawal of the recent fee hike. The students also demanded the establishment of Committees in all the educational institutes to investigate cases of sexual harassment as well as ensuring representation of students on these Committees. Furthermore, they asked that offices of security forces be removed from campuses, and undue checking should end, among other demands.
Referring to the student unions of the past, the Prime Minister said, “They had become violent battlegrounds and completely destroyed the intellectual atmosphere on campuses”. He, however, clarified that unions will be restored and enabled to play their part in grooming the future leaders of the country. The Premier added that a comprehensive and enforceable conduct based on the best practices in internationally renowned universities will be developed so that their restoration can be made possible. In view of bitter experience of the student unions, none of the major political parties had mentioned about the formation of students in the educational institutions. The current government came into power with a youth-centred agenda, and doing its best to revamp the education system to make it useful to the students in their practical lives. Anyhow, anti-Pakistan forces will not be allowed to use the students to advance their agenda of destabilizing Pakistan through machinations.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.