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Putting the 'S' in student politics

Karachi, Oct 1: The henious crime committed earlier this month, which claimed the lives of innocent commuters among which were Karachi University students, evoked memories of the 1989 mayhem on campus. The students were predominantly activists of the Islami Jamiat Talba.

In 1989, the death of three students of the Peoples Students Federation (PSF) resulted in the deployment of Rangers at the campus. The banal difference between the 1989 incident and this one is that the latest act of terror occurred outside the campus on University Road whereas the 1989 episode was perpetrated right in the heart of Karachi University. "The 1989 killings ultimately raised safety concerns, addressed with the deployment of Rangers, but this latest incident has proven the very deployment somewhat futile," a former campus security officer said.

What baffles one is the venomous nature of the latest act of terrorism. After shooting students on-board the bus, the assailants detonated a grenade while fleeing from the scene. "It seems an attempt to destroy the crime scene making it look ambiguous," said a police officer, who is a former university student.

"It was really a painful incident and seeing the victims' relatives at the hospital brought tears to my eyes without knowing the victims," a photo journalist said. Like many others, he too wanted to know what makes students at learning higher education hostile towards one another so much that taking lives has become more frequent these days at different educational institutions.

The denial of the right to have their own unions has turned student politics unaccountable to a majority of students, for which they all want to be there. The students unions used to represent the wider democratic culture, which demanded a better face for votes. Every student organisation fielded position holders as their candidates and that showed the commitment of student politics.

"With the students unions outlawed, this moral binding has no place at campuses," said the Director of the Pakistan Study Centre, Dr Jafar Ahmed, while arguing that the political parties operating at a larger scale don't need students unions as any wider political compulsion. "As election for student unions make them accountable and answerable to their electorate, why they would invite such compulsions."

According to a political scientist, the absence of any electoral pressure has encouraged student organisations to do whatever suits them best. "We have seen arms proliferating and getting legitimised in the 80s and then an organised cheating mafia emerged at school and college levels. Now, the political organisations are not working under any democratic pressure and are least bothered about a genuine democratic face."

The question is why does every successive democratic regime, despite having their affiliated student wings, avoid granting students their right to have unions? Even today, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), ruling Sindh and NWFP respectively, for almost five years, did not hold student union elections in their provincial limits. Many have different answers but nobody can take the responsibility for not challenging the 1984 ban on student unions by Gen. Ziaul Haq.

"It seems that the political parties, in line with the establishment, have reached a broad consensus over not holding student union elections," a former student leader of Karachi University suspected. "If that is the case, then I feel for the poor students, who are ignorant about this fact and are striving to exist in a territory (campus), which has surrendered to paramilitary forces a long time back surrendered as per a very strategic game plan."

Dubbing student politics essentially as an anti-establishment affair, he believed that student unions were granted status during the Cold War era and with the disintegration of USSR, efforts were made to vaporise all anti-establishment forces.

"Student politics provide a political atmosphere where a handful of people can play a major role, but in the absence of that political process, even a major political force can't change a thing," he added. The News

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