In 1947 the only established student organization in the newly created country of Pakistan was the Muslim Students Federation (MSF), the student wing of the ruling Muslim League.
MSF had been formed to assist the Muslim League in recruiting students and young Muslims of undivided India and help it achieve its goal of attaining a separate country for the Muslims of the region.
However by 1950 the situation in MSF started to reflect the fragmentary nature of its mother party that had otherwise remained intact as a powerful political entity until 1948.
Muslim League began to disintegrate soon after coming to power as Pakistan’s first ruling party.
It broke into various self-serving groups, mostly due to intra-party tussles over the distribution of government ministries. As a consequence, MSF too split into different expedient factions.
The many infrastructural and logistical problems the newly formed country faced at its troublesome inception, were also reflected in the state and nature of the universities and colleges that Pakistan inherited.
Consequently, with the gradual disintegration of MSF as a platform of the students to voice their new-found academic and political concerns, a brand new student organization started to take shape.
In 1950, a group of students at the Dow Medical College in Karachi met and formed the Democratic Students Federation (DSF).
The group was spearheaded by Mohammad Sarwar, Mir Rehman, Ali Hashmi, Asif Jaffery, Asif Hameedi, Yousuf Ali and Haroon Ahmed. Though led by a mixture of Marxist and progressive students, initially DSF did not have a written or formal platform or agenda. It only aimed at addressing the educational and academic problems of students and fill the vacuum created by MSF’s factionalization.
A hectic recruitment drive followed the formation of DSF and as it gained recognition and support in almost all colleges in Karachi, by 1951 it was able to establish a prominent presence in colleges in Lahore and Rawalpindi in the province of Punjab as well.
Apart from pushing the government of the day to be more sympathetic and responsive towards the many academic issues facing the students, DSF also started to exhibit support for various progressive causes through demonstrations and rallies.
By 1952 DSF had evolved into a dedicated left-wing student organization and in the event of MSF’s flagging status, it also managed to win the bulk of student union elections.
DSF’s growing electoral and ideological influence soon saw it taking bolder steps in its attempt to move the government towards addressing the educational concerns of the students.
In 1953 DSF in Karachi’s Dow Medical College drew up a ‘Charter of Demands’ that included issues like tuition fees, library facilities, better classrooms and to build a proper university.
A ‘Demands Day’ was announced on which DSF activists moved out in a procession to meet the then education minister, Fazlur Rehman.
The administration blocked the protest and resorted to baton-charge and tear gas.
The students responded by announcing the observance of a Protest Day and held a large rally in the Saddar area in Karachi.
The police tear-gassed the protesting students and then opened fired when the students refused to disperse.
More than six students were killed and several were injured and arrested. Enraged students torched a government vehicle which turned out to belong to the interior minister.
The situation had spun out of control and finally Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin sent feelers out to contact the DSF leadership.
He invited a delegation to meet him. It was a cordial meeting and firm promises were made.
Although Nazimuddin was soon replaced by Mohammad Ali Bogra, the negotiations continued. Mr. Bogra, fresh from the USA, showed the students a plan of a university to be built in Karachi. The new campus of University of Karachi was then identified and construction ordered.
It was a victory for DSF, though achieved at the expense of the death of six DSF members.
By now DSF had also started to exhibit its displeasure over Pakistan’s growing role in supporting the West against the Soviet Union, and demanded that the government take a more independent stance in its foreign policy.
It is thus not surprising that in the following year (1954), when the government of Pakistan banned the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), it also imposed a ban on DSF, accusing it of being the CPP’s “front organization” and student wing.
The CPP had already been implicated in 1951 for supporting and facilitating Major General Akbar Khan’s failed coup attempt against the government of Liquat Ali Khan; and though DSF was openly left-leaning and had supporters in the CPP, it was never the student-wing of the party.
After the ban many DSF members tried to maintain the organization secretly, but the mass arrests that followed the government’s ban, made it impossible for these students to continue operating under the DSF banner.
To counter the government’s bid to completely root out student politics from the colleges and universities, some DSF leaders who had escaped arrest called a convention of student parties from both left and right sides of the ideological divide.
DSF, in spite of being banned, was still the country’s largest left-wing student organization and the most influential as well.
It was also being supported by independent leftist students, whereas the rightist side at the convention was mostly represented by small conservative student groups and the remnant factions of the MSF.
Left-wing student groups from the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) also participated in the convention.
The convention took place in Karachi’s Katrak Hall and was well attended, even though the administration had sent thugs to subvert the proceedings.
The police soon followed. A battle of fists, stones and sticks between the students on one side and the gangsters and the police on the other ensued.
The police were taken aback by the students’ stronger response, not knowing that due to incidents that had seen DSF members being shot by the cops, DSF had established a “Red Guards” unit – made up of sympathetic young muscle men and leftist student militants – to keep the thugs and cops from sabotaging the convention.
In spite of the violence, the gathered students were successful in forming the All Pakistan Students Organization (APSO), an alliance whose top slots were shared between both leftist as well as rightist student leaders.
APSO was conceived as a pressure group to make the government address the students’ demands. But its existence was short-lived and itt too was banned.
The banning followed another round of arrests and harassment, as the government now tried to counter the prevailing leftist sentiment on the campuses by patronizing a small pro-government student organization called the National Students Federation (NSF).
The organization’s leaders were a mixture of former MSF members and independent conservative students.
By 1955 however, concern about NSF’s ideological orientation rose among the many bureaucrats who had been instrumental in helping the government uproot DSF.
Unknown to them was the fact that some junior DSF members and independent leftist students in Lahore and Karachi had started to join NSF as a way to change its ideological make-up.
It is not known if this was a planned attempt, but in 1956 when NSF held a large rally in Karachi in support of progressive Egyptian leader, Gamal Abul Nasser during the Suez Canal crises, it was apparent that NSF had changed its stripes when the gathered students started chanting anti-British and anti-Israel slogans at the rally to condemn the attack on Egypt soil by these countries.
NSF had slipped into a role that it would hold for the rest of its existence.
Compared to DSF, NSF started developing a wider platform on which students from all shades of progressive politics (Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, Social Democrats, etc.), started to gather.
Some of the first starlets of the “new NSF” were Hussain Naqi, Syed Akhtar Ehtisham, Abid Manto and Sher Afzal Malik.
By 1957 NSF had started to sweep student union elections in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, quickly reclaiming the electoral and influential ground that DSF had lost due to its banning.
The organization also began generating its own firebrands, of whom Meiraj Muhammad Khan and Fatayab Ali Khan became prominent speakers and organizers.
By 1958 NSF had consolidated itself as a widespread student force and the country’s leading student party when Field Marshal Ayub Khan imposed the country’s first Martial Law.
Student politics and unions along with political parties were banned and a fresh crackdown on student radicals launched.
The Martial Law was imposed on the pretext of “political chaos” triggered by years of Machiavellian power games between the politicians and bureaucrats, and the rising level of crime and corruption in the society.
Part-2: Rude awakenings
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 rude removal of the many (similar looking) “civilian governments” of the preceding decade.
By now NSF had dramatically ascended to become Pakistan’s leading progressive student party.
But unlike DSF, which in the advancing years had gotten more and more associated with the pro-Soviet CPP, NSF remained largely independent and held a wider ideological base encompassing leaders and members from communist, socialist and left-liberal backgrounds.
In 1960 the Martial Law regime partially lifted the ban on student unions allowing the revival of student union elections after a brief hiatus.
However, the dictatorship continued with the policy of neutralizing radical leftist elements and was particularly interested in apprehending the charismatic Hasan Nasir. A DSF supporter in the 1950s and General Secretary of the outlawed Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), Hasan Nasir was finally arrested by the Punjab police in 1960, allegedly tortured and then killed. He was thirty-two.
Though incensed and enraged by Nasir’s arrest and killing, NSF retained its winning streak that it had struck in the late 1950s, even though at the start of the new decade the student-wing of the politico-religious party, the Jamat-i-Islami (JI), had started to emerge from the sidelines of student politics and materialize as an affective right-wing force on the campuses.
Called the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), it had been around for more than a decade but was almost completely overshadowed by DSF and NSF.
IJT’s leadership had to convince JI’s leading figurehead and conservative Islamic Scholar, Abul Ala Maududi, to let it carve out a bigger stake for itself in student politics, whereas Maududi had wanted his party’s student-wing to play a more theological role.
IJT started taking part in student union elections in the late 1950s, and by 1962 it had developed into becoming NSF’s strongest and most organized opposition thus far.
However, it was still unable to topple NSF’s electoral supremacy.
IJT was also one of the initial student organizations directly associated with a mainstream political party – even though MSF had been the first, it was almost non-existent by 1962.
NSF on the other hand remained largely independent but its growth and influence had gotten it in touch with powerful labor and journalist unions of Karachi whose leaders started to influence the intra-party affairs of the student organization.
So far NSF’s overall leadership was made up of pro-Soviet Marxists, but at the onset of the 1962 Sino-Soviet split, a strong pro-China faction too appeared from within the party.
It started to use (and vice versa) influential labor and journalist unions to replace NSF’s main leadership which it accused of becoming “too pro-Moscow.”
A power tussle ensued between the leadership of the two factions allowing the IJT to start making deeper inroads into campus politics.
Meanwhile, the same year (1962), when the Muslim League, (renamed as Pakistan Muslim League), broke into factions again, the larger faction calling itself the Convention Muslim League (PML-Convention), decided to join and support the Ayub Khan dictatorship.
Joining the government brought in enough influence and funds for the party to reform its withering student wing, the MSF.
Battered in the 1950s, MSF returned to student politics and made some impact in the Punjab, but it was no match to NSF in influence and electoral strength. In fact, in many colleges, it was also defeated in student union elections by the IJT. However, despite the losses it kept up a prominent presence in many colleges.
By 1965 the pro-Soviet vs. pro-China tussle in the NSF had brought the party on the brink of experiencing its first major split.
The pro-China faction, led by the likes of Meraj Muhammad Khan, Zain Lodhi and Rashid Ali Khan, had succeeded in pushing back the party’s pro-Soviet lobby, forcing NSF’s long-time figurehead, Sher Afzal, to finally bow out.
NSF had also developed strong links with the left-wing National Awami Party (NAP), especially with the party’s Maoist faction (the Bhashani Group).
In an ironic move both NAP and NSF ended up deciding to quietly support Ayub Khan’s candidacy in the controversial 1965 Presidential Elections due to his Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s close contacts with Mao Tse Tung’s China.
Ayub’s opponent in the election was Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
She was supported by the anti-Ayub Muslim League faction, the Council Muslim League, the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and the Wali Khan faction of NAP.
Ayub managed to win the elections, an event that made the JI become even more reactionary in its opposition against Ayub’s secular rule.
Paralleling the start of the celebrated students’ movement in the United States and the West that began taking shape in 1964-65, 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 a skewed perception of the war, proclaiming that the country’s armed forces had dealt India a hard, decisive blow.
But when the Soviet Union brokered a peace treaty between the two countries, the opposition parties claimed that “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. These groups of student activists would go down in history as the “Tashkent generation.”
These were young, educated Pakistanis who were infuriated by a treaty between Pakistan and India brokered by the Soviet Union in the city of Tashkent.
Ayub Khan’s young Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, too had opposed the treaty and was thus eased out from the government.
He soon found himself rising as a hero of sorts by the (West)-Pakistanis, gathering a fiery reputation as the man who wanted to fight on against the Indians and who had stood up to his former boss, Ayub Khan.
An extremely shrewd, intelligent and highly educated man, Bhutto nonetheless came from a powerful feudal family of the Sindh province.
But in the event of the radicalization of the Tashkent generation and the rousing reception that he received from a majority of West Pakistanis in 1967, saw Bhutto gallivanting towards leftist intellectual circles.
Unable to reconcile to the position that he was offered by NAP, Bhutto, with the help of senior Marxist ideologues like J A. Rahim, Shaikh Rashid and Dr. Mubashir Hassan, and a group of intellectuals led by Hanif Ramey – who had been formulating the idea of fusing Islam and Socialism (calling it “Islamic Socialism”) – decided to form a new party.
Projecting himself as the man who was concerned about the plight of the common man, especially in the event of the economic disparities brought on by Ayub’s “unflinching capitalism and cronyism,” Bhutto became a darling of the NSF.
What’s more, after 1965, the pro-government MSF too broke ranks from its mother party and started supporting Bhutto.
Many MSF leaders joined NSF and helped form brand new leftist student groups, especially in the Punjab.
NSF was the strongest in Karachi and had solid support in colleges in the Punjab as well. But by 1967 it had splintered into various factions, mainly due to petty “ideological issues.”
NSF-Meraj was the most radical Maoist group, followed by NSF-Rasheed and a few other pro-Soviet factions. But each one of these groups decided to support Bhutto.
In the Punjab though, NSF remained untainted by factionalism and was in fact bolstered (especially in colleges of Rawalpindi and Faisalabad), when many MSF members joined it.
In the colleges of Lahore too NSF was strong and was able to soundly defeat its opponents in student unions elections, but due to a provincial ban on student unions at the Punjab University, NSF had faltered, giving way to a strong presence of the IJT.
However, soon after the formation of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and the rousing support it gained from both NSF and MSF, leftists at the Punjab University formed the National Students Organization (NSO) to campaign for the restoration of student unions at the university.
The NSO became a force in Lahore during the peak of the students movement against the Ayub Khan dictatorship in 1968.
In the rest of the province, the movement was led by NSF and MSF, while in Karachi it was dominated by NSF-Meraj and NSF-Rasheed.
Already the leading student organization, it was not surprising that NSF hit a peak in student union elections between 1965 and 1968.
What’s more, NSF-Meraj and NSO (led by Imtiaz Alam), became de-fecto student-wings of the nascent PPP.
IJT, though anti-Ayub, showed little interest in the students movement, instead focusing on curtailing the bludgeoning leftist support and presence in the country’s universities and colleges.
After Ayub’s downfall in 1969 (he resigned), and the imposition of Pakistan’s second Martial Law (by General Yahya Khan), IJT started to echo it’s mother party’s post-Ayub mantra projecting Bhutto’s PPP and it’s socialist agenda worse than Ayub and a “grave danger to Pakistan’s Islamic polity.”
NSF reached the panicle of its strength and influence in 1969. Some of its members, most notably Meraj Muhammad Khan and Raja Anwar, managed to become card-carrying members of the PPP, and some of NSF’s prominent factions also became directly involved in the fast developing Labour movement, especially in Karachi.
Ironically, in the Eastern Wing of the country (East Pakistan), where leftist students had been part of NSF till the early 1960s, now came under the banner of the student organizations supporting Bengali nationalist leader, Shaikh Mujeeb-ur-Rheman’s Awami League.
NSF did have a presence at colleges and universities of East Pakistan, but since NSF had become “Maoist,” pro-Bhutto and anti-India, it clashed with AL’s student-wing, that was overwhelmingly pro-Soviet and somewhat vague in its stance towards India.
Part-3: The Golden Age
It will be misleading to suggest (as some historians do), that the “golden era of student politics” in Pakistan arrived in the late 1960s during the movement against the Ayub Khan dictatorship.
It is true that just like the student movements across the world, the Pakistani student movement of the era too became a celebrated event. No doubt in Pakistan this was the movement that generated the concept and matter of what became to be known as “student power” in the 1960s.
But it is the 1970s that one can now truly call the golden era of student politics in Pakistan.
The decade witnessed perhaps one of the most democratic periods in the history of student politics in the country.
It was a period in which the government actually promoted and patronized student politics in universities and colleges, and signed a dedicated Ordinance -the 1974 Student Union Ordinance – that encouraged democratic student political activity on campuses.
All factions of NSF celebrated the sweeping victory of the PPP (in West Pakistan) in the 1970 general elections.
They saw Bhutto’s and the PPP’s victory as the climaxing of their struggle against dictatorship (Ayub Khan, Yayah Khan), and the arrival of socialism in Pakistan.
However, there was a mixed reaction among the NSF factions regarding the landslide win of Mujib-ur-Rheman’s Awami League in East Pakistan.
The bulk of NSF factions were against the Awami League’s ethnic orientation. The Awami League’s left-wing was close to leftist circles affiliated with pro-India entities, whereas most NSF factions had by now become staunchly anti-India and pro-China.
Shortly before the elections, NSF was also instrumental in tackling Bhutto’s detractors in IJT, whom the Jamaat-e-Islami had let lose to attack PPP rallies and churn out 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 1970 general elections, and when the Jamaat and IJT increased their attacks and slandering campaigns, the PPP formed its own “Peoples Guards.”
This unit was created by plucking “street fighters” from various NSF factions. These brigades of young men armed with clubs and knives started to accompany Bhutto and various other PPP leaders during the election campaign and worked as tough bulwarks against riotous Jamaat and IJT instigators.
The most violent clashes between the two groups took place in the streets and colleges of Lahore in 1969 and early 1970.
The 1970s were also the period that finally saw the IJT rise as a powerful electoral force.
With the continuing factionalization of NSF, that by 1971 had more than four factions (NSF-Meraj, NSF-Kazmi, NSF-Rasheed & NSF-Bari), IJT managed to sweep student union elections at the University of Karachi in 1969, 1970 and 1971.
In the Punjab, though NSF retained its electoral strength in the colleges, and the NSO fought hard to share important union posts with the IJT at the Punjab University, IJT had succeeded in converting itself into a well-oiled electoral machine.
As both NSF and NSO got busy fighting their own little intra-party battles, IJT took over NSF’s traditional practice of aggressive indoctrination of the new entrants to college and university life.
IJT began holding “study circles” in which it offered help and books to the new students and then slip in lectures and writings by JI chief and Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Maududi, to the students.
Most of the men and women who became part of these study circles were students arriving from the country’s conservative rural areas and who had found NSF’s aggressive Maoist/Marxist posturing alienating.
An increase in numbers of young people moving to the cities’ from rural towns for higher education in this period also helped bolster IJT’s vote bank.
However, the rising tension between NSF and IJT subsided for a while in early 1972. Both the parties were united in lamenting the Pakistan Army’s 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 create Bangladesh after a vicious civil war against the West Pakistan Army.
IJT members were also instrumental in providing young men for the Army’s violent anti-Awami League campaigns (the “Badar & Shams Brigades”), created to help the Army to harass and weed out Bengali nationalists.
Nevertheless, NSF was upbeat when in 1972 the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government began implementing its reformist and socialist policies.
NSF once again swept the 1972 student union elections in almost all major colleges in Karachi. But this time the NSF factions had to ally themselves with left-wing nationalist student groups such as the Balochistan Students Organization (BSO), and the newly formed Punjabi Students Association (PSA).
However, once again making the most of the factionalization in NSF, the IJT won 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.
It was made up of leftist students who had refused to be a part of any of the four NSF factions. The PSF’s formation was also seen as a way for the PPP government to lessen its dependence on NSF whose leaders along with PPP’s radical wing had been pressurizing Bhutto to hasten the implementation of his socialist policies.
Eventually, by late 1973, accusing the PPP’s radical wing leaders of hotheadedness and impracticality, Bhutto responded by initiating a purge against the wing’s leadership.
The biggest casualties of the purge were PPP’s most senior ideologue, J A. Rahim, and the party’s youngest minister, Meraj Muhammad Khan, who had also confronted Bhutto in his handling of the crises erupting from the emboldened labor movement in Karachi.
All NSF factions condemned the purge and finally withdrew their support for the PPP government.
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 a decade.
Even NSO at the Punjab University crumbled.
The vacuum was filled by the coming together of independent leftist and liberal students, some of whom joined the PSF while others got together to form the Liberal Students Organization (LSO).
By 1974, LSO saw itself at the head of an anti-IJT alliance (Progressive Students Alliance), that also included NSF factions and PSF, both at the University of Karachi and the Punjab University – even though the alliances in the Punjab and Karachi were only loosely related.
What’s more, the Sindh National Students Federation (SNSF) in the interior of the Sindh province was now up against the newly formed student wing of the separatist and anti-PPP Sindhi leader, G M. Syed’s Jeeay Sindh Movement, the Jeeay Sindh Students Federation (JSSF).
The year also saw Balochistan Students Organization (BSO) plunging itself against Z A. Bhutto when his government’s strong-arm tactics against Baloch nationalist parties in the Balochistan Assembly triggered the beginning of the “third Balochistan Insurgency” in the remote mountains of the arid province.
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 left-leaning student groups, but also gave momentum to the Islamists and conservatives who had otherwise been wiped out in the 1970 general elections.
It is also true that the progressive vote on various campuses had started to spilt between the four NSF factions and other progressive groups such as PSF, LSO, BSO and PSA. So it was natural for the progressives to start forming joint electoral alliances which, such as Lahore and Karachi’s Progressive Students Alliance, was usually led by LSO.
The alliance, though formed in early 1974, managed to break IJT’s winning streak at the University of Karachi in the 1975 student union elections.
Alliances between NSF factions and PSF in Karachi’s colleges during the same year produced the best results for the progressives ever since 1972.
In the Punjab, though IJT managed to retain its electoral strength at the year’s union elections at the Punjab University, progressive alliances in colleges in Rawalpindi and Faisalabad struck back, voting out the IJT from prime student union seats.
Contribution to IJT’s defeat that year was also made by another right-wing student group, the Anjuman-e-Taliba-Islam (ATI), the student wing of the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP).
Unlike the JI and IJT, JUP was manned and supported by Muslims from the Berelvi school of thought, that, though conservative, were less puritanical.
By the mid-1970s, the number of colleges and universities holding student union elections grew two-fold, with Progressive Students Alliance and IJT dominating in colleges and universities in the main urban areas of the country, while IJT, ATI and PSF prevailing in the semi-urban areas.
The situation at Rawalpindi’s Gordon Collage that had been a bastion of DSF, NSF and progressive student alliances ever since the 1950s, took a twist when during the 1976 student union elections here, the IJT for the first time managed to capture the most seats in the college’s union.
The IJT in Rawalpindi at this time was being led by Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, a fiery anti-PPP student leader who many years later would go on to become a minister in the two Nawaz Sharif governments in the 1990s, and during the Pervez Musharraf dictatorship.
1976 was also the year of general elections, the first after the historic 1970 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 factions were ready to support the PPP.
They had been angry with Bhutto ever since he purged hard-line leftists from his party in 1973, and then send in the Army to act against Baloch nationalists.
They also accused Bhutto of rolling back the PPP’s original socialist manifesto and alienating the leftists by inducting prominent feudal lords and capitalists in his post-’74 cabinet, and then caving in to the pressure of the Islamist parties by officially proclaiming the controversial Islamic Ahmadiyya sect 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 itself 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.
Two of its frontline leaders of the 1970s were Jehangir Badar and future Pakistani national hokey team captain, Qasim Zia. Both would go on to become ministers in PPP governments of the 1990s and 2000s.
The aftermath of the 1976 general elections was tumultuous. The nine-party opposition 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 elections on the platform of “Nizam-e-Mustapha” (Prophet’s law/Islamic Shariah).
Right away the PNA began a movement of mass protests against the PPP government. Many 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.
Aggressive 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 head of the Army, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq – an admirer of Abul Ala Maududi – imposed the country’s third Martial Law (5 July, 1977).
When Zia brought in members of the Jamat-e-Islami to form his first cabinet (to help him “Islamize Pakistan”), IJT’s notorious “Thunder Sqauds” that were formed in the 1960s at the universities of Karachi and Lahore to challenge leftist student activists, went on a rampage, harassing and physically manhandling their opponents.
In response to the new challenges faced by the progressive students, 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 Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.
Gaining sympathy due to Zia’s harsh crackdown on PSF and NSF members and the rising cases of violence and harassment by the IJT, the PPSA routed IJT in the 1978 student union elections in Rawalpindi, Islamabad 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 1972.
DSF that had almost vanished under the shadow of the NSF, started to reemerge in 1977 when some Marxist students got BSO, Pukhtun leftists and Jam Saqi’s SNSF together to reform the veteran student party.
in 1978, Altaf Hussain, a University of Karachi student, formed the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO). The party’s early membership included 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.
The APMSO claimed to hold progressive views and wanted to work for the Urdu speaking students (Mohajirs), whom it claimed were bitten by Bhutto’s quota system and “Punjab’s political and economic hegemony.”
Despite the rising violence (usually involving PSF, APMSO and NSF workers against IJT’s “Thunder Squad”), the University of Karachi did manage to hold its 1979 elections.
The elections saw the Progressive Students Alliance that had somewhat survived Zia’s persecution, defeat IJT on a number of union posts, but the union’s biggest 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), who introduced the usage of latest weaponry at the University of Karachi. Even though he never carried a weapon himself, he moved with a well armed group of Thunder Squad members led by the infamous, Rana Javed.
When Zia hanged Bhutto for ordering a political murder during his Prime Ministership, PPP claimed that Zia through a Kangaroo court had commited a “judicial murder.”
In response, the reactionary dictatorship increased the harassment and punishments against members of progressive student groups, especially PSF.
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 at the University of Karachi.
However, in the Punjab, the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PPSA), went on to once again defeat IJT at the Quied-e-Azam University in the 1979 student union elections, and then win back Gordon College for the progressives which they had lost to IJT in the 1976 elections.
Thus ended one of the most fruitful decades of student unionism in Pakistan, in which, at least between 1970 and 1977, regular student union elections had managed to help students democratically address and settle their ideological and administrational matters.
The incidents of violence in educational institutions too in these seven years usually did not involve the use of firearms, and deaths were actually lesser in number compared to what the students had faced in 1954 and 1968 due to police violence.
However, events between 1977 and 1979, in which sophisticated firearms made their presence on university campuses and the ideological battles between the leftists and rightists started getting more brutal than ever, a precedence was set for a future that would see the country’s student politics struggling with its most difficult period thus far.
Part-4: The levy breaks
Further emboldened by Bhutto’s downfall and the Jamat’s growing influence in Zia’s Martial Law regime, the IJT started devolving from being a democratic-conservative student group into a group with growing authoritarian tendencies. At times it became hard even for its mother party the Jamat-e-Islami to control!
The PPP’s student-wing, the PSF, now under tremendous pressure from arrests and harassment by the Zia dictatorship, too became a lot more violent, but for different reasons.
Many of its members were jailed, tortured and even flogged, sometimes simply for raising a “Jeeay Bhutto!” slogan.
From this pressure cooker situation emerged one of PSF’s most notorious leaders in Karachi, Salamullah Tipu.
Coming from a lower-middle-class family of Karachi, Tipu was originally a member of NSF in 1974-75.
He switched to PSF sometime in 1977 and gained a reputation of being “a terror” by the IJT in Karachi.
Every day dozens of PPP and PSF workers were being arrested, and since 1978 thousands of them had been loitering in cramped jails across Pakistan.
Colleges in interior Sindh and Rawalpindi, the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad and the Peshawar 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-47 assault rifles from Afghan gun traders who had started to arrive into the NWFP province in the North of Pakistan 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 stationed in Peshawar, many of them were sold at throw-away prices (by Pakistani middlemen and related Afghan traders) to the visiting IJT workers.
Back at the University of Karachi, the Progressive Alliance had capitulated 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 and 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 Karachi bought themselves a cachet of AK-47s as well.
This group was led by Salamullah Tipu, under whom an anarchic militant wing of the PSF started to take shape 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.
Right away he and a group of PSF militants emerged on the campus, roaming in a white car with a PPP flag (a crime of sorts in those days), and shouting “Jeeay Bhutto!” slogans.
Seeing Tipu, a senior IJT leader, Hafiz Shahid, whipped out a pistol and fired at his car.
He fired thrice, but missed. Tipu braked, rushed out of the car with a recently bought AK-47 and fell Hafiz with a burst of bullets. Hafiz lay on the ground bleeding and dead with his gun lying besides him.
The IJT lodged a case against Tipu for killing Hafiz. Tipu and a group of PSF men escaped to Peshawar. 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 Bhutto, Murtaza and Shanawaz.
Both of them had escaped to Kabul when Bhutto was hanged by the 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 wings in Karachi, interior Sindh and the Punjab, whose members had escaped Zia’s repression by slipping into Kabul.
Among them was also Raja Anwar, a former student radical belonging to NSF, 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 agitation cells, organizing various rallies 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 was thrown into a Kabul jail by the Afghan intelligence agency, KHAD.
By 1981, AZO had pulled off a number of bank heists and an assassination in Pakistan, and attempted to slay the Pope who was visiting Karachi.
Anwar suggested that AZO terminate its operations and support Z A. Bhutto’s young daughter, Benazir Bhutto, who, though in jail, had begun to lead an affective campaign against Zia with the help of the anti-Martial Law alliance, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD).
Murtaza disagreed and threw Anwar in a Kabul jail.
Meanwhile, Salamullah Tipu and his group of PSF militants were provided training by KHAD 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, a few NSF members, and activists belonging to certain left-wing Baloch and Pashtun nationalist parties, 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 diplomat who was on the plane, mistaking him for being part of Zia’s intelligence agencies. He wasn’t.
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 PSF activists four of whom were eventually hanged to death by the dictatorship.
At the University of Karachi, with the Progressive Alliance now defunct, the IJT renewed its violence against PSF and NSF.
In response, a senior progressive leader, Zafar Arif, pleaded for a brand new alliance of progressive student groups to challenge the government’s repression and IJT’s hegemonic ways.
In early 1981, a meeting was held at Zafar Arif’s home and United Students Movement (USM) came into being.
The new progressive coalition included PSF, DSF, BSO, PkSF, PSA and APMSO. The LSO 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 union elections at University of Karachi. Secondly, the new alliance also decided to take IJT head-on in other matters as well, and for this USM planed to arm itself as well as the IJT.
On the other hand, PSF and NSF formed the Taliba Jamhoori Mahaz at the same University and supported the USM in the student union elections.
USM member parties got in touch with the Afghan arms suppliers who had 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 USM had to struggle to generate funds.
Various PPP leaders were requested to dish out money, while certain other opposition party leaders belonging to Baloch and Pushtun nationalist parties were also approached.
A separate progressive student party appeared at the neighboring NED University, where leftist and liberal students formed the Progressive Students Federation. It become the largest progressive student grouping at NED, supported by PSF, NSF and BSO.
In early 1981 some IJT members shot dead a USM activist at the University of Karachi. Ironically the dead student, Shaukat Cheema, was a former Thunder Squad member who had quit IJT and joined USM.
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 progressive militants led by BSO’s Boro Baloch and PSF’s Shireen Khan entered the University of Karachi (from NED) to counter Thunder Squad members there.
Soon, a gun battle ensued between the two groups. Armed IJT members holed themselves up in the varsity’s student union offices, while Boro’s men climbed on top of an opposite 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 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 of former IJT members who quit in 1974 and formed a nationalist student party for the Urdu speaking students of Karachi in 1978.
The APMSO described itself as a progressive party when it joined USM in 1981. It was still not in a position though to offer any 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.
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-leaning/progressive student alliances.
The government felt that 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-Zia activities.
Advisors to the Sindh government under the governorship of General Abbasi warned the 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. It also warned the IJT was fast going out of control from the JI’s sphere of influence.
As the government was reviewing these warnings, 1983 witnessed the eruption of the second 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.
The movement was soon joined by Sindhi nationalists as well. Most of these were student 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 (JSPSF).
The intensity of the violence was such that Zia had to send in the Army with tanks. Hundreds of protesters and insurgents were killed.
Many PSF and JSPSF activists, especially from areas like Dadu, Moro and Larkana, hid inside the thick forests near Dadu and many would become notorious dacoits in the coming years.
In the 1983 student union elections, 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 liberals under the DSF, Istaqlal Students Federation (ISF) and the Quaid-e-Azam Students Federation (QSF) banners, once again swept the elections in Rawalpindi colleges and the Quaid-e-Azam University, while PSF bagged the largest number of union posts in the elections at the Peshawar University.
The IJT had been comprehensively voted out in a majority of colleges and universities across the country.
In early 1984 news arrived that Tipu had been hanged by the Kabul authorities. He had become a threat to Murtaza who was said to have become increasingly paranoid.
However, Raja Anwar 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 are said to be residing in Libya.
Just before the 1984 student union elections in Karachi, the government announced that it is banning student politics and unions.
It cited growing cases of violence as a reason. Of course, the decision was based on reports that anti-government leftist and progressive student alliances had gained strong electoral and political momentum and may in the future be in a position to initiate a students’ movement, the sort that helped topple the Ayub Khan dictatorship.
The regime’s plans to repress progressive student groups through its allied party, the Jamat-e-Islami and its 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 1983 student union elections across Pakistan clearly reflected 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 that its mother party 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 for supporting Zia, the Jamat 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 secured 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 of 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 state-sponsored 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 also handed out APMSO a small number of arms. This was to be APMSO’s first experience of owning sophisticated weaponry.
In the winding months of 1984, the police reacting to reports that anti-government student groups were “planning an armed uprising” at the University of Karachi, entered the campus in heavy 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 10-hour-siege.
Hundreds of rounds of sub-machinegun and pistol fire were used by both sides and the police had to call in for constant reinforcements to finally smoke out the determined USM militants.
Foremost among the militants were activists from PSF, BSO and PkSF. Surprisingly apart from the many 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 limp 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 not only by Zia loyalists.
And ironically, even though 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 Pakistan Muslim League (PML). The first had been the pro-Ayub Pakistan Muslim League (Convention) in the 1960s.
In 1986, fierce riots between Karachi’s mohajir community and the city’s migrant Pushtun population erupted when a female student of a college was crushed to death by a public transport bus driven by a Pushtun.
The death of the Urdu speaking girl and the riotous reaction that the accident sparked hastened the process of senior APMSO 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 Pakistan ever since the start of the Afghan Civil War in 1979.
Much of the city’s public transport business fell in the hands of the Afghan refugees, and many Afghan refugees were also accused of running clandestine businesses involving the sale of guns and drugs.
Most of the refugees were Pushtuns, and since Karachi already had a significant Pushtun population (people who had first arrived from the NWFP province during the Ayub regime), the troubles soon turned into vicious Mohajir-Pushtun riots.
These riots in which both sophisticated and crude homemade weapons were used and hundreds of Karachiites lost their lives were 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 and the easy availability of guns and destructive drugs like heroin.
Pakistan’s involvement in helping raise local militias and fighters for the Afghan Civil War also included the making and turning ofmadressas/religious schools into indoctrination and recruiting institutions, further radicalizing Islamist groups including IJT.
The post-riots scenario saw MQM rise as the representative party of the Urdu- speaking population of Karachi (which were in a majority).
This did not bode well with right-wing 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 APMSO. A 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 Pakistan’s 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 witnessed.
Millions of Lahorites thronged the streets and roads of the city, 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 nervous 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 improvished Lyari area turned into a gun battle between the police and PSF activists.
The same year, (in Jhang), the radicalization of various Islamist groups by the Zia regime’s involvement in the Afghan Civil War also saw a large faction of Jamiat- Ulema-Islam’s student group, the JTI, become the militant Sunni sectarian Sipah Sehaba Pakistan (SSP).
In Karachi, 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 been 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 and bought a heavy cache of AK-47s from JSSF members.
The weapons were stored in a few hostel rooms at the University of Karachi which the APMSO had managed to borrow from PSF and BSO.
In 1987, 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 also names on the list of student activists belonging to NSF, BSO and PkSF. Most of the activists who were known to be in jails were all described by the Zia regime as being either “terrorists belonging to AZO” or “Soviet agents.”
The same year, the pro-Zia Pakistan Muslim League (PML) revived the Muslim Students Federation (MSF).
MSF had splintered into various factions in the 1950s, before reuniting 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 PPP.
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 ideological spectrum, IJT had been equally strong.
The Punjabi 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 party 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 accused by IJT to have carried out the killing was himself shot and killed.
In 1988, unable to halt the PPP wave and with the “state-sponsored” formation of MQM backfiring, Zia blamed Junejo’s government.
At once he dismissed a government he himself had so carefully constructed through dubious methods and elections. Also, the Afghan conflict too was coming to a conclusion.
In August 1988, a military aircraft carrying General Zia-ul-Haq exploded in mid-air over the South Punjab city of Bhawalpur. It was claimed by many to be a meticulously planned 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 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 two-thirds majority.
To help itself bag a government-forming majority in the parliament, the PPP offered an alliance to the 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-long dictatorship, the new PPP government also lifted the ban on student unions that was imposed by Zia in 1984.
1989 became the year when student union elections 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 at 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 followed by the ATI.
At the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, PSF allied to NSF and DSF came up as the leading student party in the elections.
At the Peshawar University, PSF routed the IJT, as PkSF came a distant second.
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 IJI.
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, at the widespread University of Karachi, the APMSO routed the IJT, with PSF coming in second in terms of the share of votes.
Part-5: 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 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 back 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 their 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 drive from Sindh Medical College to NED, but this lull was enough for APMSO gunslingers to 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 were around six PSF boys who were captured and brought here, while another four who were with them 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 killed.
The violence put a tremendous strain on the already shaky ruling alliance of which APMSO’s mother party, the MQM, was also a partner.
The MQM finally decided to quit the 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 also accused of killing some of APMSO’s most formidable militants of the time.
He was ambushed by a group of APMSO men and shot multiple times. He died a few days later at the hospital.
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 violence 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 Southern Punjab and Islamabad.
At the Peshawar 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 were reaching a breaking point.
Due to troubles in Karachi and Sindh and accusations of mismanagement, President Ghulam 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 dismissed 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 Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who had also become the leader of PML after a faction under former Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, broke away and formed PML (J).
Nawaz’s faction would soon evolve into PML (N).
By 1991, the IJI was facing a split when a component party of the alliance, the Jamat-e-Islami (JI), started to accuse Nawaz for failing to fully implement the Islamic Shariah Law he had promised after coming into power.
JI’s break from IJI became imminent when the tension between its student wing, the IJT, and the student wing of PML, the MSF, boiled 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 Kuwait against Sadam Hussein’s Iraq when the later invaded Kuwait.
The Nawaz Sharif government supported the American action. As a reaction the IJT along with NSF and PSF organized 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 once been the country’s leading progressive student organization.
NSF had steadily started to lose influence from the mid-1980s onwards, pushed into a corner by progressive student parties like PSF, secular-ethnic student parties like APMSO, and secular-conservative student groups like MSF.
The violence at universities and colleges in Lahore and central Punjab left the government 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 1991.
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 and PSF workers and 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.
APMSO now became a nursery for providing manpower to MQM’s militant wing. 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 the 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 against the MQM. With the PPP now pushed into a corner, 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 outside Dadu and Moro.
Much of the operation was concentrated against MQM, though.
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 developing in the MQM.
The results of this rift and clandestine agency maneuvers in this respect 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 groups saw the arrest of numerous MQM and APMSO activists as many (including Altaf Hussain) 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 elections 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 “deal” between Nawaz, Benazir, the Army and the Presidency, 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 President, 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 both 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 initiated.
Between 1993 and 1996, thousands of MQM and APMSO militants were arrested and hundreds lost 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, candidates 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 Southern Punjab, PSF swept clean the student union elections, defeating both IJT and MSF. In the NWFP, especially at the Peshawar University, PSF maintained its grip.
1996 saw the fall of the second Benazir Bhutto government, dismissed by her own President, Farooq Ahmed Laghari. The accusations laid down were once again corruption, mismanagement and growing incidents of violence.
The breaking point came when Benazir’s elder brother, Murtaza Bhutto, the former head of the AZO, was shot dead by a police party just outside his resident 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 (N) government.
PML (N)’s return saw MSF muscling its way back to regain the turf at many 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 Karachi, the MQM and APMSO, though badly bruised by the Army operation, started to 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 APMSO 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-armed 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.
Part-6: The great withering
The arrival of General Pervez Musharraf heralded in a brand new era in Pakistani politics, when unlike other military dictators before him, he decided to call himself “Chief Executive,” and promised to undo the nature of politics that had preceded him.
The dwindling economics of the country was checked with the help of American and Western aid when Pakistan became a frontline ally of the US in its “war against terror” soon after Islamist terrorists attacked New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon building in 2000 (9/11).
Musharraf’s decision to back the US in this respect and allow US forces to use Pakistani bases to launch attacks over the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan had a two-pronged affect.
Though fresh American support and aid helped Musharraf to turn around the economy, it also saw former Pakistani Army and ISI constructs and allies, such as militant Islamist groups (used in Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan), turn their guns and anger against the Pakistani state.
The society now gradually fattened by the upward trend witnessed by the country’s economics, saw itself being split between the individualistic and apolitical strains of modern consumerism and a new form of reactive Islamism within the urban middle and lower middle-classes.
Musharraf’s pragmatic handling of old and new sectarian and militant Islamist groups too didn’t help his government achieve the kind of political and economic stability he was searching for.
Though he advertised himself as a a liberal, and then managed to also call himself a democrat after helping form a “Kings Party,” the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), that managed to form a government in the new Parliament that came into being after the 2002 elections – Musharraf is said to have continued supporting some militant outfits while banning and eliminating others.
He was said to be following the old Pakistan (military) policy and line that still wanted to retain certain “controllable” Islamist groups that it thought it could still use against India (in Kashmir) and against the new US-backed (but pro-India), government in post-Taliban Pakistan.
Musharraf’s pragmatism and double-talk in this respect created a schizophrenic socio-political atmosphere, where even though he was openly posing as a liberal and going after certain Islamist organizations, his intelligence agencies were still patronizing a number of Jihad organizations and personalities.
This saw Musharraf become the recipient of at least three assassination attempts by the Islamist organizations opposing him and supported by “rouge ISI agents.” But he continued to back certain Islamists who would eventually turn against the state and Army of Pakistan years later.
But Musharraf’s pragmatic political maneuvers and the kind of consumerism that his economics encouraged, created an unprecedented distraction-reaction scenario in which sections of the country’s middle and lower middle-classes were de-politicized and at the same time certain sections were further radicalized.
Thus, Pakistani student politics as it was between the 1950s and 1990s, too started to change rapidly.
In spite the fact that Musharraf did not lift the ban on student unions (last imposed by the first Nawaz Sharif government in 1992), this time around hardly any student organization actually demanded restoration of student unions.
One of the reasons behind this is said to be the de-politicization of middle and lower-middle-class Pakistan, and/or the emergence of a society in which political and ideological radicalism stopped appearing from college and university campuses and instead became the vocation of madressa/Islamic seminary teachers and students, and clandestine Islamist organizations that now went all out to recruit (and indoctrinate), young men and women towards “jihad.”
Musharraf’s period was one of the most barren in the history of student politics in Pakistan, in which a majority of college and university students stayed away from student organizations whom only managed to retain an obligatory presence on the campuses.
In Karachi APMSO, PSF and IJT held on to their positions but in a rather low-key manner, and same was the case in the Punjab where IJT, MSF (now MSF[Q]), and PSF kept up a functionary presence.
Many other student organizations, such as NSF, DSF, QSF and others simply vanished from the radar, as right-wing student groups such as ATI and JTI eventually merged with sectarian sunni outfits, Sunni Thereek and Sipah Sehaba respectively.
However, things in this respect started to change a bit when in 2006 Musharraf committed his most profound blunder by dismissing a popular Chief Justice of the country, Chaudary Iftikhar Hussain.
Though considered controversial and conservative, Chaudary found immediate support from a large group of progressive and secular lawyers who were soon joined by opposition parties such as the PPP and PML(N).
The politicization of the protest movement by the lawyers gained momentum when the private electronic media started giving it sympathetic coverage and that also saw fringe right-wing parties like Imran Khan’s Thareek-e-Insaaf and the Jamat Islami also join the movement.
Eventually, soon after certain small left-wing parties joined the proceedings, NSF suddenly made a comeback, now associated with the Mazdoor Kissan Communist Party and the Labour Party of Pakistan.
Though certain independent groups at many of the countries’ private universities attempted to kick in a new era of student politics in Pakistan, it was short lived because large mainstream student organizations such as PSF, APMSO and even IJT remained on the sidelines of the lawyers movement, and NSF once again withered away soon after Musharraf resigned after the 2008 general elections saw the PPP come back to power and PML(N) regain the ground in the Punjab that it had lost in the 2002 elections.
In spite of the fact that the new Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gillani, announced the lifting of the ban on student unions, no student union elections have so far been allowed to take place even a year after the announcement.
The reason given is Pakistan’s direct war with Taliban terrorists and insurgents in Swat and Waziristan; against the terrorism of various other Islamist militant organizations that were reactively radicalized by certain actions taken by the Musharraf regime (Laal Masjid); and a floundering economy that almost collapsed at the start of 2008.
Though episodes of violence are still part of campus life in Pakistan, but such events are now largely isolated and nowhere like the violence that was witnessed between student groups in the 1980s and 1990s.
Many observers have suggested that this is the right time to revive the democratic process in universities and campuses by holding regular student union elections because this process will only strengthen Pakistan’s attempt to reinforce a democratic culture in a society that has so far been scared by four destructive military dictatorships and then by the politics of intolerance and bloodshed perpetuated by various sectarian and Islamist groups that started to emerge in from the 1980s onwards.
However, there are also those who believe that campuses are better off without student unions and student organizations, especially at a time when Pakistan is perhaps facing its most violent and testing times, and the revival of full blown student politics will only fall prey to the vicious currents that the country has been swashed with in the last three years.
References & Sources
- India & Pakistan-The First 50 years: Craig Baxter, Yogendra K. Malik & Charles H. Kennedy
- JI: Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: Reza Nasr
- Ethnic conflict and secessionism in South and Southeast Asia: Rajat Ganguly
- Pakistan: Between the Mosque & Military: Hussain Haqqani
- A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents, A Pakistani View: S. Akhtar Ehtisham
- Student Movement Revisited: Dr. S. Haroon & Salim Asmi (Dawn, 2008).
- Student Movement in Pakistan: S. Akhtar Ehtisham (Essay)
- Setting the record straight on DSF: Dr. S Haroon & Salim Asmi
- The Times & Trial of the Rwalpindi Conspiracy: Hassan Zaheer
- ‘Student Politics had no hidden agendas:’ Hussain Naqi’s interview by Shahzada Irfan Hussain (The News on Sunday, 2007).
- The Terrorist Prince: Raja Anwar
- Interview with Tipu’s elder brother in Karachi by Tania Ahmed (Stanford University).
- Pakistan: Zia & After: Anthony Hyman, Muhammed Ghayur & Naresh Kaushik
- Democracies Against Terrorism: Geoffrey M. Levitt
- Zafar Arif Interview (HERALD-1979).
- Discipline is our Soul (APMSO Leaflet)
- Guns, Slums, and “Yellow Devils”: A Genealogy of Urban Conflicts in Karachi, Pakistan: Laurent Gayer
- Street Fighting Years: DawnNews Documentary
- Munawar Hassan Interview: DawnNews Documentary (Street Fighting Years)
- Pakistan Under Martial Law: Muhammad Wasim
- Decade of the Dacoits: Imdad H. Sahito
- Hasil Bizenjo Interview: Saram Bukhari (Street Fighting Years)
- Daughter of the East: Benazir Bhutto
- Migrants & Militants: Oskar Verkaaik
- Benazir Bhutto – From Prison to Prime Minister: Libby Hughes
- Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Hassan Abbas
- Interview of Raja Anwar by Amjad Bhatti (The News on Sunday, 2008)
- The Pakistan People’s Party – Rise to Power: Philip E. Jones
- Heady Politics: Dr. Manzur Ejaz (Article-Wichaar).
- Pakistan: Muhammad Abdul Qadeer
- Politics of Identity: Adeel Khan
- State, Nation and Ethnicity in Contemporary South Asia: Ishtiaq Ahmed
- Pakistan in the Twentieth Century – a Political History: Lawrence Ziring
- Islam & Democracy: John L. Esposito & John Obert
- Pakistan Political Perspective: Institute of Policy Studies (Islamabad, Pakistan)
- The Web of Censorship: Zamir Niazi