Newspaper Articles Original Articles

As University of the Punjab opens up, violence stirs in the shape of Islami Jamiat Talaba


As Pakistan university opens up, violence stirs

Assaults, threats follow efforts to limit Islamists

By Kim Barker | Tribune correspondent
January 25, 2009

Militant youth rise up in Pakistan


Members of Islami Jamiat Talaba protest in November in Lahore against U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. (Arif Ali/Getty-AFP / November 26, 2008)

LAHORE, Pakistan— The Islamists lost their grip on Pakistan’s largest college campus for the first time in decades last year. Then the violence started.

Their decline had been obvious. Shops at the University of the Punjab began selling Coca-Cola, which had been banned by the Islamist students because it was an American product. Cable television, seen as immoral by the fundamentalist group, was installed inside college dormitories. Girls and boys sat together, after years of forced segregation.

For the university administration and many students, the push back against the youth wing of fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami was essential for the future of the school and the country’s fight against extremism. But the resulting clashes here last month show how serious the fight over Islam is in this volatile nation.

In many ways, the battle at Punjab’s university is a microcosm of the larger battle in the country, especially with the government facing pressure to rein in Islamist militant groups after one of them was implicated by India and its Western allies in the deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November.

For years, the militant groups have been supported directly or indirectly by the country’s powerful intelligence agencies and army command, and it’s unclear how much the civilian government can do—or has the will to do.

“We are sitting here in a campus which is going to define the future of Pakistan,” said Muhammad Naeem Khan, the registrar of the school of 30,000 students, in a recent interview. “Here is where we will win the war on terror. Here is where we will win the war for democracy.”

The rise of the Islamist youth group, called Islami Jamiat Talaba, over the last 30 years illustrates how forces once supported by the Pakistani establishment can be difficult to stop.

In 1984, President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, a right-wing military ruler known for spreading Islamic fervor, banned student political groups. In University of the Punjab, the only major group left was IJT, which defined itself as a religious party.

Zia’s government, busy helping the U.S. fight the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, allowed IJT to spread. Afghan jihad leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — now listed as a terrorist by the U.S. — spoke at University of the Punjab. Some students left to fight in Afghanistan.

Although the ban on student groups was briefly lifted in the 1990s, President Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler who seized power in 1999, reinstated it. In the years that followed, IJT played a similar role to that of its parent group, Jamaat-e-Islami, supporting Musharraf even while pretending not to, analysts say.

But Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s oldest religious political party, also had links to militants. In 1989, it helped form a militant group to fight in Indian-controlled Kashmir at the prodding of Pakistan’s most powerful spy agency, analysts say. In 2003, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., was arrested in the house of a Jamaat-e-Islami member.

Here in Lahore, leaders of the Islamic youth group say they are not violent. They say that they have no problem with Coke and no problem with male and female students talking to each other.

“We have an ideology, and everybody [at the university] is with us,” said Qaisar Sharif, 27, who is in charge of the group on campus. “The ideology is of Islam, and to help the students be together, without any division.”

Over the decades, with no organized opposition, the Islamist group became so entrenched in the university that former members became teachers and now run the teacher’s association on campus. They forced the university to hire supporters as drivers, gardeners and guards. Member students took over university offices and used them to preach, teachers and administrators said.

University administrators did little against the group — at times because they were afraid.

The group even made money from the university, setting up a book fair and banning American sodas in favor of Pakistani-made Shandy cola, which paid the group a commission, university administrators said. The group’s leaders denied this.

“This university for a long time has been the goose that laid golden eggs for these people,” said Mujahid Kamran, named university vice chancellor a year ago.

In his new job, Kamran wanted the Islamist group to obey the rules. So he paved the way for Coca-Cola’s return. He closed the school rather than allow the book fair — and then he held a university-sponsored book fair. He cleared out university offices that the group had taken over.

The new civilian government, elected last February, again lifted the ban on student unions. A loose group of liberal students, the United Students Federation, started recruiting and eventually took control of Dorms 15 and 16.

But there were ominous signs. In September, a suitcase of rusted Kalashnikovs, grenades and bullets was unearthed near the Islamist youth group’s headquarters, Kamran said. The next day, another gun was found.

A leader of the liberal student group was then beaten up in the middle of the night. And in the early hours of Dec. 3, after hours of protests by both student groups and a fist fight, Islamist youths broke into Dorm 16 and shot two liberal students, wounding both, police said.

Mazhar Qayyum, 24, a law student, was in the hospital for more than two weeks after being shot in the left thigh and hit over the head with a metal rod. He has left the university and is now recovering at home. “I am very much fearful about my life,” Qayyum said. “Not only my life, but my family, my friends.”

Although police initially held one Islamist youth group member in the shooting, no one has been charged. The liberal youth group’s leaders say they have been threatened to withdraw their cases against the Islamists.

The leaders also blame the university for encouraging them to recruit and rally against the Islamists but doing nothing to protect them.

Some moderate teachers, weary of a long fight against the Islamist group, worried that the recent changes were only cosmetic.

“It’s like dispersing little mosquitoes when you put a mosquito coil in the room,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, head of the English department. “When the coil is gone, they come right back. … It’s not a question of could they come back. They will come back.”

kbarker@tribune.com

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-pakistan_univ_barker_bdjan25,0,3025548.story?track=rss

….

Commentary

Care to read something else? Read the following op-ed by Imran Khan’s personal friend, admirer and flatterer journalist Haroon-ur-Rashid.

In this column written in 2007, Haroon-ur-Rashid (wrongly once again) predicted that the days of the (Ghair) Islami Jamiat at the Punjab University were over, and that the Insaf Students (student wing of Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf) will take over soon; only if the wishes were horses…. Wazir-i-Azam Imran Khan… lol

….

Some Comments:

Marcvs_Tacitvs_Cicero Says:
January 25th, 2009 at 10:13 am

The Islamists lost their grip on Pakistan’s largest college campus for the first time in decades last year. Then the violence started.

Their decline had been obvious. Shops at the University of the Punjab began selling Coca-Cola, which had been banned by the Islamist students because it was an American product. Cable television, seen as immoral by the fundamentalist group, was installed inside college dormitories. Girls and boys sat together, after years of forced segregation.

For the university administration and many students, the push back against the youth wing of fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami was essential for the future of the school and the country’s fight against extremism. But the resulting clashes here last month show how serious the fight over Islam is in this volatile nation.

In many ways, the battle at Punjab’s university is a microcosm of the larger battle in the country, especially with the government facing pressure to rein in Islamist militant groups after one of them was implicated by India and its Western allies in the deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November.

nota Says:
January 25th, 2009 at 11:02 am

@Marcvs_Tacitvs_Cicero

Isn’t it reducing the issue of “Islamist vs moderates” to “Shandy Cola vs Coca-Cola” sort of a thing? Isn’t the divide much bigger??

Marcvs_Tacitvs_Cicero Says:
January 25th, 2009 at 11:58 am
comment-top

@nota

I couldn’t care less for the article’s absurd extrapolation of the Punjab University situation to wider Pakistani society’s ills (microcosm of social divide etc).

What bothers me is the fact that the cockroaches are back. And f0cking IK did not cash it in. He had a golden chance. The whole nation was with him. He could have visited the University again and again. He could have buried IJT in PU forever. He could have exposed Qazi for he is: A condom for GHQ and the establishment. Lahore could have been the launching pad for the Youth movement. Imagine what Bhutto could have been able to get out of a situation like this.

This further confirms me in my opinion. As sincere as IK is, as dedicated IK is, he is no political leader. He is still with the Munafiq Qazi and his JI/IJT. I will donate to his cancer hospital always, but my vote would never be for PTI.

nota Says:
January 25th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

@Marcus

“He(Imran Khan) could have visited the University again and again. He could have buried IJT in PU forever. He could have exposed Qazi for he is: A condom for GHQ and the establishment.”

It is something to be really bothers me as well. That is one big question mark that surrounds IK. It is still hard for me to believe he didn’t go back there AND he stuck with Qazi after the incident…

(One other problem I had with the article was describing IJT as “Islamists”. Might as well give that label to MQM as well….)