New surge of violence at Punjab University


By Lal Khan
Last week, a new surge in violence gripped the Punjab University, Lahore. On January 22, at least a dozen students and two policemen were severely injured in a clash between two students groups, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) and the Pashtun and Baloch Students Council (PBC) at the University’s Electrical Engineering Department. Students belonging to the Seraiki Students Council complained that three of their fellows were picked up and tortured by the IJT goons.
Scores of students were arrested and several sent on judicial remand. Of the total 196 reportedly arrested, more than 180 belong to the PBC. This fact alone demonstrates the partiality of the administration. The right wing PML-government’s appeasement of the IJT was laid bare when those protesting for the release of their comrades of the Baloch, Pashtoon, Seraiki organisations and the NSF and against the biased attitude of the government were arrested far from the university campus in front of the Press Club, Lahore.

LAHORE: Police entering Punjab University after clashed between two groups. The student groups attacked each other over preparations for the Pioneer Festival in the Electrical Engineering department.

Paradoxically, none was arrested from similar sit-ins staged by the IJT. The cruel treatment of these detained nationalist and left wing students and the maltreatment by the police of their relatives who had travelled from Balochistan and other far off places to meet and help their dear ones is condemnable to say the least. They were denied meeting these students by the Kot Lakhpat jail authorities and kicked out of the police stations when they wanted to give medicines and other necessities to those in lock-up.
The Islamicist right wing party Jamat-e-Islami’s student wing, IJT, has had a strangle hold on this South Asia’s historic institution for more than four decades. It was challenged by the left wing student’s organisations in the 1970s and 80s but for a long time it has not really faced any serious resistance to its despotic hegemony. But this recent resistance from the left-leaning students, mainly belonging to the nationalist organisations, has become threatening to its dominance and control of the Punjab University that has become a virtual fiefdom of the IJT. Individual students who defied its reactionary edicts were intimidated, abused and victimised. There has been a ferocious imposition of its religious sectarian codes of conduct and obscurantist cultural, ethical and moral dictates in the university.
In the spring last year, the IJT attacked a cultural festival organised by Pashtun students. Several students were injured when a mob of IJT vigilantes gatecrashed this cultural event.
Historically, Jamat-e-Islami (JI)’s student wing only rose to prominence after 1974, when Bhutto’s reforms started to fail in delivering according to the expectations of the students, youth and the workers. Left wing students were also annoyed with Bhutto’s purge of socialists from the PPP in 1973, and its government’s military operation launched in Balochistan. They were also annoyed at the rolling back from PPP’s original socialist manifesto and caving into the pressures of the Islamist parties. IJT began by organising ‘study circles’ more in the traditions of the left indoctrinating students with religious fanaticism. They also organised ‘welfare’ schemes for the students not so well off in admissions, hostel allotments and scholarships. Most of these students came from lower middle class backgrounds and rural areas. Many of these developed certain inferiority complexes when confronted with modernised urban milieu. The IJT offered them a bigoted platform to gain prominence exploiting their reaction to this alienation.
When Ziaul Haq inducted members of the Jamat-e-Islami in his first cabinet ‘to help him Islamise Pakistan’, IJT’s notorious ‘thunder squad’ went on a rampage, harassing and physically assaulting left wing opponents. With the patronage of Zia’s brutal military regime, the IJT began to impose sharia in the campuses that particularly besmirched female students. It was in this period that arms from the United States had started to pour in for the ‘Mujahideen’ sent into Afghanistan by the CIA and Zia’s state agencies to fight the ‘dollar jihad’. Many of these weapons landed with the IJT whom the US imperialists and the military regime used as a ‘B team’ to crush left wing and trade union activists. This domestic version of the state’s policy of ‘strategic depth has continued till the present day.
At times it even became difficult for the Jamat-e-Islami to control these armed vigilantes. However this repression became a backlash against the IJT. The revulsion against this tyranny amongst the ordinary students led to its widespread defeats in the 1983 student union elections throughout Pakistan. The Zia regime banned student’s union elections through a Martial Law Ordinance. This proved to be the last year in which these elections and unions were formed took place in Pakistan’s educational institutions. The ending of student union’s and regular elections has blocked the organised students’ struggles to get demands accepted and de-politicisation led to more violence and corruption in the campuses. Ever since the IJT has had a defacto control of the Punjab University through sheer force. It’s mother party’s conniving with the state continued and the IJT vigilantism kept perpetrating violence with impunity. Its ex-members got important posts in the state apparatus, civilian bureaucracy and the university administration.
The left wing and oppressed nationalities students are exasperated at this present incident of discrimination and victimisation by the state. Their nationalist alienation has intensified. But the IJT’s hegemony in the PU can only be broken by the collective strength of the progressive students from all nationalities. The students unions banned by Zia were never restored by any of the civilian governments, just like Zia’s other draconian amendments have remained enshrined in the constitution. The mafias of private sector education that finance most political parties resent any unionisation that could impede their obscene profits in this sector. To realise the goals of renationalisation of private education, end to class discrimination and free education at all levels, we need a strong and radical struggle. A new students upsurge shall have to ignite a mass revolt such as the courageous uprising of the generation of sixties that triggered the 1968-69 revolution.
(The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at