By Rabia Ali
Standing near an uprooted tree and a meter-deep crater - marking the site of the recent bomb blast at the University of Karachi - Mushtaq Ahmed shuddered as he said, "The University is not a place to study in any more." Nearby, students with grim faces nodded their heads in agreement.
The recent blast, which targeted activists of a student organisation, has sent shock waves across the city as people fret that studying at the university might no longer be safe.
On Tuesday afternoon, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted near the central boys’ cafeteria close to the main library exploded, resulting in more than five injuries. All the injured belong to the Imamia Students Organization (ISO).
The blast, which is the first within the university’s premises, has raised a question mark over whether students can continue to pursue their education in an environment where the influence of political parties seems to be growing immensely- disrupting not only the students’ education but also endangering the lives of thousands. People feel that such untoward incidents also highlight the failure of the university administration and the security officials to control the worsening law and order situation in the campus."I don’t think my parents will let me continue my studies here. Already, the frequent clashes involving firing and stone-hurling incidents have made us rush home several times in recent months. And now, a bomb actually exploded just inches from where I was standing. It is all extremely frightening for me and my parents. I could have been amongst the injured," said a terrified student of Sociology department.
Amongst the onlookers, another dejected student Yaseen, remarked, "Things are not the same any more. There is danger everywhere. We cannot even study in peace. It seems that we have to arrange for our own security, and that we can only do by not attending university."
Students also feel that the bombing incident is just the beginning and in the coming days, things will take an uglier turn.
Irum, a final year MSc student, who was in the botany lab when the blast occurred, told Kolachi, "I fear that the situation will get worse this year, as clashes are now getting deadlier and deadlier. I had never thought that an explosion would one day take place in the university. Yes, it’s true that blasts are a common phenomena across the country, but to think that terrorists would target the university is unbelievable."
Although more than five students were injured, the students feel that a far greater number of people could have been hit. Asif Ali, who’s relative Wajid Ali, the general secretary of ISO, was amongst the injured, feared that more people could have been wounded. "Usually, more than 50 people come to offer their prayers here together. But due to the ongoing paper, some had left the premises and others had not turned up. Despite the fact that a handful of people were injured, it does not mean that the culprits will not strike again."
Meanwhile, students and teachers alike are highly critical of the administration, and feel that the Rangers who are deployed at the university are not at all effective.
President of the Karachi University Teachers’ Society (KUTS) Abid Hasnain corroborated and said that the students’ fears that the university is not a place to study are not wrong. "The loose administration is responsible for the mess that has been created during the last few years. It is true that the administration has not been able to handle the situation properly."
An emotionally - charged Waqar Ahmed, a second year student, said, "The security and the university officials are all sleeping. A bomb was planted under their nose and yet they did not come to know about it. How can that be possible? I believe that all those in charge of the security should be questioned."
Terming the incident as a security lapse, a student Faraz hailing from Gilgit, said that the university is open to everyone, as no checking is conducted at the gates. He added that it is sad that not only has the institution become a hub of violence, but ‘also a dating point similar to Safari Park’.
Another student blasted that administration saying that the university has no tight rein over its students. "At other universities, such as the NED University, parties are as much active as they are here, but they are not allowed to create a ruckus. Here, students can get away with beating the teachers and even using arms openly on the campus. If the situation cannot be controlled by the authorities, then they should ban the political parties."
But the blast is not the only worry of the students. Prior to the explosion, students were facing delays in their examinations due to clashes between student organisations, and a riot was created when a campus security adviser resigned. With the latest untoward incident, students again are facing delay in their examinations.
Usman Arain, a second-year political science student, who was revising for his paper to be held that afternoon, was frustrated by the situation. "My major’s papers were postponed on December 13 due to a clash between the rival groups. And now following the blast, it has again been delayed. I have five more papers to give, and I do not when they will end."
Similar were the feelings of Iqbal Baloch, a student of the Economics Department. "This is the third time that my paper has been delayed. I am tired of studying again and again. There are several students like me who have to go to their hometowns to meet their families, but are now stuck here because of such situations. Every other day, a new disorder is created, and we are left helpless and hapless."
Student bodies and political parties:
friends not masters?
By M. Waqar Bhatti
TThe recent strife between various student groups at Karachi University has raised questions about who controls these groups and whether or not political parties are to blame for using them for their own ends. What are the links between student organisations and the political parties? Are they independent entities or do they take orders from above?
On the face of it, all the major students’ organisations operating at national educational institutes, especially universities and professional colleges are considered student wings of mainstream political parties. However, interviews with provincial and district chiefs, as well as political heads, reveal that some of these organisations are proud of their affiliation with their political parties while there are some that claimed that they were not affiliated with any political party except in terms of following their ideologies.
These claims were not necessarily true in the case of certain student organisations that claimed no formal affiliation with mainstream political parties. Their leaders confessed that instead of elections, political party chiefs had either nominated them or their nominations, as heads of students’ organisations were endorsed by the mainstream political leaders of their ‘parent’ parties.
The most interesting is the case of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), commonly considered as the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). The IJT office-bearers claimed that they were only associated with the JI in terms of ideology, otherwise the Jamaat-e-Islami had no control over the strategies, policies or the administrative control of the student organisation.
"The IJT was formed on December 23, 1947 by some 25 students of various educational institutions with the aim of launching a struggle for an Islamic system of education in Pakistan. They did so because the student wing of the All India Muslim League, the Muslim Students Federation (MSF), that played an active role in the creation of Pakistan had become ineffective after independence," the IJT’s Karachi Nazim Samiullah Hussaini told Kolachi.
Hussaini said the IJT was the only student organisation that had a separate Constitution and it holds annual elections to elect its central, provincial and zonal leadership who in turn run the affairs of the organisation in consultation with other members of the party’s Shura or consultative council.
"Our only affiliation with the JI is that we follow the ideology of Maulana Abul Ala Maudoudi, who was the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Otherwise, we have our separate policies and strategies," he informed Kolachi, adding that often the IJT takes a different stance on national issues than the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Citing an example of the General Ziaul Haq era, the IJT’s Karachi Nazim said the Jamaat-e-Islami was a part of the Zia regime in the ‘80s when IJT activists and leaders were being put behind bars after it rejected the ban on student unions from educational institutions.
On the other hand, office-bearers of the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO) that has an effective representation at educational institutions in Karachi proudly say that they are part of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) although it was the APMSO that give rise to the MQM, unlike other students’ organisations which were formed by the mainstream political parties.
"APMSO is controlled by a Chairman and Central Cabinet that is controlled by the Muttahida’s Rabita Committee. The Rabita Committee is answerable to APMSO’s founder Altaf Hussain through the deputy convener and convener so that chief of our student organisation is Mr. Altaf Hussain," APMSO’s Karachi University Sector Organiser Abdul Wahab said.
As far as the appointment of the APMSO’s office-bearers are concerned, Abdul Wahab said that there was no concept of elections in the students organisations as interviews of student activists are conducted by the leadership and on the basis of their leadership qualities and affiliation and dedication to the party, a few of them are nominated to lead the units and sectors.
"APMSO is wholly controlled by the MQM although it has a completely different organisational set-up. But that too is answerable to the central leadership, that is Quaid-e-Tehreek Altaf Hussain," he informed.
Similarly, the People’s Students’ Federation (PSF), which is a relatively less active student organisation than IJT and APMSO but has representation all over the country, claims that it is entirely a different organisation that only follows the ideology of the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Z.A Bhutto and his daughter Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.
Faisal Shaikh, PSF’s Karachi President, claimed that although they were an entirely separate organisation from the PPP, yet it follows the directives of the PPP leadership while elections are held to elect its central, provincial and district office-bearers.
"Currently, Ms Faryal Talpur is looking after the affairs of the PSF in the entire Pakistan while elections could not be held in the student organisation for the last 10-15 years due to the political situation," he said.
According to him, he as president and Karachi’s general secretary were nominated by Ms Faryal Talpur like other office-bearers due to hurdles in holding intra-party elections. However, he claimed that as a student organisation, they often differ from the PPP leadership on issues concerning common students.
"Currently, in Karachi we are part of the Talaba Action Committee (Students Action Committee) and struggling for the betterment of students. We often differ from the government’s policies although we feel that the PSF is the best forum to convey students’ concerns to the PPP-led government while the government also considers our recommendations regarding students and educational institutions," he maintained.
The Pakhtoon Student Federation (Pakhtoon or simply PSF) leadership claimed that they are 100 per cent independent from the control of the mainstream political party, the ANP, and the student organisation is run independently by its own office-bearers who are elected through elections.
Ismail Mehsud, former President of the Pakhtoon-SF Sindh and now ANP leader, however, conceded that Chief of ANP Asfandyar Wali Khan was the central advisor of the Pakhtoon-SF, while at provincial levels, its provincial chiefs are the ‘advisors’ of the students’ organisation.
"Last year, a five-member committee was formed by the ANP Sindh President Shahi Syed to resolve some differences among factions of the students’ organization, and the committee led by Younus Buneri sorted out all the differences," he claimed.
"But I want to make it clear that the affairs and policies of the Pakhtoon Students Federation are formulated and followed by its own leadership, which is elected through elections and consults with the Majlis-e-Amla on unit and district levels and Central Committee on provincial and central levels," he said.
During the interviews, it emerged that except for the APMSO, all students organisations claimed that they were independent of their parent political parties yet they also admit that they were under some influence of the mainstream political parties, whether in the form of seeking ideological guidelines or looking towards them to sort out their differences and the appointment of office-bearers.
Student wings/organisations currently active in University of Karachi
Student wings of political parties
Official name: Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT)
Description: -IJT is the oldest student organization in Pakistan. Also known as the Jamiat, ideologically inspired by Jamat-e-Islami (JI)
Year of establishment 1953
Official name: All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organization (APMSO)
Description: -A group of Urdu speaking students, led by Altaf Hussain, formed the party. It is the student organization that created its mother organization, the MQM.
Year of establishment 1978
Official name: Peoples Students Federation (PSF)
Description: -This student wing of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been very active and functional even during hard times faced by the PPP to-date.
Year of establishment 1988
Independent student bodies
Official name: Punjabi Students Association (PSA)
Description: -PSA is a non-political and non-religious student organisation working for the protection of rights of students.
Year of establishment 1967
Official name: Imamia Student Organisation (ISO)
Description: -ISO is a Shi’a Muslim student organisation
Year of establishment 1988
Official name: Balawaristan National Students Organization (BNSO)
Description: -BNSO the leading and most active student movement of Balawaristan (Gilgit Baltistan Chitral Kohistan Ladakh) which was established with the purpose of highlighting the issues of the region.
Year of establishment 1996