The students’ political history we would come to know how they have been fighting with dictators, authoritarians and fascists in history of Pakistan. Their courage never faltered. They launched long diatribes on dictators. Youth is an asset for any country. They are the source of capable human resource and movers of the wheel of development of the country. They have the power to perform any activity and bring honour and respect for the country. The youth of Pakistan also has left no stone unturned in performing something big and bring honour to the country.
The diminutive growth of our political growth has many reasons, be it the regular military interruptions to civilian rule or the self-defeating actions of the political class itself, but nothing has been more destructive to the growth of democracy than the ban on student unions. The ban was first put in place by Gen Ziaul Haq in 1984 as a means of ending dissent against his brutal martial law because he knew that the primary and most effective opposition to him would come from the campuses. Student unions have played a crucial role in our history, with the movement led by students forcing the resignation of Pakistan’s first military dictator Ayub Khan in 1969 and pushing for the first election in the country in 1970. Student unions are the birthplace of ideologies and activism and prepare future generations for the responsibilities of being active citizens. Late general Ziaul Haq went to the extreme of letting loose armed gangs on the campuses to terrorize the student community. Successive powerless governments did little to revive the culture of tolerance. There is now no space left for critical thinking, fresh ideas and inventiveness in institutions of higher learning. Students are required to study in a highly regimented and suffocating environment. There are also increasing complaints about the agencies monitoring student activity.
The question then remains: why, 33 years after Zia’s ban, are student unions still outlawed? Benazir Bhutto did lift the ban in 1988 but her decision was overturned by the Supreme Court, which felt unions led to violence. Since then, the PPP government of Yousuf Raza Gilani promised to allow student unions but then never took any action. There has recently been growing debate on restoring student unions. Those in favour of this argue that the ban violates constitutional right to freedom of association. There is also a division among college and university heads over student unions and their role in the life of those pursuing higher education.
Yet legislation has not been tabled in parliament and the ban seems to be effectively still in place. The Student unions, which once acted as a conduit between the university and the student community, stand banned. One of the universities has gone a step further by requiring an affidavit from every student at the time of admission that they will not take part in politics or hold protests on the campus. These unions provide the student community an opportunity to understand the democratic process by casting votes. The student community is a stakeholder in the educational system like the teachers and the administration. The Students Solidarity March was totally peaceful. This shows that the student community is responsible. There is therefore a need not only to hear the ignored stakeholder but also provide it representation in the administration. This can be done only through elected student unions. If we want to prepare our leaders of tomorrow to be better than those of today, the revival of student unions should be an immediate priority.