Campus protests gathering steam in Pakistan: Christian Science Monitor

November 15th, 2007 - 6:27 pm ICT by admin  

Lahore, Nov 15 (ANI): Noisy protests on university campuses across the country against the arrest of academics by the Pakistan government are spreading fast.
According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, the protests that began last week over the arrests of academics at a university in Lahore, has quickly spread across larger campuses, energising new movements and inciting old student political groups from a near two-decade slumber.
However, the students strong political power is scattered, says the report.
This is evident from the arrest of opposition leader Imran Khan, a perceived hero of the student movement, on Wednesday, when he arrived to address students in Lahore.
Members of a powerful and established Islamist student group handed him over to the police.
According to observers, unless the opposition arrives at a consensus, the students movement will remain directionless.
At the core of this confused effort lies the clashing visions of the old student political groups with a new wave of activists, who hope to effect a more profound shift in Pakistani politics.
Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), termed the new student movement as very significant.”
He said that the students even snubbed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, when she invited them for a meeting.
The students’ lack of interest in Pakistan’s premier opposition figure, Rais said, indicates that “until all parties are able to come on one platform, it is unlikely these students will want to support one party over another.”
Whether Bhutto, who is under house arrest since November 13, will eventually be able to seize the reins of such a unified movement remains a question, observers say.
Students have become the latest ingredient in the urban street cauldron along with political party workers, lawyers, and civil society groups after President Pervez Musharraf extended his sweeping security crackdown to academics, says the report.
While it remains germinal and incoherent, the students movement has the potential to help decide Musharraf’s fate - as other movements have done in the past.
In the 1960s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto toppled military ruler General Ayub Khan on the back of a seething student street movement. The early 1980s saw student groups target General Zia ul-Haq’s regime, prompting him to ban student unions as part of an effort to depoliticise the schools.
However, some of the newer institutions have no experience with political activism.
Their opposition to the military regime is defined by “a liberal ethos, a modernist structure of values,” that focuses on “constitutionalism, rule of law, and the independence of judiciary, rather than identifying with any prevailing political party,” Rais was quoted, as saying.
This new movement has awaked student activism after two-decades of depoliticisation, the report said.
Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a journalist who was active in student politics during the military rule of General Zia sees this as a very different movement than that of the 1980s, when large state owned universities, not elite colleges, were the center of activity.
“If this spreads further to local colleges and universities, this will become a totally different ball game,” The Christian Science Monitor quoted Paracha, as saying.
“The government will have to really start worrying in that case,” he added. (ANI)

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