Student politics in Pakistan has had a history of mixed shades. Though extremely tumultuous, it is also a history of rich democratic traditions. Before student unions were banned by the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship in 1984, their activities were conducted through regular annual elections in universities and colleges. Student parties that participated in these elections played an important role in looking after vital academic, cultural and political interests of the students. Event though student electoral activity was revived again soon after the first Benazir Bhutto government took over in 1989, it was banned once more by the first Nawaz Sharif government in 1992, citing growing cases of violence in universities and colleges.
Detractors of the ban maintain that Zia’s actions undermined and damaged the nursery-like potential of student politics of putting out astute, urban and middle-class political leadership into Pakistan’s political landscape, but the ban consequently set into motion the depoliticalization of the country’s student culture, an event that can have a telling impact on the quality and nature of future political leadership in the country.
1950s: All Left and nowhere to go
In 1947 the only established student organization in the newly created country of Pakistan was Muslim Students Federation (MSF), the student wing of the ruling Muslim League.
However by 1950 the situation in MSF started to reflect the fragmentary nature of the its mother party that had remained intact as a powerful political party until 1948, but had begun to disintegrate soon after coming to power as Pakistan’s first ruling party. It broke into various self-serving groups.
Consequently, MSF too started to fracture into factions (MSF, MSF-Union, etc.); so much so that certain disgruntled members of MSF encouraged by a few progressive members of the Muslim League got together with varied small left-leaning independent student groups and formed the Democratic Students Federation (DSF).
Though not exactly conceived as a left-wing organization, and more as a student platform constructed to address the growing number of problems being experienced by the students in a country facing serious teething problems, DSF’s ideological orientation quickly turned left. This was mostly due to the progressive and left-leaning point of reference of most of its leadership. Some of the leading members of DSF in this era were (Dr.) Mohammad Sarwar, (Dr.) Haroon Ahmed, (late) Hassan Nasir, Abid Manto, A T. Naqvi and Hassan Naqi.
After establishing itself in all the main colleges and universities in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, DSF, apart from pushing the government of the day to be more sympathetic and responsive towards the many academic issues facing the students, also started to exhibit support for various progressive causes through demonstrations and rallies. These included showing solidarity with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Eygpt over the Suez Crisis, and rallies against Britain, Israel and the United States.
DSF also showed its displeasure over Pakistan’s growing role in supporting the West against the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and demanded that the government take a more independent stance in its foreign policy.
By 1951, DSF began to sweep student union elections in almost all major universities and colleges in the country. Its main counterparts in these elections, the MSF, had lost most of its electoral steam and influence due to factionalization. In fact some prominent MSF factions actually ended up supporting DSF.
As DSF grew in size, influence and confidence, so did its voice against the rapidly pro-West and anti-Soviet establishment, so much so that the organization started to be associated with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), of which one DSF sympathizer, Hassan Nasir, actually became an active (and legendary) member.
The panicky regime responded to the rising influence of leftist thought and politics on the campuses and coffee houses by first banning the CPP, accusing it of being involved in Major General Akbar Khan’s abortive coup attempt against the government of (late) Liaqat Ali Khan (the “Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case”), and then, attempting to thwart DSF by erecting a parallel student organization.
Failing to unite the many MSF factions to tackle “the DSF menace,” the government funded the creation of a pro-establishment student party, calling it the National Students Federation (NSF).
Still unable to inflict any serious dents in DSF’s structure and strength, the government eventually banned it all together.
The 1954 banning of the CPP and DSF was also said to be a part of the Pakistan government’s mimicking of the highly dramatic anti-communist/anti-Socialist moves and purges in the United States during the peak of the infamous era of “McCarthyism” in the early and mid-1950s.
The DSF leadership’s response to the banning was to bring together some disgruntled MSF factions and independent student clusters, and along with former DSF members and student groups operating in former East Pakistan, form the All Pakistan Students Organization (APSO).
APSO became a large gathering of diverse student groups both from the right and the left sides of the ideological spectrum. It was never an electoral alliance, but rather worked as a pressure group. But its existence was short-lived. After a few rallies in Karachi that turned violent due to overenthusiastic police action, APSO too was banned by the government.
Meanwhile, and most interestingly, some DSF members managed to infiltrate the establishmentarian National Students Federation (NSF) and (by 1956), “hijacked” it to completely change the ideological orientation of the organization, eventually turning it from being pro-establishment and conservative, to becoming increasingly independent and left-leaning.
In fact, by the early 1960s, NSF would become the country’s leading progressive student party.
The hijacking and change of ideological course in the NSF was first initiated by former DSF leaders like Hassan Naqi and (in the late 1950s), by progressive student leaders like (Dr.) Syed Ehtisham.
The irony is, as the bickering regimes of quarrelling Muslim League starlets and former ML turncoats were concentrating on keeping the CPP and DSF quiet (both had gone underground), NSF that was initially constructed as a pro-establishment student organization, changed its ideological shape and started wining student union elections just as DSF had done in the early 1950s.
Some officials within the ruling circles eventually did begin to sound the alarm, but by then it was too late. In 1958, the eleven-year-rule of assorted Muslim League factions and other establishmentarian groups of feudals and bureaucrats came to an end when Field Marshal Ayub Khan imposed the country’s first Martial Law.
Though DSF and CPP continued to be put under duress, their gravest tragedy arrived in 1959 when DSF sympathizer and CPP activist, Hassan Nasir, was arrested by the Punjab police, taken to the Lahore Fort and tortured to death.
Student Union Elections (West Pakistan) 1950-59 – Leading parties & approximations of the number of elections won:
1: Democratic Students Federation (DSF) – 50%
2: National Students Federation (NSF) – 35%
3: Muslim Students Federation (MSF) – 10%
3: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba – 5%
* Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of Karachi, Dow Medical College, Islamia College (Karachi), SM College Karachi, Punjab University, Government College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi.
1960s: Revolutions and then some
In a quirky twist, just as the majority of the country had actually celebrated the initial arrival of Ayub Khan’s martial law, so did almost all student groups. Just as most people were now exhausted with the unsettling power plays of politicians and the rising corruption witnessed in the 1950s _ a time when the students were constantly harassed and subjugated _ most of them felt a sense of relief with the overthrowing of the many (similar looking) “civilian governments” of the preceding decade.
However, still very much under the umbrella and influence of the United States and set to further push in stark capitalism in and around the country’s economics, the Ayub regime maintained the ban on the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), even though the DSF did start to trickle back in on the campus political scene, albeit as a far less influential group, especially in the event of the rise of NSF.
By the early 1960s, NSF had dramatically ascended to become Pakistan’s leading and largest progressive student party. But unlike DSF, which in the advancing years got more and more associated with the pro-Soviet CPP, NSF remained largely independent and held a wider ideological base encompassing leaders and members ranging from communists, socialists, socio-democrats and left-liberals. It became an all-round progressive entity joined, supported and patronized by all shades and shapes of the left.
NSF also maintained its winning streak in student union elections, galloping towards victory in almost all major universities and colleges. But this time it had a tougher opponent in the making and not just depleted MSF factions or a struggling DSF.
At the start of the 1960s, the student wing of the right-wing politico-religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami finally announced its complete entry into the spectrum of Pakistani student politics.
Even though the Jamat’s student wing, the Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT), had a presence in educational institutions in the 1950s as well, it was less aggressive in asserting itself and spend more time in trying to check DSF and NSF’s rampant influence.
By the late 1950s, many colleges and universities had already started to report clashes between NSF and the IJT, and by 1961, the later was turning out to be a tough electoral competitor for NSF.
However, NSF remained to be the student group with the most attractive and forceful electoral pull and influence in student union elections right up till 1968.
IJT’s main aim was to limit NSF’s far-reaching ideological and electoral sway on campuses, and for this it challenged NSF both through the ballot and at times otherwise.
Though somewhat unable to check NSF’s electoral strength for much of the 1960s, IJT did succeed in firmly rooting itself as the largest and main opposition student party, especially in universities and colleges of Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi.
By 1962 both of the main left and right student parties of the country (NSF and IJT), had more or less turned against the Ayub dictatorship, (NSF due to the regime’s continuing pro-US foreign policy and emphasis on capitalism, and IJT for the regime’s modernizing policies which the organization saw as being “anti-Islam”).
On the other end, MSF tried to reunite its many factions when Ayub created a Muslim League comprising of his supporters amongst the feudal/landed and the burgeoning capitalist elite. But soon this Muslim League too split when a group pf Muslim Leaguers opposed to Ayub formed the Council Muslim League. Ayub’s league became the Convention Muslim League. MSF decided to support the pro-Ayub Muslim League (Council).
MSF never really managed to wrest any significant electoral influence in student union elections, but did start to gather a relatively stronger support base in colleges of Rawalpindi and Peshawar.
Some of the top leaders emerging from MSF were Raja Anwar and Ammanullah. They represented the progressive wing of the student organization and eventually joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1967. Raja Anwar went on to become a minister and advisor in the first PPP government (1971-76).
In a rare show of unity, both NSF and IJT opposed Ayub Khan’s Presidential candidature against his challenger, Fatima Jinnah, in the controversial 1964 Presidential elections.
IJT was at the forefront of holding demonstrations against Ayub (when he defeated Jinnah), accusing the dictator of rigging the polls.
This improved IJT’s electoral performance in student union elections, especially in Karachi and Lahore, even though NSF still reigned supreme as the country’s leading student organization and continued to win the bulk of student union elections in the country’s main colleges and universities.
Also, after a brief respite during the 1964 Presidential elections, clashes between NSF and IJT returned to the fore.
Paralleling the start of the celebrated students’ movement in the United States and the West that began taking shape in 1964, the spark in Pakistan in this respect was set alight by the aftermath of the country’s 1965 war with India.
The official media had thumped in hard a skewed perception of the war, proclaiming that the country’s armed forces had dealt India a hard, decisive blow. But when the Soviet Union brokered a peace treaty between the two countries, the opposition parties claimed that “Pakistan had lost on the negotiation table what its forces had won in the field.”
At once there were demonstrations against the treaty by NSF, IJT and even MSF.
Also against the treaty was Ayub’s dynamic young Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He made a passionate speech at the United Nations (UN) against the treaty and the United States (which, though allied to Pakistan, had put an arms embargo on the country, whereas the Soviet Union continued to arm India). The only support coming to Pakistan was from its newest friend, the Peoples Republic of China.
Bhutto was eased out of the cabinet by Ayub mainly due to his speech at the UN. He was welcomed back as a hero by thousands of common Pakistanis and students.
NSF was the first student party to hail Bhutto as a hero, and even though NSF had progressives and leftists of all shapes and sizes, it started moving closer to China instead of the Soviet Union in ideological orientation.
DSF had by now become staunchly pro-Soviet and communist in nature, whereas NSF got nearer to the left-leaning, pro-China Bhashani faction of the National Awami Party (NAP).
As Bhutto’s stature grew and he became one of the main opposition leaders in West Pakistan, NSF galvanized around him, seeing in him a potential catalyst for an actual socialist revolution in the country.
NSF also became the most active student organization in arranging and participating in the violent 1967 and 1968 anti-Ayub student protests in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. They were amply supported (especially in Punjab), by members and supporters of MSF that had turned anti-Ayub after the war.
Already the leading student organization, it was no surprise that NSF hit a peak in student union elections between 1965 and 1968.
However, with further growth in size and standing, also came NSF’s first round of factionalization.
With the international Sino-Soviet split over the leadership of the international socialist movement getting deeper, it tore and split many leftist parties around the world, putting them into separate Chinese and Soviet camps. The affects of the tear also reached the highly volatile progressive student groups in Pakistan.
DSF remained to be pro-Soviet, but a majority of NSF leadership moved towards the Chinese camp (Maoist), leaving the pro-Soviet membership of NSF to continue as a much smaller organization.
The main pro-China factions of NSF became NSF (Meraj) and NSF (Kazmi), whereas NSF (Rashid) became recognized as being pro-Soviet, even though it claimed to have remained independent of both Chinese and Soviet influence.
NSF (Meraj) moved in the closest to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and one of its leaders, Meraj Muhammad Khan, became a founding member of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party in 1967.
Meraj, (along with veteran leftist ideologues, J A. Rahim and Dr. Mubashir Hassan), become an important member of PPP’s “socialist intellectual wing” and a minister in Bhutto’s first cabinet in 1972.
Apart from Meraj, other major NSF leaders of the anti-Ayub movement also included Saeed Hassan, Tarek Fathe, Fatehyab Ali Khan, Ameer Ahmed Kazmi, (Dr.) Rashid Hassan, Nawaz Butt and Sibghatullah Qadri.
NSF (Meraj) and NSF (Kazmi) were the strongest in Karachi, whereas interestingly, though still the strongest student party in most universities and colleges of Lahore and Rawalpindi, NSF remained somewhat intact and faction-less in the Punjab.
One of the reason maybe the shape MSF was taking after 1965. It too had become a huge supporter of Z A. Bhutto and along with NSF played a significant role in the anti-Ayub movement.
What’s more, many MSF members were radicalized during the movement and in 1969-70, an influential progressive portion of MSF eloped with some leaving members of NSF (Meraj) and evolved into a separate NSF faction called NSF (Bari).
This faction of NSF was also influenced by some progressive former Muslim League leaders who (in the 1950s), along with intellectuals like Hanif Ramay, were one of the first in the country to float the idea of “Islamic Socialism.”
Islamic Socialism became an important plank of the first PPP manifesto.
After reaching a peak in 1968 and eventually helping Bhutto’s PPP drive out Ayub Khan, exhaustion started to set in NSF across all of its factions.
Event though these factions remained on the left sides of the ideological divide, further fissures appeared among them.
NSF (Mearj) was staunchly pro-PPP and pro-China, very nationalistic, anti-India and also anti-Mujib-ur-Rheman, the nationalist leader of former East Pakistan.
NSF (Kazmi) was also pro-Bhutto and pro-China, but more subtle about its views on the happenings in East Pakistan.
NSF (Rashid) somewhat remained associated with the National Awami Party (NAP), and was more likely to get into alliances with new-found nationalist student organizations, such as the Marxist Baloch Students Organization (BSO).
The BSO emerged in 1967 as a fall-out of the “second Balochistan insurgency” in 1962-63. It soon dug in deep in educational institutions in Balochistan and also managed to have an impressive presence in Karachi where it allied itself with various NSF factions in student union polls across the 1970s and 1980s.
NSF (Bari) was the least radical of the NSF factions. Unlike other NSF splinter groups which remained firmly on the left, NSF (Bari) was in the center and was seen more of a progressive-liberal group instead of being staunchly socialist.
An NSF faction, Sindh National Students Federation (SNSF) also emerged in educational institutions in the interior of the Sindh province. It soon became the strongest left-wing/progressive student group there.
Though each of these factions remained popular, but when campus poll votes started to split between these groups, IJT was finally rewarded with the opening it had been looking for.
In 1969, IJT for the first time swept student union elections in a major university when it finally defeated NSF in the union elections at the University of Karachi.
Student Union Elections (West Pakistan) 1960-69 – Leading parties & approximations of the number of elections won:
1: National Students Federation (NSF) – 60%
2: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 35%
3: Muslim Students Federation – 3%
3: Democratic Students Federation (DSF) – 2%
* Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of Karachi, Dow Medical College, Adamjee College, Islamia College (Karachi), SM College Karachi, Punjab University, Government College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi, Polytechnic College Rawalpindi.
1970s: Left vs. Left vs. Right
All factions of NSF celebrated the sweeping victory of the PPP in the 1970 general elections.
They saw Bhutto’s and PPP’s victory as the climaxing of their struggle against dictatorship (Ayub Khan, Yayah Khan), and the arrival of socialism in Pakistan.
However, there was a mixed reaction among the factions regarding the landslide win of Mujib-ur-Rheman’s Awami League in former East Pakistan.
NSF (Meraj) in particular was the most vocal in condemning Mujeeb for holding separatist views.
NSF was also instrumental in tackling Bhutto’s detractors in IJT, whom the Jamaat-e-Islami had used to attack PPP rallies and spread anti-Bhutto propaganda, claiming that Bhutto was a non-believer and if his party wins, his socialist regime will “destroy Islam.”
A number of clashes took place between NSF and IJT over such issues before the 1970 general elections, and when the Jamaat and IJT increased their attacks and slandering campaigns, the PPP formed its own “Peoples Guards” created by plucking “street fighters” from various NSF factions and MSF.
These brigades of young fighters armed with clubs and knives started to accompany Bhutto and various other PPP leaders during the election campaign and worked as tough bulwarks against riotous Jamaat and IJT instigators.
The most violent clashes between the two groups took place in the streets of Lahore and the Punjab University in 1969 and early 1970.
Subsequently, by late 1972, these young PPP brigades would eventually evolve into becoming PPP’s own student wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF).
On the student electoral front, IJT repeated its victory in the 1970 student union elections at the University of Karachi with the NSF factions coming in a close second.
By 1970 IJT had started to make crucial electoral inroads at the Punjab University as well, coming in a second to NSF.
NSF (especially NSF-Kazmi, NSF-Rashid and NSF-Miraj), however maintained their winning ways in most colleges in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, a feat NSF had been repeating for more than a decade now.
But the growing ideological tussle between NSF (Miraj), NSF (Rashid), NSF (Kazmi), NSF (Bari) and SNSF started to take its toll on leftist politics on campuses like never before.
This helped IJT to once again win University of Karachi union elections in 1971 (its third consecutive victory here); and manage to clearly triumph in the student union elections at the Punjab University for the first time.
However, the same year (1971), NSF and IJT were united in lamenting the Pakistan Army’s defeat at the hands of their Indian counterparts and the subsequent dismemberment of the country when former East Pakistan nationalists (backed by India), broke away to create Bangladesh after a vicious civil war against the West Pakistan Army.
However, NSF were upbeat when in 1972, the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government began implementing its reformist and socialist policies.
NSF (Rashid) and NSF (Kazmi) once again swept the 1972 student union elections in almost all major colleges in Karachi. But this time they had to ally themselves with left-wing nationalist student groups, BSO and the newly formed, Pakhtun Students Federation (PkSF), the progressive Pushtun student party of the Wali Khan wing of the National Awami Party (NAP).
However, once again making the most of the factionalization in NSF, the IJT won again in the student union elections at the Punjab University and University of Karachi, but unions at major colleges in Rawalpindi remained in the hands of NSF factions.
1972 was also the year when the Pakistan Peoples Party’s student wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF) started to make its way into mainstream campus politics.
At the end of 1972, alarmed at the rise of “unIslamic activities” at the University of Karachi, the IJT began giving shape to a sort of campus moral police called the “Thunder Squad.” The squad, mostly made up of IJT’s muscle men, would start roaming the university’s premises looking to “correct wayward students.”
They claimed this is the kind of “moral cleansing” the students of University of Karachi had been voting the IJT into power for.
1973 turned out to be a rather ironic year for NSF. Even though Bhutto had put his socialist polices in high gear, he was constantly pushed by the PPP’s “socialist intellectual wing” to further accelerate and widen the scope of his government’s polices. The wing leaders also protested the growing number of feudal lords joining the party.
Accusing the wing leaders of hotheadedness and impracticality, Bhutto’s response was to start purging the leadership of the wing. The biggest casualties of the purge were PPP’s most senior ideologue, J A. Rahim, and the party’s youngest minister, Miraj Muhammad Khan.
All NSF factions condemned the purge and finally withdrew their support for the PPP government.
The continuing factionalization of the student left and the fall-out of the purge dealt NSF its most serious electoral blow thus far.
It once again lost to the IJT at the University of Karachi and the Punjab University and struggled to maintain its hold even in colleges in which it had been winning student union elections for more than decade.
In a cruel twist, NSF (Meraj) was almost wiped out as the other NSF factions had to bank unconditionally on BSO and PkSF to merely survive the debacle.
1973 also saw the further splitting of NSF factions, when discontented members of NSF (Rashid), NSF (Bari) and NSF (Kazmi) formed the Liberal Students Organization (LSO).
What’s more, the SNSF in interior Sindh was now up against the newly formed student wing of the separatist G M Syed’s Jeeay Sindh Movement, the Jeeay Sindh Students Federation (JSSF).
The year also saw BSO plunging itself forward against Z A. Bhutto when his government’s strong-arm tactics against Baloch nationalist parties in the Balochistan Assembly triggered the beginning of the “third Balochistan Insurgency” in the remote mountains of the arid province.
A number of BSO members joined the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a militant Marxist-Nationalist guerilla group fighting for an independent Balochistan, even though it insisted it was only fighting for the Baloch people’s democratic rights.
Bhutto’s growing tendency towards authoritarianism had not only disheartened the left-leaning student groups, but also gave momentum to the Islamists and conservatives who had otherwise been wiped out in the 1970 general elections.
IJT continued with its upward momentum when it yet again won the student union elections at the University of Karachi and the Punjab University in 1974.
It also made deeper inroads in colleges where it was still trailing behind NSF.
However, in the 1974 student union elections at University of Karachi and Punjab University, IJT got its toughest fight in four years from the progressives.
NSF (Kazmi), NSF (Rashid) and NSF (Bari) came together with Liberal Students Organization (LSO), BSO, PkSF and the fast emerging student wing of the PPP, the PSF to form the Progressive Alliance.
It was now being felt that after wining four consecutive elections in these two universities, IJT was becoming complacent and its “Thunder Squads” were becoming increasingly violent and unpopular. In fact the squad had gotten into some serious clashes with NSF and PSF at the two universities.
The Progressive Alliance had also accused the IJT of co-opting senior faculty members at the universities and using them to influence the election results.
Though it is true that by now a majority of faculty members at the two universities started exhibiting sympathies towards IJT, the accusation that they were influencing election results was laid to rest when the Progressive Alliance now led by LSO, routed the IJT at the University of Karachi and across all colleges in the city in the 1975 student union elections. This was IJT’s biggest defeat in Karachi in five years.
The same year at National College, a group of ex-IJT members led by one Altaf Hussain, began contemplating the creation of a “Mohajir” students’ front.
Splitting the right-wing vote and thus affecting IJT’s vote bank in Punjab’s colleges was the emergence of Anjuman-e-Taleba-Islam (ATI), a student organization loosely associated with Shah Mhamood Noorani’s Jamiat-Ulema-Pakistan (JUP). It had been formed in Karachi in 1969 as a reaction to the increasing left-wing activity in Pakistan’s politics and educational institutions. By 1975 it had risen to become an electoral force in various collages of Southern Punjab.
1975 also saw the Gordon College student union in Rawalpindi, that had remained to be a bastion of progressive student groups (DSF, NSF) ever since the 1950s, finally fell to the IJT.
The IJT won again here in the 1976 student union elections, led by leaders such as Shaikh Rashid Ahmed and Javed Hashmi.
However, the Progressive Alliance returned to power at the University of Karachi in 1976, with the alliance still led by LSO and comprising of NSF (Kazmi), NSF (Rashid), NSF (Bari), PSF, BSO and PkSF. Joining them was also Punjabi Students Association (PSA), a liberal student party formed in Karachi to look after the political and academic interests of Punjabi speaking students.
1976 was also the year of general elections.
Though aggressively and passionately supported by progressive and left-wing student groups (especially NSF), before and during the 1970 elections, this time none of the NSF factions were ready to support the PPP. They had been angry with Bhutto ever since he purged hard-line leftists from his party in 1973, and then send in the Army to act against Baloch nationalists. They also accused Bhutto for rolling back the PPP’s original socialist manifesto and alienating the leftists by inducting feudal lords and capitalists in his post-’73 cabinet, and then caving in to the pressure of Islamists by proclaiming the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslims in 1974.
The only progressive student group willing to support the PPP was, of course, the party’s own student wing, the PSF.
PSF had established it self well in universities and colleges across Pakistan. And even though it was able to win student union elections single handedly in interior Sindh and in some colleges of Rawalpindi, it had to get into alliances with other progressive/socialist student groups in Karachi and Lahore. Interestingly, however, in 1976, it started to emerge as the strongest student organization at the University of Peshawar. Two of its frontline leaders of the time were Jehangir Badar and Qasim Zia.
The aftermath of the 1976 general elections was tumultuous. The nine-party opposition grouping, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) that was led by the Jamaat-e-Islami, accused the Bhutto regime of rigging the polls.
To counter the PPP’s proclamations of “Islamic Socialism”, the PNA had run in the elections on the platform of “Nizam-e-Mustapha” (Prophet’s system/Islamic Sharia).
Right away the PNA began a movement of mass protests against the PPP government. Many of these protests turned violent in Karachi and Lahore, enough for Bhutto to send in the Army and impose a curfew in the disturbed areas.
Mass anti-PPP demonstrations were organized by IJT at University of Karachi before it was shut down, while the movement in the Punjab was given great impetus by IJT activists at the Punjab University and Gordon College.
Using the disturbances as a pretext, Bhutto’s handpicked General, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq
(a closet Jamat-e-Islami sympathizer), imposed the country’s second Martial Law (5 July, 1977).
In the 1977 student union elections, the IJT regained the turf it lost to Progressive Alliance in the 1975 and 1976 elections at the University of Karachi.
In this year’s election NSF (Bari) and NSF (Rashid) were wiped out just as NSF (Meraj) was in 1973. Most of their leadership split and joined either LSO and PSF as some would go on to join the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO) in 1978.
NSF (Kazmi) was the only NSF faction left standing. Though a much smaller organization, some quipped that at least it was now the only NSF.
And even though NSF (Kazmi) was associated with a senior former progressive student leader, Ameer Ahmed Kazmi, and had, like all other NSF factions, stopped supporting the PPP from 1973 onwards, Kazmi himself would join the PPP and become a Federal Minister in Benazir Bhutto’s first government in 1989.
When Zia brought in members of the Jamat-e-Islami to form his first cabinet (to help him “Islamize Pakistan”), IJT’s “Thunder Sqauds” went on a rampage, harassing and physically manhandling their opponents at the University of Karachi and Punjab University.
In 1978, NSF, PSF, LSO and DSF formed the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PPSA) at the Punjab University, Gordon College, Rawalpindi and the newly built Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad.
Gaining sympathy due to Zia’s harsh crackdown on PSF and NSF members and the rising cases of violence and harassment by the IJT, the PPSA routed IJT in the 1978 student union elections in Rawalpindi, Islambad and in many colleges of Lahore. This was the IJT’s biggest defeat in Punjab ever since it started to dominate student politics in the province in 1971.
DSF which had almost vanished under the shadow of the bludgeoning NSF, started to reemerge in 1976 when some Marxist students got BSO, PkSF and Jam Saqi’s SNSF together to reform the veteran student party.
In the University of Karachi student union elections of 1978, the Progressive Alliance (now comprising of NSF, PSF, DSF, BSO, PkSF, and PSA), almost regained control of the student union. But this was also the year when incidents of violence between IJT and the progressives increased dramatically.
Also in 1978, Altaf Hussain’s All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO) finally came into being. It was a small group of former-IJT members who were then joined by a few progressive members loitering from the break up of two NSF factions in 1977. It claimed to hold progressive views and wanted to work for the Urdu speaking students (Mohajirs), whom it claimed were bitten by Bhutto’s quota system and “Punjab’s political and economic hegemony.”
Despite the violence (usually involving PSF and NSF against IJT), the University did manage to hold its 1979 elections.
The elections saw the Progressive Alliance defeat IJT on a number of union posts, but the union’s top slot was won by IJT’s top man at the varsity, Hussain Haqqani.
It was Hussain Haqqani (who many years later would join PML (N) and then the PPP), who introduced the usage of latest weaponry at the University. Even though he never carried a weapon himself, he moved with a well armed group of Thunder Squad members led by the infamous, Rana Javed. Haqqani’s opponents also accused him of being “on CIA and the ISI’s payroll.”
When Zia hanged Bhutto and both PSF and NSF started to aggressively protest against the dictatorship, Zia increased the harassment and punishments against the members of the two student groups.
With the help of arrests, jailing and torture, coupled with the violent pressure added by IJT, the dictatorship finally managed to dismember the Progressive Alliance.
Meanwhile in the Punjab, the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PPSA), went on to once again defeat IJT at the Quied-e-Azam University in the 1979 student union elections, and then won back Gordon College for the progressives which they had lost to IJT in the 1976 elections.
Student Union Elections 1970-79 – Leading parties & approximations of the number of elections won:
1: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 45%
2: Progressive Alliance
(National Students Federation; Liberal Students Organization; Peoples Students Federation; Baloch Students Organization; Pakhtun Students Federation; Democratic Students Federation; Punjabi Students Association) – 25%
3: Punjab Progressive Students Alliance
(National Students Federation; Peoples Students Federation; Democratic Students Federation) – 20%
3: Anjuman-Taleba-Islam (ATI) – 10%
* Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of Karachi, Dow Medical College, Adamjee College, Islamia College (Karachi), NED University, Karachi, Punjab University, Government College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi, Polytechnic College Rawalpindi, Quied-e-Azam University Islamabad, Peshawar University.
1980s: The levy breaks
Further emboldened by Bhutto’s downfall and the Jamat’s growing influence in Zia’s Martial Law regime, the IJT started devolving from being a democratic-conservative student group into a group with growing fascist tendencies. At times it became uncontrollable even for its mother party the Jamat-e-Islami!
PSF, now under tremendous pressure from arrests and harassment by the Zia dictatorship, too became a lot more violent, but for different reasons. Many of its members were jailed, tortured and even flogged, sometimes simply for raising a “Jeeay Bhutto!” slogan.
From this pressure cooker emerged one of PSF’s most notorious leaders in Karachi, Salamullah Tipu.
Every day dozens of PPP and PSF workers were being arrested and thrown into cramped jails and since 1978, thousands of them had been jailed across Pakistan.
Colleges in interior Sindh and Rawalpindi, The Quied-e-Azam University and the Peshawar University were the most vigorous venues of PSF’s anti-Zia activism.
PSF had risen appreciably at the Peshawar University, and it was in Peshawar that some PSF leaders saw IJT members receiving AK-47s and TT pistols from Afghan traders who had started to arrive into the NWFP after the takeover of Afghanistan by Soviet forces. These IJT members then got the same traders to meet with IJT workers arriving from Karachi. It is said that since arms from the United States had also started to pour in for the so-called anti-Soviet “Mujahideen” groups, many of them were sold at throw away prices (by Pakistani middlemen and related Afghan traders) to the visiting IJT workers.
Back at the University of Karachi, the Progressive Alliance had capitulated and finally folded under government repression and the strong armed tactics of the now well armed IJT.
The alliance also lost a member, Qadeer Abid, when in 1980, NSF clashed with IJT and Qadeer was mercilessly shot dead, allegedly by the time’s leading IJT henchman, Rana Javed.
Getting in touch with the same Afghan traders in Peshawar who had been supplying arms to IJT members, a group of PSF activists from University of Karachi bought themselves a cachet of AK-47s and TT pistols as well. This group was led by the notorious Salamullah Tipu, a former member of NSF (Kazmi), who later joined PSF and became a self-claimed defender of “Bhuttoism.” He also belonged to PSF’s militant wing that propagated an armed rebellion against the repressive Zia dictatorship. But foremost on his mind was to “give IJT a taste of its own medicine in Karachi.”
With the Progressive Alliance in tatters and member student parties trying in vain to come to grips with Zia’s repression and IJT violence, Tipu headed back to the University of Karachi.
The same year (1980), when an Army Major’s jeep arrived at the University, members of PSF, NSF and BSO, set it on fire. The next day Tipu and a group of PSF militants emerged on the campus, roaming in a car with a PPP flag (a crime of sorts in those days), and shouting “Jeeay Bhutto!” slogans.
Seeing Tipu, a senior IJT leader, Hafiz Aslam, whipped out a TT pistol and fired at his car. He fired twice, but missed. Tipu braked, rushed out of the car with a recently bought AK-47 fell Hafiz with a burst of bullets. Hafiz died on the spot, his gun lying besides him.
The chaotic violence that began with men associated with the time’s IJT leader at the Karachi University, Hussain Haqqani, gunning down an NSF worker, (Qadeer Abid), and then PSF’s Tipu reciprocating the murder by shooting dead a senior IJT member, coupled with frequent fist fights and gun battles and the burning of an Army Major’s jeep by the progressives … all this created one of the most uncertain situations before student union elections at the University of Karachi.
The top slots of the union had been won by the IJT in 1979, but by 1980 the IJT with the help of government repression had tendered the Progressive Alliance a most damaging blow.
The withering away of the six-year-old Progressive Alliance saw the student groups of the now defunct coalition, NSF, LSO and PSF field individual candidates, while the nationalist/regional parties of the alliance (BSO, PkSF), along with JSSF and APMSO fielded joint candidates.
IJT easily won the top slots of the union, while the rest of the seats were divided between PSF, LSO and the regional student parties. NSF failed to win a single seat.
In the neighboring NED University, PSF and NSF gave a tougher fight, but IJT managed to hold on to power, albeit with a dwindling minority.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, IJT swept the elections in most Lahore colleges and at Punjab University, while the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance held on to power in the colleges of Rawalpindi, while again taking the Quied-e-Azam University for the third consecutive year. At University of Peshawar, union seats were split between IJT, PSF and PkSF.
The following year (1981), turned out to be one of the most tense and dramatic for student politics in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. Salamullah Tipu, against whom the IJT had lodged a case for killing Hafiz Aslam, escaped to Peshawar along with a group of PSF activists. From Peshawar this groupe secretly crossed the border into Afghanistan. They walked and hitchhiked their way in to Kabul which was then under the control of Soviet troops and a Soviet-backed communist government led by Babrak Karmal.
There they were met by the sons of the slain former Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Murtaza Bhutto and Shanawaz Bhutto had escaped to Kabul when Bhutto was arrested and hanged by the Zia dictatorship in 1979. In Kabul they had formed an anti-Zia guerilla front called Al-Zulfikar Organization (AZO) with the backing of the pro-Soviet Afghan government.
Bulk of AZO’s membership was made up of activists from PSF’s militant wing who had escaped Zia’s wrath by slipping into Kabul. Among them was also Raja Anwar, a former student radical belonging to MSF, who in 1965 had become a Bhutto loyalist and then made a minister by Bhutto. After Bhutto’s fall, Anwar had taken charge of PSF’s militant cells, organizing various rallies and action against the Zia regime between 1977 and 1980. He eventually escaped to Kabul to join AZO.
But by the time Salamullah Tipu and his group arrived in Kabul, Anwar already had had a falling out with Murtaza Bhutto and on latter’s request thrown into a Kabul jail by the Afghan intelligence agency, KHAD.
AZO had pulled off a number of bank heists and an assassination, and attempted to slay the Pope who was visiting Karachi in early 1981. Anwar suggested that AZO terminate its operations and support Z A. Bhutto’s young daughter, Benazir Bhutto, who had begun to lead an affective campaign against Zia with the help of the anti-Martial Law alliance, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Murtaza disagreed and threw Anwar into a Kabul jail.
Meanwhile, Salamullah Tipu and his group of PSF militants were provided training by KHAD before they slipped back into Pakistan and hijacked a domestic PIA flight. The flight was first taken to Kabul Airport where Tipu and his men provided a list of political prisoners that they wanted the Zia regime to release. These included a number of PPP and PSF activists and a few NSF members, all of whom had been loitering in various Pakistani jails ever since 1977 and 1978. On the Pakistani government’s initial reluctance to comply, Tipu executed a Pakistani army man who was on the plane, mistaking him for being part of Zia’s intelligence agencies. He wasn’t.
The murder caused panic in the Zia camp which was already under tremendous pressure by the growth of the MRD movement. After thirteen days, the demands were met when the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Damascus, Syria. Most of the political prisoners were released, some of them traveling to Kabul, others to Syria and Libya.
Tipu’s fellow hijackers too decided to travel to Libya after the hijacking, whereas Tipu traveled back to Kabul.
Ironically AZO’s gory triumph turned out to be a damaging blow to MRD, as Zia now repressed the movement more brutally than ever. Hundreds of anti-Zia activists were rounded up and tried in military courts; these also included some leading PSF activists from Karachi’s Lyari area who were eventually hanged to death.
At the university of Karachi, with the Progressive Alliance now defunct, the IJT renewed its violence against PSF and NSF.
In response, a senior NSF leader, Zafar Arif, pleaded for a brand new alliance of progressive student groups to challenge the government’s repression and IJT’s hegemonic ways.
A meeting was held at Zafar Arif’s home and United Students Movement (USM) came into being. The new progressive coalition included NSF, PSF, DSF, BSO, PkSF, PSA and APMSO. The LSO however, which was a leading party in the old alliance had stopped functioning after 1980.
A two-pronged strategy was chalked out by USM. The first involved the alliance to work as a new united electoral group against right-wing student parties like IJT in student union elections at University of Karachi, NED University and in all the major colleges across the city. Secondly, the new alliance also decided to take IJT head-on in other matters and for this USM planed to arm itself as well as the IJT had already done.
Tipu had armed PSF a year before, and the student party now got BSO and NSF members to get in touch with the Afghan arms suppliers who had also sold arms to the IJT. Whereas the Jamat-e-Islami had funded IJT’s arms buying spree, and was also helped in this pursuit by the Jamat’s connections with “mujahideen” commanders like Gulbadin Hykmatyar, the USM had to struggle to generate funds. Various PPP leaders were requested to dish out money, while certain other opposition party leaders belonging to Baloch and Pushtun nationalist parties were also approached.
Groups of PSF, NSF and BSO members traveled to the NWFP and Balochistan and brought back catches of AK-47s and TT pistols. The arms were stashed in hostel areas controlled by PSF and BSO at the University of Karachi and NED University.
The strategy also included working against the government which was believed to have let lose intelligence agents working together with certain high ranking IJT members.
Then, as expected, violence erupted on the day of the 1981 student union elections in Karachi. To neutralize IJT’s armed wing, the Thunder Squad, a group of USM militants led by PSF’s Boro Baloch and Shireen Khan entered the University of Karachi (from NED) to counter Thunder Squad members there.
Soon, a gun battle ensued between the two groups. Armed IJT members holed themselves up at the varsity’s student union offices while the USM men climbed on top of an opposite building. The firing was intense and went on for about half an hour. The outcome was bloody. There were injuries on both sides but an IJT member was critically injured. He later died in the hospital.
The 1981 student union election results in Karachi saw USM sweeping the elections at NED and most major colleges of the city. Bulk of the seats were won by PSF and NSF members, while nationalist student groups like BSO pitched in. However, the IJT (albeit only barely) managed to hold on to the union at University of Karachi.
The same year the IJT members shot dead a USM activist at the university. Ironically the dead student was a former Thunder Squad member who had quit IJT and joined USM.
Elsewhere in the year’s student union elections, the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance notched up yet another victory at the Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad and in colleges in North Punjab, while IJT once again bagged colleges in Lahore and the Punjab University.
The start of 1982 saw members of a small component party of USM, the APMSO, being denied entry to the University of Karachi by IJT. The APMSO was formed by a group of former IJT members who quit in 1974 and formed a nationalist student party for the Urdu speaking students of Karachi in 1978. The APMSO described itself as a progressive party when it joined USM in 1981. It was still not in a position though, to offer winnable candidates to USM in the student union elections.
Fearing that it will not be able to withstand the pressure that was being applied on its members by IJT, it asked its larger USM contemporary parties for arms. PSF and NSF offered to sell them a limited number of arms for defense purposes.
The student union elections of the year turned up similar results as they did in 1981 with USM component parties winning the majority of union slots at NED, Dow Medical College and in various other colleges of Karachi, while giving a tougher time to IJT at the University of Karachi. Lahore colleges and the Punjab University were swept as usual by IJT while the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance once more held on to power at the Quied-e-Azam University. PSF and PkSF finally toppled IJT in the union elections at Peshawar University.
And though there were incidents of violence, 1982 remained to be a comparatively less violent year. However, by now, almost all major student organizations were well armed, with reports of IJT even getting itself a couple of rocket launchers which it stashed in the rooms of the hostel areas that were controlled by the party at the University of Karachi.
There was concern in Islamabad about the electoral revival of progressive student parties in Karachi, Sindh, Northern Punjab and Peshawar, especially of left-leaning/progressive alliances like USM and Punjab Progressive Students Alliance. The government felt that these alliances might be used by MRD in its upcoming protest movement, even though student organizations like PSF and NSF had already been involved in various anti-Zia activities.
Advisors to the Sindh government under the governorship of General Abbasi warned the regime that even though the Jamat-e-Islami had been supporting the Zia dictatorship and using IJT to subdue leftist politics and sentiments in educational institutions, the 1981 and 1982 student union elections proved that IJT’s influence was fast receding. The advisors also warned the government that this situation will not only increase the level of violence on campuses, but this violence may turn outwards as well against the government.
As the government was reviewing these warnings, 1983 witnessed the eruption of the second MRD movement, especially in interior Sindh where protest rallies turned violent and the province eventually getting engulfed by a mini-insurgency.
It was a PPP led movement amply activated by PSF cadres across the interior Sindh. The movement was soon joined by Sindhi nationalists as well. Most of these were student members of the JSSF who had opposed their mother party, the Jeeay Sindh Movement’s negative stance towards the MRD movement. These students soon went on to form the breakaway Jeeay Sindh Progressive/Tarakee-Pasand Students Federation (JSPSF).
The intensity of the violence was such that Zia had to send in the Army with tanks. Hundreds of protesters and insurgents were killed. Thousands were jailed and tortured. Many PSF and JSPSF activists, especially from areas like Dadu, Moro and Larkana hid inside the thick forests near Dadu and many would become notorious dacoits in the coming years.
There were no student union elections held in interior Sindh in 1983, while in Karachi they were postponed. In the Punjab IJT was given a tough fight by the progressives at the Punjab University, while PSF swept the elections in colleges in semi-urban areas of the province. The Punjab Progressive Students Alliance still being led by NSF, PSF and groups of liberals under the DSF banner, once again swept the elections in Rawalpindi colleges and the Quied-e-Azam University, while PSF bagged the largest number of union posts in the elections at Peshawar University.
Some PSF militants who had joined Murtaza Bhutto’s AZO in 1980 and did not move to either Syria or Libya, returned to Karachi. Some were arrested and tried by military courts and some hid. They reported that Salamullah Tipu too had had a falling out with Murtaza Bhutto and had been jailed in Kabul.
In early 1984 news arrived that Tipu had been hanged by Kabul authorities. He had become a threat to Murtaza who was said to have become increasingly paranoid. However, Raja Anwar was released and he went into exile in Germany. He returned soon after Zia’s assassination to become an accomplished author and journalist. Tipu is still buried somewhere in Kabul, while his PSF counterparts who helped him hijack the PIA plane and then moved to Libya are still said to be residing there.
Just before the 1984 student union elections in Karachi, the government announced that it is banning student politics. It cited growing cases of violence as a reason. Of course, the decision was based on reports that anti-government student alliances like Punjab Progressive Students Alliance and USM had gained great electoral and political momentum and may in the future be in a position to initiate a students’ movement, the sort that helped topple the Ayub Khan dictatorship.
The regime’s plan to repress progressive student groups through its allied party, the Jamat-e-Islami’s student wing the IJT had left IJT in the clutches of uncontrollable violence so much so that the support it had managed to gather through student union elections in the 1970s, now stood eroded, triggering a sympathy wave for the anti-IJT student organizations. The devastating defeats the IJT suffered in the 1981 and 1982 student union elections in the colleges of Karachi and North Punjab and at the Quied-e-Azam University and the Peshawar University reflected well the scenario.
The most ironic fallout of the ban was the way IJT reacted to the interdiction. It defied its mother party’s approval of the ban and joined opposing student groups when they right away began a protest movement against the government’s decision. IJT demanded its mother party to withdraw its support for the Zia regime.
Karachi saw the most aggressive exhibition of protest rallies, where in the course of two months protesting members of IJT, PSF and NSF burned dozens of government cars and buses and fought street battles with riot police.
Under pressure from its student wing and now conscious of the negative fallout the party had started to suffer from supporting Zia, the Jamat-e-Islami pulled back the more blatant aspects of its support for the dictatorship. However, it came to a compromise with the regime and continued giving it indirect support. One of the conditions it aired for this support was that the regime continued allowing IJT to exist in universities and colleges. This deal saw IJT suddenly withdraw from the anti-ban movement as the regime began a fresh round of harassment and arrests against USM and Punjab Progressive Students Alliance. The student parties of the two alliances that suffered the most from this new cycle of state-sponsored aggravation were PSF, NSF, BSO and PkSF.
At the University of Karachi, the harassed students retaliated by forcefully taking over hostel areas that were formerly held by IJT. Expecting retaliation from IJT, new caches of arms were brought in and stored inside hostel rooms. In the hectic process, PSF and NSF also handed out APMSO a small number of arms. This was to be APMSO’s first experience of owning sophisticated weaponry.
In the winding months of 1984, the police reacting to reports that anti-government student groups were “planning an armed uprising” at the University, entered the campus in heavy numbers. As they tried to evacuate USM militants from the hostels by lobbing tear gas shells, and firing in the air, the students retaliated with loud bursts from AK-47s and TT pistols. The police fired back and the duel turned into an almost two-day-long siege. Hundreds of rounds of machinegun and pistol fire were used by both sides and the police had to call for constant reinforcements to finally smoke out the determined USM militants. Foremost among the militants were activists from PSF, NSF, BSO and PkSF. Surprisingly apart from the many injuries on both sides, there were no deaths.
The following year, 1985, saw the Zia dictatorship announcing to hold general elections. He had already got himself elected as “President” through a dubious referendum and a limp handpicked national assembly (Majlis-e-Shura). But to keep progressive and opposing parties away from the elections, Zia decided to hold “party-less elections.” The idea was to get as many Zia loyalists as possible in the new assembly.
The opposition MRD parties led by the PPP boycotted the polls, which, as expected, were won by Zia loyalists and members supported by the Jamat-e-Islami. And ironically, even though the polls had been held on non-party basis, Zia was quick to sponsor the uniting of various Muslim League factions on a single party platform led by the new Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo . Thus was born another “king’s party” version of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). The first had been the pro-Ayub Pakistan Muslim League (Convention) in the 1960s.
The impact of the elections and lifting of Martial Law (even though “President Zia” was still a General in the Army with the power to dismiss the government with a stroke of a pen), saw the new “democratic regime” allowing the revival of student union elections in the country’s colleges and universities. However, these too were now supposed to be on non-party basis.
At least in theory. Because most student union elections held that year were actively participated by established student organizations.
In Karachi no student union elections were held at the University of Karachi in 1985, but most colleges of the city did manage to hold them. PSF and NSF picked up most union slots at Dow Medical College, NED University, Saint Patrick’s Govt. College and DJ Science College, while the IJT was the leading party in colleges like Islamia College, Urdu College, National College and Premier College. Most interesting was the beginning of APMSO’s status as a viable electoral group, as for the first time candidates associated with the organization managed to bag a few seats in alliance with PSF, NSF, BSO and PkSF.
In the Punjab, IJT swept clean the Punjab University, while Progressive Students Alliance retained its hold over Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad. No elections were held in the NWFP.
In the interior Sindh, union seats in colleges and universities in Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Khairpur and Sukker were split between PSF and JSSF.
The pattern was repeated in 1986, even though in Karachi elections could only be held in a handful of colleges because the city was suddenly engulfed by riots when a female student of a college was crushed to death by a public transport bus. The death of the Urdu speaking girl and the riotous reaction that the accident sparked hastened the process of senior APMSO leaders led by Altaf Hussain forming the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), which also became the APMSO’s mother party.
Resentment was already brewing within Karachi’s Urdu-speaking/Mohajir majority populace against the arrival of a large number of Afghan refugees who had been pouring into Pakistan ever since the start of the Afghan civil war in 1979. Much of the city’s public transport business fell in the hands of the Afghan refugees, and many Afghan refugees were also accused of running clandestine businesses involving the sale of guns and drugs. Most of the refugees were Pathans and since Karachi already had a significant Pathan population (people who had first arrived from the NWFP province during the Ayub regime), the troubles soon turned into vicious Mohajir-Pathan riots.
These riots in which both sophisticated and crude homemade weapons were used and hundreds of Karachiites lost their lives was one of the first signs of the fallout of Pakistan’s involvement in the CIA backed anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. Because along with the Afghan refugees and millions of dollars worth of US aid for the war effort pouring in, also came mass corruption in the government, guns, ethnic tensions and violence, and the easy availability of destructive drugs like heroin. Pakistan’s involvement in helping raise local militias and fighters for the civil war also included the making and turning of madressas/religious schools into indoctrination and recruiting institutions, further radicalizing Islamist groups including IJT.
The post-riots scenario saw MQM rise as the representative party of the Urdu speaking population of Karachi (which were in a majority). This did not bode well with right-wing parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat-Ulema-Pakistan (JUI) that had been strong in the city before MQM’s rise.
MQM’s accelerated elevation that year also saw a two-fold rise in the ranks of APMSO. A number of former Urdu speaking student activists of IJT and NSF rushed in to join this once small component student party of the progressive USM alliance.
However, within the Jamat-e-Islami, which the Zia regime (or vice versa), had started to distance itself from, there were murmurings that the MQM had been formed by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the notorious ISI, “to neutralize Jamat in Karachi.”
1986 also saw the return of Benazir Bhutto from exile. A rally outside the Lahore airport that was organized by PSF soon turned into one of the biggest processions the city had ever seen. Millions of Lahorites thronged the streets and roads of the city, accompanying Benazir’s procession, as more joined in when she held her first public rally in Pakistan after 1980.
The massive turnout seen at the young PPP leader’s rally encouraged MRD to announce the beginning of a new anti-Zia movement. Only a day after the rally, PPP activists and supporters held protest marches in Lahore. In one such march four people were shot dead by the police. Two of the dead belonged to PSF.
Benazir followed her Lahore triumph with an equally massive rally in Karachi. Now nervous about the large crowds Z A. Bhutto’s daughter was attracting, the Zia/Junejo regime put her under house arrest. The arrest sparked another round of protests in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi. The runoff between protesters and police in Karachi’s Lyari area turned into a gun battle between the police and PSF activists.
The radicalization of various Islamist groups by the Zia regime’s involvement in the Afghan Civil War also saw a large faction of the right-wing student group, Anjuman-Taleba-Islam (ATI), become the Sunni Thereek. Some ATI members also joined the militant sectarian anti-Shia group, the Pakistan Sipah Sehaba.
Weary of IJT’s reaction and the violent lessons learned from the 1986 Mohajir-Pathan riots, the APMSO started to arm itself heavily. It had been previously sold and supplied a limited number of arms by PSF and NSF militants in 1982-83, but this time a group of APMSO activists traveled to the Jamshoro University near Hyderabad and bought a heavy cache of AK-47s from JSSF members. The weapons were stored at Altaf Hussain’s resident in Karachi and in a few hostel rooms at the University of Karachi that the APMSO managed to borrow from PSF and BSO.
In 1987, fresh local elections were held across Pakistan. MQM candidates swept the elections in Karachi, while PPP candidates working under the name of Awam Dost Panel managed to bag the most seats in city councils in interior Sindh, Punjab and the NWFP. This set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad. The Zia dictatorship had spend millions of Rupees in a campaign to repress and cripple the PPP, using intelligence agencies, the police, student organizations like IJT and various “pocket journalists” but failed to stop the supportive wave that had started building around the PPP.
In the few colleges where student union elections were held in 1987 in Karachi, APMSO and PSF came up trumps, and at the Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad and the Peshawar University, PSF swept clean the elections. This was also the last time the Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (now led by PSF), will be seen in action. It would be disbanded in 1988. The USM in Karachi too was winding down as an alliance.
The same year, the PPP announced a long list of political activists that had been loitering in jails ever since the early 1980s. Many among them had been declared missing as well, feared to have been tortured to death. Most of them belonged to PSF, whereas there were also names on the list of student activists belonging to NSF and BSO. Most of the activists who were known to be in jails were all described by the Zia regime as being either “terrorists belonging to AZO” or “Soviet agents.”
In 1987, the pro-Zia Pakistan Muslim League (PML) revived the Muslim Students Federation (MSF). MSF had splintered into various factions in the 1950s, before reuniting as the student wing of the pro-Ayub Pakistan Muslim League (Convention), in 1962. It split from PML (Convention) in 1965 and was taken over by its progressive wing that decided to oppose Ayub and support Z A. Bhutto. Many MSF leaders later joined NSF and the PPP. MSF withered away once again the 1970s, and when it was revived in 1987, it at once went out to wrest control of the many Lahore colleges and the Punjab University where the IJT had ruled supreme for more than a decade.
The same year two killings took place at Karachi’s Sindh Medical College. The College had been throwing up mixed results in student union elections ever since the late 1970s. On the left, both PSF and NSF commanded solid support, whereas on the right side of ideological spectrum, IJT and to a certain extent, ATI had been equally strong. PSA which had largely remained progressive ever since its inception a decade ago, was now said to be “infiltrated” by pro-Zia operatives who had “hijacked” the party towards becoming more chauvinistic and expressive about its “Punjabiat.” In a clash with IJT, some of its members shot dead an IJT member. In retaliation, the PSA member accused by IJT to have carried out the killing was himself shot dead the same year by IJT.
In 1988, unable to halt the PPP wave and with the “state-sponsored” formation of MQM backfiring, Zia blamed Junejo’s government. At once he dismissed a government he himself had so carefully constructed through dubious methods and elections. Also, with the Afghan conflict also coming to a conclusion, Zia had started to find himself pressed against the wall more than ever.
A PSF leader at University of Karachi, Najeeb Ahmed, had a few scuffles with policemen posted at the University. He then led PSF into a number of clashes with IJT before being arrested. Najib had been arrested on a number of occasions before as well, and had been leading PSF at the University since 1986. By 1988 he had emerged as the student organization’s top man in Karachi.
Also in 1988, USM’s dissolution was complete when both PSF and APMSO decided to leave the alliance. Out of the remaining parties of the alliance, NSF wanted to retain the alliance but when other component parties of the coalition, BSO, PkSF and PSA also left, NSF then attempted to unite with the remnants of DSF to form a new progressive front. But by now, DSF was simply too weak.
The thinking behind PSF, BSO and PSA was that the growing status of APMSO had already started to erode IJT in Karachi and the changing scenario required new tactics in which USM did not fit anymore.
And the scenario did change. In August 1988, a military aircraft carrying General Zia-ul-Haq exploded in mid-air over South Punjab city of Bhawalpur. It was a meticulously planned assassination. Not only Zia was killed, with him was his Army’s top brass, and the American ambassador to Pakistan.
First the finger was pointed at AZO backed by the Afghan intelligence agency, KHAD. But by 1988 AZO was as good as over. Then the Soviet KGB was blamed. But somehow, the accusation that struck the loudest chord among the public was the one that blamed the American CIA. It was said that at the fast approaching end of the Afghan Civil War that ended in the defeat of Soviet forces, Zia had become a liability for the US. And when he expressed his desire to continue and stretch his tenure as a General and absolute ruler of the country, the US used CIA to put him out of the picture. All this was, of course, speculation, as till even twenty years after the incident nothing conclusive has emerged as to who really was behind Zia’s assassination.
Zia’s end paved the way for elections based on party basis, the first of its kind ever since Zia overthrew Z A. Bhutto in 1977. Fearing a PPP sweep, the Pakistani intelligence agency the ISI bankrolled an electoral alliance of conservative parties led by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and also joined by the Jamat-e-Islami. The front was called the Islamic Democratic Front (IDF), or the Islami Jamhoori Itehad (IJI). Despite many incidents of rigging, especially in the Punjab, the PPP emerged as the leading party, though it failed to gain a two-thirds majority.
To help it gain a government-forming majority in the parliament, the PPP offered an alliance to MQM which it agreed and Benazir Bhutto became the first ever woman Prime Minister of a Muslim country.
While lifting the many political and social curbs imposed by the eleven-year-old Zia dictatorship, the new PPP government also lifted the ban on student politics that was imposed by Zia in 1984. 1989 became the year when “officially recognized” student union elections were held across universities and colleges after a four year gap.
In the 1989 student union elections in Punjab, MSF toppled the IJT in a majority of colleges and universities in Lahore and surrounding cities including the Punjab University that had been a bastion of IJT’s electoral influence and power ever since the mid-1970s. In Rawalpindi, Okara and Southern Punjab, IJT faced heavy defeats delivered by PSF followed by the ATI. At the Quied-e-Azam University in Islamabad, PSF allied to NSF and DSF came up as the leading student party in the elections. At the Peshawar University, PSF routed the IJT, as PkSF came a distant second.
In the Balochistan province, various factions of BSO swept the student union elections in the Baloch speaking areas of the province, whereas the PkSF and PSF emerged as the leading parties in the province’s Pushtu speaking areas.
The process of the reputation of IJT becoming dented had begun when its mother party was supporting the Zia regime and when IJT was accused of “doing the Jamat’s and the dictatorship’s dirty work in universities and colleges.” It seemed the disillusionment with IJT was now complete and gaining from this mood the most were PSF and MSF, even though MSF’s mother party, the PML was allied to the mother party of IJT in the conservative anti-PPP alliance, the Islamic Democratic Front.
Upbeat by the good results it had produced in student union elections in the Punjab and the NWFP, PSF was confident of gaining a lot of ground in Sindh as well. In all the major colleges and universities in the interior of Sindh, PSF easily swept aside the JSSF and IJT. In Karachi PSF did extremely well in colleges like Sindh Medical College, Dow Medical College and St. Patrick’s Govt College where in a loose alliance with NSF and BSO it bagged the bulk of the union seats. At NED University, union seats were split between APMSO and PSF, whereas at Premiere College, National College, SM College, Adamjee College and most importantly, the widespread University of Karachi, the APMSO routed the IJT, with PSF coming in second in terms of the share of votes.
The IJT it seemed had been completely whipped out.
Student Union Elections 1980-89 – Leading parties & approximations of the number of elections won:
1: Islami-Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 35%
2: Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PPSA)
(National Students Federation; Peoples Students Federation*; Democratic Students Federation) – 30%
3: United Students Movement (USM)
(National Students Federation; Peoples Students Federation; Baloch Students Organization; Pakhtun Students Federation; Democratic Students Federation; Punjabi Students Association; All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization**) – 30%
3: Anjuman-Taleba-Islam (ATI) – 5%
* PSF was part of Punjab Progressive Students Alliance from 1977 till 1987 and United Students Movement from 1980 till 1987. It participated in elections independently in interior Sindh, NWFP and South Punjab.
** APMSO was part of USM from 1980 till 1987. It took part in the elections independently after 1986.
* Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of Karachi, Dow Medical College, Adamjee College, Islamia College (Karachi), NED University, Karachi, Sindh Medical College Karachi, Punjab University, Government College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi, Quied-e-Azam University Islamabad, Peshawar University.
1990s: Till the last breath
The euphoria of routing out IJT’s influence in major colleges and universities through the ballot was short lived. In Karachi, sensing the withering away of IJT, both APMSO and PSF
tried to muscle in to fill the gap left behind IJT’s stunning electoral defeat. This soon led to a series of violent clashes between the two triumphant groups. The clashes occurred at the University of Karachi, NED University, Dow Medical College and Sindh Medical College. By early 1990 the nature and intensity of the clashes turned even more violent with both the parties using sophisticated weapons. The bloodiest episode of the already gory tussle took place at the gymnasium of the University of Karachi. An intense exchange of fire between the two groups at NED University saw PSF activists pushing their APMSO counterparts back into the premises of the neighboring University of Karachi. Then suddenly their was a lull in the firing when PSF militants ran out of ammunition. A frantic call was made to their comrades in charge of the student union at the Sindh Medical College who were asked to send out a fresh supply of bullets. Meanwhile, the APMSO men who were pushed away into University of Karachi, took advantage of the lull by reentering NED and starting to fire at the hostel area from where the PSF militants had been shooting. It is about 35 minutes drive from Sindh Medical College to NED, but this lull was enough for APMSO gunslingers to reach their PSF foils and haul them into their custody. PSF men were taken to the gymnasium of the University of Karachi. It was reported there was around six who were captured and brought here, while another four who were with them NED had managed to escape being captured. The captured were then put in a huddle in the middle of the basketball court, as the APMSO militants surrounded them. The captured were then asked to make a run for it, and when they did, the APMSO gunmen opened fire, mercilessly killing all the PSF militants who were captured.
The incident shocked the city. Instantly a fresh round of gory violence broke out between the two groups in almost all major colleges of the city. A number of students from both sides were killed.
The violence put a tremendous strain on the already shaky ruling PPP alliance of which APMSO’s mother party, the MQM, was also a partner. The MQM finally decided to quit the alliance and join PML and Jamat-e-Islami in the opposition.
Even though dozens of students lost their lives in the violence, the most prominent demise was that of Najeeb Ahmed the strong-armed leader of PSF in Karachi and who was also accused of killing some of APMSO’s most formidable militants of the time. He was ambushed by a group of APMSO men and shot multiple times. He died a few days later at the hospital.
Due to the violence no student union elections were held in 1990 in Karachi or the rest of Sindh, because in the interior Sindh, the bloody tussle had devolved into ethnic violence between the Sindhis and Urdu speakers.
In the year’s student union elections in the Punjab, MSF once again routed IJT at the Punjab University and in colleges of most central Punjab cities. PSF was the leading student group in student union elections in Northen Punjab, Southern Punjab and Islamabad. At the Peshawar University it once again won most of the posts in the university’s student union. However, at the Punjab University and most colleges in Lahore, tension between MSF and IJT were reaching a breaking point.
Due to troubles in Karachi and Sindh and accusations of mismanagement, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan still empowered by the constitutional power Zia had created for himself to dismiss a government, pulled off what was called (by the PPP), a “constitutional coup”. He dismissed the PPP government and announced new elections which were won by the conservative alliance of “Ziaists,” the IJI. The new government was led by former Punjab Chief Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who had also become the leader of PML after a faction under former Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo broke away and formed PML (J). Nawaz’s faction would soon evolve into PML (N).
By 1991, the IJI was facing a split when a component party of the alliance, the Jamat-e-Islami (JI), started to accuse Nawaz for failing to fully implement the Islamic Shariah law he promised he would after coming into power. JI’s break from IJI became imminent when the tension between its student wing, the IJT, and the student wing of PML, the MSF, boiled over. A vicious series of clashes took place at the University of Punjab between the two groups when MSF, now in control of the varsity’s student union for two years running, started using strong-arm tactics to eradicate IJT militants from the university.
A number of activists from both student parties lost their lives as the violence spread across other colleges and universities of Lahore, Gujranwallah and Rawalpindi.
The same year the United States Army launched an attack from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait against Sadam Hussein’s Iraq when the later invaded Kuwait. The Nawaz Sharif government supported the American action. As a reaction the IJT along with NSF and PSF organized huge protest rallies against the United States and Israel. This would also be the one of the last big events to involve NSF that had been one of the country’s leading progressive student organizations ever since the 1960s. It had steadily started to lose influence from the mid-1980s onwards, pushed into a corner by progressive student parties like PSF, secular-ethnic student parties like APMSO and secular-conservative student groups like MSF.
Meanwhile another formerly leading progressive student party, the DSF, that had first faded away in the early 1970s and then was revived in the later part of the decade, had again fallen away by the late 1980s. By the start of the 1990s it had all but completely withered away.
The violence in universities and colleges in Lahore and central Punjab left the government postponing student union elections in the Punjab in 1992 and the situation had still not become normal in Karachi and Sindh to hold the elections that were postponed in 1991.
But this didn’t stop the provincial government of Sindh now under Chief Minister Jam Sadiq Ali, a PPP turncoat, to start an obsessive round of harassment against PPP workers and leadership. His government was allied to the MQM and both (in accordance to their ally in Islamabad, i.e. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML), turned 1992 the most repressive year for the PPP ever since Zia’s death. In fact the MQM now became notorious for running the city of Karachi as a fiefdom and the party was run like a mafia outfit. Apart from PPP workers, dozens of journalists too were targeted.
APMSO now became a nursery for providing manpower to MQM’s militant wing. Through violence it had kept IJT at bay in almost all major universities and colleges of Karachi, and after the fall of the PPP government in 1991, the many battles of muscle that it seemed to have been losing against PSF, were reversed to their advantage.
Nawaz Sharif’s PML was still very much the party of the “establishment.” It had deep links with the Army and remnants of Zia loyalists in the intelligence agencies. It had used Jam Sadiq and MQM to suppress the PPP in Sindh, but when MQM’s harassing activities also saw some APMSO and MQM militants kidnapping and torturing some army men, the Army responded by complaining to Nawaz Sharif, suggesting that an operation was needed against MQM. Nawaz agreed and sanctioned the start of the operation in Sindh that also included the Army taking action against the growing number of dacoit gangs roaming the forests outside Dadu and Moro. Of course, much of the operation was concentrated on MQM.
Army men and Rangers rolled in as the intelligence agencies also tried to tackle MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s almost untouchable status. The agencies began by exploiting a rift developing in the MQM. The results of this rift and clandestine agency maneuvers in this respect appeared when the Army operation entered Karachi. A party calling itself MQM (Haqiqi) and led by some leading MQM leaders most of whom like Altaf Hussain were former APMSO members, emerged and attacked some of MQM’s main strongholds with sophisticated weapons. Supported by paramilitary forces like the Rangers, MQM (H) soon overran much of MQM’s stronghold areas. The aftermath of the intense gun battles between the two groups saw the arrest of numerous MQM and APMSO activists as many (including Altaf Hussain) went underground.
Due to the Army operation, there were no student union polls in Sindh in 1992. And even in the Punjab, because of the escalating violence between MSF and IJT student union elections were held only in a handful of colleges. In fact the Nawaz Sharif government was thinking of banning student politics once again, the way they were banned by Zia in 1984.
The ban did arrive right before the fall of the Nawaz Sharif government in early 1993. His government too fell to the whims of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who dismissed the government on grounds of corruption, nepotism and violence. New elections were held in which Benazir Bhutto’s PPP returned to power. But in line with a “deal” between Nawaz, Benazir, the Army and the Presidency, Ishaq Khan was asked to resign and which he did. Benazir managed to get her own party man, Farooq Ahmed Laghari, elected as the new President, while she once again became Prime Minister. Though her arrival did allow the majority of student organizations to continue maintaining a presence in universities and colleges, she did not lift the ban on student politics that was slapped by Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz Sharif’s ouster gave the IJT an opening to reestablish its supremacy in Lahore and Central Punjab’s major universities and colleges that had been overrun by the MSF both through the ballot and the bullet. Meanwhile in Karachi, the new PPP government decided to continue the operation against MQM that the Nawaz government had sanctioned. Between 1993 and 1996, thousands of MQM and APMSO militants were arrested and hundreds lost their lives in gun battles against the Rangers, police and MQM (H). And even though the government largely succeeded in neutralizing MQM’s militancy in Karachi, the University of Karachi and the city’s major colleges remained bastions of APMSO.
In “unofficial” student union elections in Lahore and Central Punjab in 1995, candidates backed by the IJT regained the ground the party had lost between 1989 and 1992. In Northern Punjab and Islamabad PSF and MSF gained the most seats, whereas in Southern Punjab, PSF swept clean the student union elections, defeating both IJT and MSF. In the NWFP, especially the Peshawar University, PSF maintained its grip.
1996 saw the fall of the second Benazir Bhutto government, dismissed by her own President, Farooq Ahmed Laghari. The accusations laid down were once again corruption, mismanagement and growing incidents of violence. The breaking point came when Benazir’s elder brother Murtaza Bhutto, the former head of the AZO, was shot dead by a police party just outside his resident in 1996. He had been opposing the PPP government and had formed his own faction, PPP (Shaheed Bhutto). Many believed he had “played into the hands of the clandestine intelligence agencies working against the Benazir government.”
Bhutto’s fall paved the way for the election of the second Nawaz Sharif and PML (N) government. PML (N)’s return saw MSF muscling its way back to regain the turf at many Central Punjab colleges and the Punjab University that it had lost to IJT between 1994 and 1996. A fresh round of clashes between the two groups ensued. With no elections held under the ban, the bullet did all the talking in the absence of the ballot.
In Karachi, the MQM and APMSO, though badly bruised by the Army operation, started to slowly trickle back into the mainstream scheme of things. However, right away it went for the throat of MQM (H). The remnants of MQM’s militant wing and a new generation of APMSO cadres fell upon MQM (H) with a vengeance.
By 1999, the Nawaz Sharif government had had a falling out with the judiciary and the Army and was accused by the mainstream press of exhibiting arrogance and using strong-armed tactics to subdue opposing journalists. In October 1999, he was eventually toppled in a military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf.
There is no doubt that Nawaz had become unpopular among large sections of the public. In fact, soon his party’s own student wing, the MSF, would turn against him and start supporting the new “Kings party,” the PML (Q), after it came to power in the 2002 general elections.
Student Union Elections 1990-96 – Leading parties & approximations of the number of elections won:
1: Peoples Students Federation (PSF) – 40%
2: Muslim Students Federation (MSF) -35%
3:Islami Jamiat-Taleba (IJT) – 25%
4: Anjuman-Taleba-Islam (ATI) – 3%
5: National Students Federation (NSF) – 2%
* Approximations gathered from student union election data at University of Karachi, Dow Medical College, Adamjee College, Islamia College (Karachi), NED University, Karachi, Sindh Medical College Karachi, Punjab University, Government College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi, Quied-e-Azam University Islamabad, Peshawar University.
National Students Federation (NSF).
Peak Years: 1960-79.
Ideology: Marxist (1960s-70s); Progressive (1980s-90s-2000s).
Factions: NSF-Meraj (1967-73); NSF-Kazmi (1967-80); NSF-Rashid (1971-80); NSF-Bari (1972-77).
Peak Years: 1971-84.
Ideology: Islamist (1960s-70s-80s-90s-2000s).
Peoples Students Federation (PSF)
Peak Years: 1977-1996.
Ideology: Socialist (1970s-80s); Progressive (1990s-2000s).
All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organization (APMSO)
Peak Years: 1988-
Ideology: Ethnic-Socialist (1970s); Militant-Ethnic (1980s-90s); Liberal (2000s).
Muslim Students Federation (MSF)
Peak Years: 1947-50; 1989-97
Ideology: Populist (1960s); Conservative (1970s-80s); Populist-Conservative (1990s-2000s).
Democratic Students Federation (DSF)
Peak Years: 1950-57
Ideology: Marxist-Leninist (1950s-60s-70s); Socialist (1980s)
Baloch Students Organization (BSO)
Peak Years: 1972-86
Factions: BSO (Azad), BSO (Mengal) and BSO (Hai). BSO (Hai).
Ideology: Marxist (1960s); Marxist-Nationalist (1970s-80s); Nationalist (1990s-2000s).
Pashtun Students Organization (PSO)
Ideology: Nationalist-Marxist (1970s-80s); Nationalist (2000s).
Punjabi Students Association (PSA)
Ideology: Conservative (1980s-90s).
Imamia Students Organization (ISO)
Ideology: Conservative (1970s); Shia-Islamist (1980s-90s-2000s).
Peak Years: 1975-87
Ideology: Conservative-Islamist (1970s); Sectarian (1980s-90s).
Jeay Sindh Students Federation (JSSF)
Ideology: (1970s); Militant-Ethnic (1980s-90s).
Factions: Jeeay Sindh Tarakee Pasand Students Federation (JSTPSF)
Insaaf Students Federation (ISF)
Punjab Progressive Students Alliance (PSA)
Member Parties: National Students Federation, Democratic Students Federation and Peoples Students Federation.
United Students Movement (USM)
Member Parties: National Students Federation, Democratic Students Federation, Peoples Students Federation, All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization, Baloch Students Organization and Pukhtun Students Organization.