Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pakistani students divided over crisis

Opposition politician cheered by protesters before being carted away by hard-liners

Nov 15, 2007 04:30 AM Sonya Fatah SPECIAL TO THE STAR

LAHORE, Pakistan–Opposition politician Imran Khan learned a hard lesson yesterday about how bitterly divided Pakistani students are toward President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Over the last week, 500 to 1,000 students have protested daily on the campus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), a leading university in Pakistan.
Police barricades and warnings have not intimidated the several hundred students who continue to demand an end to martial law, arbitrary arrests of activists and curbs on press freedom.
But at Punjab University, a student demonstration against emergency rule turned sour yesterday when Khan was arrested as he made an appearance. He had been evading house arrest for several days.
Khan, one of the most vocal critics of Musharraf's unconstitutional methods of staying in power, was at first hoisted upon students' shoulders as they chanted "Go Musharraf Go" and "Down with Musharraf." His coming-out then degenerated into a farce.
Members of the hard-line Jamiat-e-Tuleba, the student arm of the country's largest Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, bundled Khan into the Centre for High Energy Physics shortly after and handed him over to police.
Khan is the last of Musharraf's opposition leaders to be rounded up following the Pakistani president's Nov. 3 declaration of emergency. Police took him to an undisclosed location, sources said.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of political workers, lawyers and human rights activists have been held under house arrest or indefinitely detained.
Khan is revered as one of cricket's all-time greats and admired for his charitable work, especially a hospital he set up for poor cancer patients.
He drummed up the money for that by motivating young people to go out and fundraise for him, as "mini-Imrans," he said.
Khan hoped to rally the students for protests against Musharraf as well.
Pakistani students have been criticized in the past as a group that largely spends its time comparing designer clothes and electronic gadgets when not in the library studying.
"I want to get the students out," Khan said last week.
"If you have to (make) sacrifices, this is the time. What you cannot do is sit on the fence anymore."
The small, but increasing vocal and demonstrative student movement follows in the footsteps of the defiant lawyers' movement.
What haunts the government is the memory of the starring role students have played in toppling previous leaders at key moments over the last 40 years.
In 1968, students were at the forefront of resistance against the despotic, corrupt regime of president Ayub Khan, one in the long line of generals to rule this country. Despite a repressive security apparatus at his disposal, Ayub Khan was forced to step down a year later.
Young people also turned out en masse against prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir Bhutto, Musharraf's biggest rival and herself a former premier. The elder Bhutto was ousted from power in 1977, then hanged in 1979.
With those examples in mind, later Pakistani governments launched a campaign to depoliticize college campuses, banning political activity and clamping down on student unions.
Many observers were therefore surprised, and in some cases exhilarated, by the political rumblings beginning to take form on various campuses, particularly LUMS.
At a recent demonstration, about 150 students met at Beacon House National University, a liberal arts institution, to support the university's dean and human rights activist Salima Hashmi, who had been jailed for two days and recently released.
Encouragement from some university administrators has fuelled some of the student protests.
At LUMS University, the vice-chancellor and faculty members gave the students their blessings to stage demonstrations on campus.
Still, the relatively small student protests held at public universities were hardly examples of complete unity.
Of the 27,000 students at Punjab University, only a couple of hundred showed up for the demonstration yesterday.
"The Jamiat don't allow us to protest," said Afsa Mehmood, 19, who sported a black armband decrying the emergency.
"They are in favour of the government and they have the power to silence us."
Students at both the old and new campuses of the university lamented the influence of the Jamiat group in organizing their own student protests and other activities.
At Punjab University yesterday, Jamiat students pulled Khan off the shoulders of their secular classmates, and prevented him from leading the rally.
Tempers flared and frustration soared as the smaller, less vocal secular contingent tried to battle the more impassioned Jamiat leaders.
"He wanted to be a hero on our shoulders," said Salman Zaman, 22, and a Jamiat follower.
"We didn't want that," Zaman said.
"We didn't want our protest to be hijacked by any one political agenda."
Many conscientious objectors, including some who said they feared Islamist groups, turned to art to express their frustrations.
Like Bilal Ashraf, 22, sculpted a project called "This is Enough." In it, Pakistan is depicted as a woman with no arms, her eyes blindfolded, and her head thrown back.
Her dress, a long papery gown, is a collage of newspaper headlines on the judiciary's crisis.
The edges of the gown are frayed, and are beginning to burn at the bottom. But limbless and without sight, she (Pakistan) is helpless.
"Educated Pakistani youngsters have been kept at a distance from politics for decades," said retired Brig. Rao Abid Hamid of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
"This movement is just in its infancy. Give it time."With files from Los Angeles Times

Student protests build in Pakistan

Campus protests gather steam throughout the country, worrying the fragile regime.

By Shahan Mufti Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the November 15, 2007 edition

Lahore, Pakistan - The steady rumbling of dissent on university campuses across Pakistan is an ominous development for the country's military regime. Student activists in Pakistan have a history of effecting dramatic political change.
What began last week as a protest against the arrests of academics at a university in Lahore has quickly spread across larger campuses, energizing new movements and inciting old student political groups from a near two-decade slumber. But when opposition leader Imran Khan, a perceived hero of the student movement, arrived Wednesday to address students in Lahore, members of a powerful and established Islamist student group quickly handed him over to police.
For Mr. Khan and others, targeting university campuses is a shrewd move. But his arrest reveals the scattered nature of the students' potent political power. Unless the opposition can arrive at a consensus, observers say, the movement will remain incoherent. 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.
"This 'new student movement' is very significant," says Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) who is a liaison between the administration and student leaders on his campus. Mr. Rais added that 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 says, 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 Ms. Bhutto will eventually be able to seize the reins of such a unified movement remains a question, observers say. Security officials said she will likely remain under house arrest until Thursday at the earliest. On Tuesday, Bhutto called on the president to resign. Her spokeswoman told reporters Wednesday that she is attempting to rally the political opposition, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to present a more unified opposition to President Pervez Musharraf's authority.
Musharraf said Wednesday that he expects to step down as Army chief by the end of November and begin a new presidential term as a civilian, warning that Pakistan risked chaos if he gave into opposition demands to resign. In an interview with the Associated Press, he accused Bhutto, currently under house arrest, of fueling political turmoil and rejected Western pressure to quickly lift emergency rule, which he indicated was likely to continue through the January elections. "I take decisions in Pakistan's interest and I don't take ultimatums from anyone," he said at his Army office.
Khan was one of the only prominent political leaders to have avoided arrest by going into hiding, and had sparked student activism by speaking at a university campus on the eve of the emergency. Through underground messages from hiding, Khan had called for a "youth army" to take to the streets. "My goal was to set in motion a student movement," he said after his arrest.

'No greater ideology at work'

Students became the latest ingredient in the urban street caldron – along with political party workers, lawyers, and civil society groups – after President Musharraf extended his sweeping security crackdown to academics. The arrests of two professors from LUMS, after the declaration of emergency last week, sparked immediate protests and the arrival of riot police at the campus gatesThe agitation spread like wildfire to other smaller, private universities. Within a week, Khan visited Punjab University, the historic core of student activism, to try to harness the unwieldy power of the students. Shortly after his arrest, Khan told reporters that student "collaborators" had betrayed him to security officials. His surprising detention indicates that the youth movement is united only by its opposition to the current regime – and little else.
"There is no greater ideology at work here that I can describe," says Hashim bin Rashid, a LUMS student leader, dressed in all black and topped off by a black headband. The students at his campus, he says, are more inspired by larger concepts of social justice.
"It's easy to turn a blind eye to everything going around you when you have a silver spoon stuck in your mouth," he says. "But we are here because we have a stake in saving this country."

Pakistan's history of student struggle

This sentiment, admits Mr. Rashid, might not be what is driving students in older, more established student groups, which have been the breeding grounds for many of Pakistan's old guard politicians. But in a country that places student activism at the center of its historical narrative of independence, student politics in any form has often been essential to carving the country's political power dynamic.
In the 1960s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto toppled military ruler Gen. Ayub Khan on the back of a seething student street movement. The early 1980s saw student groups target Gen. Zia ul-Haq's regime, prompting him to ban student unions as part of an effort to depoliticize the schools.
But 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," says Rais.
This new movement has awaked student activism after two-decades