Opposition politician cheered by protesters before being carted away by hard-liners
Nov 15, 2007 04:30 AM Sonya Fatah SPECIAL TO THE STAR
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