The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Students’ protest.

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No other era in Pakistan’s history has ever boasted the same degree of intrigue, danger and public interest as we have seen today. It is due to the latter that the confusion caused by the private electronic media blackout results in incidents of benign protests or, sometimes, violent agitation. Numerous examples of such incidents have been seen recently. It is interesting to see that the government’s recent steps concerning the law and order situation has resulted in agitation by students of eminent educational institutions of Pakistan such as the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), FAST University, Lahore School of Economics (LSE), Beacon House National University (BNU), Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamia University, etc.

What has captured the imagination of critics and supporters of the emergency in Pakistan is the fact that it has been nearly 40 years since students last involved themselves or made their opinions known about the state and its workings. This is the first time since 1968 that the students, without regard for any organisational or political considerations, have stood up for their rights and their opinions. Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with the steps that the government has taken – it is only fair to state that the huge number of students (1,500 from LUMS, 300 from FAST University and hundreds of students from other educational venues) does reflect the sentiments that permeate many segments of Pakistani society. Eyewitness accounts of the LUMS protests stated that this was the first time in the history of this university that a protest was organised on campus. Originally it had been decided that the students would assemble at the campus gate and go, en masse, towards the DHA in order to have their presence felt amongst the general public. However, the posting of police at the LUMS gate forced the students to assemble at the gymnasium, located at the posterior section of the campus. The 1,500 students registered their protest peacefully and demanded that the emergency order be unconditionally reversed. In spite of the student’s peaceful demeanour, it was reported that the police broke into the campus and tried to assault some of the students. In reaction to this action, the students retreated inside the buildings and the protest broke up. Students from other universities, such as LSE and BNU, who wanted to join the LUMS students in the protest, were not allowed by the police to enter the LUMS campus and media personnel posted outside were also assaulted. Similar reports were received from other campuses and universities where similar acts against the student body were witnessed in abundance. Students of the FAST University were given a list of 50 students who were wanted by the police. “Any failure in delivering the mentioned students would have serious consequences,” promised the police authorities.

Pakistan is an extremely young country – demographically speaking. An overwhelming majority of Pakistani society consists of youth. It is they who will be the eventual successors of both the rulers as well as the ruled. It is for this purpose that the government would be well-advised to keep in mind that any society or state that fails to keep its student body, its youth, on board, is staring at bigger problems in the future. As history is witness – inappropriate and undue pressurizing of the youth can cause an oft-violent and uncontrollable backlash – one that the current situation cannot, under any circumstance, afford.

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