Why do private and state-owned campuses in Pakistan remain ideologically polarised? – by Nadeem F. Paracha

Divided they preach

A lot of young people wonder why last year Zaid Hamid was chased out from Peshawar University by the students. He had gone there to speak and spread his call for a ‘revolution’ that (not so surprisingly) was squarely based on the usual right-wing clichés about patriotism and pride. A call aimed at a generation brought up on the historical and ideological narratives manufactured by some in the military and theocratic elites.

Why then was Hamid hounded out from a state-owned university but was successful in finding a more receptive audience at private colleges and universities? The answer to this is not all that complex. The right-wing in state-owned universities and colleges in Pakistan has always been represented by the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) and Muslim Students Federation (MSF), while the progressive sides on state-owned campuses have been reflected by such student groups as National Students Federation (NSF), People’s Students Federation (PSF), Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO) and Pakhtun Students Federation (PkSF).

All these groups are largely political in orientation with controversial histories in which each played a leading role in various democratic movements but at the same time also got embroiled in some serious violence. History has not been very kind to them as far as the new generation of Pakistanis is concerned; most simply see these groups as thugs. This is also the generation that in the last 15 years has opted to join the many new privately-owned universities and colleges that do not allow conventional Pakistani student political groups to operate.

But does this mean that the private educational institutions are completely apolitical? Not exactly. The truth is that whereas politics on state-owned campuses is still a highly charged ‘Islamist/conservative vs. progressive/liberal affair between conventional student organisations, on private campuses it is being subtly and silently penetrated by some elusive socio-political groups. These groups were unsuccessful in getting a foothold on state-owned campuses, mainly due to the presence of conventional student parties there.

The target audience of these new groups are the new urban middle-class (supposedly) caught between a ‘corrupt democracy’ and politicised clergy. That’s what their analysis was as they saw the new generation open up to ‘new ideas’. These groups (at least in educational institutions) do not operate like the conventional student groups. In fact they claim to shun politics and pretend to help the students become better and more successful Muslims.

Yes, Muslims alone. This is so because the two main groups having access to private-owned campuses are both Islamic in orientation. One’s the Tableeghi Jammat and the other is the Hizb-ut-Tahrir. According to Matthew J. Nelson’s in-depth research paper on religious politics in the universities of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Tableeghi Jammat and the Tahrir have been making deep inroads into privately-owned universities and colleges for the last decade or so.

Conscious of the repulsion students demonstrated for the violence associated with the established student groups on state-owned campuses, the Tableeghi Jammat and the Tahrir slipped into private educational institutions with a more social agenda. Instead of preaching political ideology, these groups emphasise on ‘social behaviour’. For example, students are given tips on how to sound and look like better Muslims by adorning the hijab, growing a beard, replacing English/Persian words of thanks, greetings with Arabic ones, offering regular prayers, etc.

The consequences of this are not entirely apolitical because at least the Tahrir is a political organisation with an agenda to ‘unify the ummah’ (through a modern-day caliphate). It is also supposedly banned in Pakistan. Even though it was Maududi’s political Islam that was introduced into the once secular Pakistan army by Ziaul Haq, by the early 1990s the Tableeghi Jammat began having a bigger impact, turning the politics of the institution into a strange fusion of Maududi’s political Islam and the Tableeghi Jammat’s social aspirations.

Thus, the political impact of the Tahrir and the Tableeghi Jammat’s preaching in private universities and colleges sees the affected students eventually coming close to the worldview peddled by the some in the military establishment. That is why men like Zaid Hamid were so successful in finding receptive adherents in privately-owned educational institutions compared to the state-owned ones.

So there should be no surprise also in the fact that Hamid was resisted at the Peshawar University by both the liberal-left (PSF, PkSF) as well as the right (IJT), with none of them being able to relate to his establishmentarian politics dressed as revolutionary dynamism. As one Peshawar University student (a PkSF member) wrote to me after the incident: ‘People like Hamid remind us of a well-fed and stylish Islamic elite trying to behave like Mehmood Ghaznavi, while his fans, both modern and plain, are all products of Hizb ut Tahrir propaganda.’

As a consequence private and state-owned campuses remain ideologically polarised. It’s a tussle between an upstart and media-savvy socio-political conservatism that is pretending to be revolutionary (on private campuses), and the traditionally rustic politics of left and right (on state-owned campuses).

The line between the two is anything but thin.

Source: Dawn

7 responses to “Why do private and state-owned campuses in Pakistan remain ideologically polarised? – by Nadeem F. Paracha”

  1. Poor reporting by the Daily Times: A plea to Shaheed Taseer’s family – by Shahid Khakwani

    Contrary to what was reported about the PSF in Daily Times, Humza Ikram, an LUBP team member and former PSF worker, reported the following:

    The PSF protested from Gilgit to Karachi. Only reason you won’t find their voices it just becoz PSF is not in elite universities which remain dominated by pro-Imran Khan, pro-Iftikhar Chaudhry, urban FCS.

    The only protest in Lahore on Taseer’s murder I could recall was a great show by the PSF students in the Punjab University. You won’t find similar in LUMS, FAST, LSE etc.

    PSF Azad Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa managed big protests against Taseer assassination.

    The official PSF blog is full of praise for Taseer and condemnation of Qadri: http://peoplestudentfederation.blogspot.com/

    Here are some of numerous news reports on PSF Protests across the country.



  2. I object to the use of the LUMS insignia as the main image for this article. Surely there are other private institutions in Lahore (and Pakistan) which fit the description and characteristics of Paracha’s article, but please LUBP, could you stop singling out people and institutions? It’s becoming a very demotivating – and questionable – habit of yours on this otherwise essential website…

  3. @Shemrez

    LUMS burgers and pepsis are proud supporters of Imran Khan.

    LUMS survey on politics Educated youth seek mid-term elections

    By Mansoor Malik

    LAHORE, Nov 30: A majority of Pakistan’s educated youth is highly dissatisfied with the present leaders for their ‘incompetence’ and wants to get rid of them.

    A deep sense of pessimism about the national direction and dissatisfaction with the current crop of leaders has increased the demand for midterm elections among the youths, reveal findings of a survey “Voices of Pakistan”, conducted by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in 15 universities of Karachi and Lahore.

    Some 1,000 randomly selected students above 18 years of age participated in the survey that represented the dynamics of current political scenario of the country and voices the opinions of Pakistani youth on it.

    The LUMS team comprising Kashif Ali Shaikh, Junaid bin Zubair, Arsalan Anwar, Muhammad Arsalan Yaseen and Zara Farooqui conducted the survey to assess the opinion of university students as youngsters are the key players in the current Pakistani politics.

    “One thing is for sure that the perceptions and the way Pakistani youth see the country’s politics and the governance is totally different from that of those who actually cast their votes,” the surveyors find.

    Asked whether Pakistan really needed a revolution to turn around its fate, around 40 per cent of the people replied in the affirmative. Around 56 per cent believe that for a country to once again move forward, people simply need a leader with some visionary and futuristic prospect. While others feel that a real leader would never come without revolution.

    Apart from the few questions on the current government, the survey was focused on former president Pervez Musharraf, now considered a key player as a civilian in Pakistani politics as well as on international arena. He has launched his party and aspires to contest the election with a belief in his prowess to enlighten the country’s dark politics, offer hope to the despondent nation, boost the falling economy and ensure security for the citizens.

    As for the question that who could be the choice for steering the country out of the crisis, the survey results showed that only 28 per cent of the people said Pakistan needed Musharraf and around 70 per cent argued that the country needed Imran Khan as its saviour.

    The poll also suggested that the likely voters of former prime minister Nawaz Shaif were just around two per cent. Most of Musharraf’s supporters were female students who cited the retired general’s efforts for women emancipation and empowerment reason for their stance.

    Around 75 per cent of the people stressed that Musharraf should be held for judicial trial for the atrocities he committed in the form of Martial Law, Kargil issue, military coup etc.

    About Musharraf’s vision of “Enlightened Moderation” and “Moderate Islam”, around 57 per cent of the youth were found in his favour with a claim: “We don’t need stern interpretation of Islam but rather need Moderate Islam and only it can take the country forward.” About some questions on the present democratic government, more than 90 per cent of the students expressed dissatisfaction with the current leaders and their style of governance. Around 60 per cent of those surveyed feel that the country should go for midterm election so that Pakistan may get rid of these leaders.

    Analysing the survey outcome, the LUMS team says though a majority of the youngsters do not want Musharraf as Pakistan’s leader, many acknowledge his leadership qualities. The vision of enlightened moderation and Moderate Islam is appreciated by the Pakistani youth, they say.

    More than 95 per cent feel that he should take part in the political process of the country but at the same time 66 per cent of the people argue that Musharraf should undergo judicial trial. The problem that people seem to have with Musharraf is his misrule and blunders he committed like Lal Masjid issue, the judicial crisis, the Kargil episode, the military coup, they say. Still many believe he is a better option than the present lot.

    A majority of those surveyed said the country was going in a wrong direction; almost nine out of every 10 people seem hopeless.




  4. Imran Khan (PTI) at LUMS


    Around the time Imran wound up his talk, word had reached the auditorium about the imposition of emergency. In the thick of the alarming uncertainty, a senior professor from the LUMS Law department stepped forward to announce that this was indeed Martial Law, that the constitution had been suspended, a Provisional Constitutional Order promulgated and the Chief Justice sacked. The resounding jeers of the crowd made apparent their visible displeasure at the decision. Imran was quick to give a call to action, declaring that the time had arrived for ‘everyone’ to get active, especially the students. ‘Students have not played any part in this democratic movement yet; this must change, for it is your future that is at stake.’ The crowd’s response at this point was overwhelming, with the large majority of the audience vociferously expressing their support for Imran’s cause. An occurrence of such a nature, one should note, has never taken place in the annals of LUMS’s highly de-politicized history.
    As senior party leaders informed Imran that arrests warrants had been issued against him, he ended his talk with an impassioned enjoinder to the now highly animated crowd, ‘Societies are changed, not by pragmatists, but by idealists. Aim high, do not be scared of failure and never compromise on your vision.’

    PTI leader speaks about the crises in Pakistan even as emergency is imposed, right before his subsequent arrestImran Khan came to LUMS, the 3rd of November, in the backdrop of the most disconcerting political turmoil the country has seen for decades. Amidst speculation of the imposition of emergency in the country by the state, Imran was here to speak about the role of the youth in the country’s political future. Perhaps he could not have come at a more apt moment in history.


  5. LUMS professors, students charged under MPO

    LAHORE: The government on Tuesday registered FIRs against four professors and two students of the prestigious LUMS. The students and professors were charged under MPO 16 (Maintenance of Public Order). The professors charged are Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais, Dr Farhat Haq, Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (Dept of Social Sciences), and Osama Siddique (Dept of Law and Policy); the students charged are Saad and Umer. The FIR notice was delivered to the six charged, and instructed them to appear before the Defence police station house officer by Dec 6 at the latest, or face “unilateral” and “stern action”. LUMS students have been protesting against the government and have led the way in on-campus demonstrations following the imposition of emergency rule on Nov 3 and the dismissal of the Supreme Court led by former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Sources at the university, speaking to Daily Times, said that the professors and students had been charged because they exercised freedom of speech and openly criticised the government on the issue of emergency and the independence of the media and judiciary. The faculty has been promoting a culture of freedom and the vision for Pakistan being cultivated at the university does not agree with the stance of the government. staff report