November Issue 2008

By | News & Politics | Published 16 years ago

On August 26 this year, an argument between the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT) and the All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO) over the scheduling of events during students’ week at the University of Karachi, resulted in a clash between the two parties. A horrific gun battle ensued on campus, claiming the lives of three students and one university official.

The security forces deputed at the university were nowhere to be found during the clash. “Whenever a clash takes place, you never see the Rangers around. It is only after things cool down that you see them running at people with their batons,” says a student from the Arts Faculty.

A year earlier, on 13 September, 2007, armed motorcyclists threw a hand grenade into a minibus just opposite one of the gates of the university. Four students affiliated to the IJT were killed, while three other passengers were also killed and another three injured. Even the severity of this incident did not lead to the culprits being apprehended or punished.

These are not isolated cases of campus violence and official inaction at the University of Karachi. In fact, in recent years such outbreaks have become increasingly common, leading to the loss of many lives.

The university administration has tried a variety of measures to curb the violence, but none seem to have worked. Rangers were posted at the campus to supplement the university’s own security guards but, for a myriad of reasons, have failed to secure peace.

The Rangers are the only security personnel on campus allowed to carry arms. But their guns do not act as a deterrent for the miscreants, as they are aware that no Ranger is permitted to use his weapon against them. Unless ordered by the administration, the Rangers can take no initiative on their own to prevent or control clashes. Their deployment is visible only after a clash, when there is little to be done.

University security guards have been stationed at checkpoints at each of the gates to monitor the entry of vehicles and persons, but forget curtailing incidents of violence, they have not even been able to instill a sense of security in students or teachers.

The checkpoints at the gates were established to filter the traffic coming in, especially to stop the influx of outsiders who arrive at the scene of the clash to aid their fellow party members. Students say they have often witnessed a fleet of cars and motorcycles moving into the university, with boys carrying batons and iron rods. Yet they never seem to be stopped.

At present, nobody is being allowed to enter the premises of the university without displaying proper identification and stating their purpose of entry. But the most common complaint made by apolitical students and teachers alike — who have more valid a reason than any to enter the premises — is that despite the ‘stringent’ security measures, those with political affiliations are still gaining entry, while they, despite showing their cards issued by the university are being harassed.

“I am a teacher so I should be able to bring my car in, but the guards told me to turn my car around and said I should walk or take the point bus,” says an enraged teacher. Yet, a mere wave of the hand or a handshake with the guards is sufficient proof of identity for those with political affiliations.

karachi-university-2-nov08The lax security arrangements, which include letting people bring in bags without checking, also allow students and outsiders to bring in small-sized pistols or TT guns, contributing to the growing use and storage of firearms on campus. “The easiest way to bring in ammunition,” says a member of the office staff at one of the departments, “is in the backpacks students carry.”

The university, as per a Supreme Court interim order in 1992, has also forced students to sign an affidavit upon admission, promising to refrain from engaging in political activities on campus. Despite that, student political parties exist, operate and thrive on campus, proving that the affidavit is ineffectual since it is not backed by implementation. Even though the affidavit permits the university to take action, including rustication, against miscreant students, this is rarely, if ever, done.

“The procedure of inquiry into the misconduct of the student is so lengthy and confusing that the inquiry can take many weeks,” says Moonis Ahmer, chairperson of the department of international relations. And usually, before the inquiry can even be completed, the parent political parties come to the rescue of their students. Even in the rare instances when arrests have been made, the students are bailed out before any action can be taken against them, through the strong influence of the parent political parties.

The agents of chaos and violence within the university exist in the form of student political parties. Strengthened by the backing of their parent political parties and a network of contacts within the university, there is a constant tussle between the parties to dominate the affairs of the university through pressure tactics and a show of strength. Also, they know exactly how to manoeuvre round the arrangements made to restrain them.

Often, when launching some protest or the other, these political wings have disrupted classes. If teachers or students refuse to comply, they are beaten but no security personnel comes to their rescue. The display of brute force is at its worst form during clashes, which are usually the result of a verbal argument over a minor issue between two political rivals. The issue tends to escalate into a physical confrontation, with liberal use of stones, sticks (usually obtained by vandalising furniture), batons, iron rods and, at times, knives and guns.

Too many lives have already been lost in campus-related incidents, and too many lives are still at stake if concrete measures are not taken urgently to remedy this dire situation.

Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.