The University of Punjab turned into a battlefield, in the wee hours of Monday last, as the Islami Jamiat Taluba (IJT) locked horns with students belonging to the Pashtun Baloch Students Union (PBSU), after the latter agitated against the yearly Pioneers’ Festival organised by the IJT inside the Institute of Electrical Engineering.
The clash peaked as the students set the department room to fire. Reportedly, eight students received injuries. Later in the day, the IJT staged a sit-in outside the office of the Vice Chancellor (VC), Dr Zakria Zakir. They alleged that the Pashtun students had vandalised the festival. The clash peaked when a group of unidentified men entered the Sociology department building, wearing masks on their faces and wielding sticks, and nabbed a sixth-semester Pashtun student. They beat him on his head with sticks, and left him to die. The outraged Pashtun and Baloch students rushed to the spot but the Jamiat activists had fled the scene. The protesting students pelted stones at each other, which also damaged a police van. It took the police teargas to disperse the protestors.
The PU administration sprang into action and suspended “37 students (Pashtun, IJT, Seraiki, Baloch)” (according to the varsity spokesperson). Besides, cases of terrorism were registered against 15 named student workers and 100 unidentified students following police raids at the varsity hostels.
Meanwhile, protests continued by the two rival student groups throughout the campus. The Pashtun students called a press conference at the Lahore Press Club where they demanded security from the government instead of scholarships: “We want security, we don’t want scholarships anymore!” They also demanded that their class fellows be released as early as possible. Immediately after the presser, Mahmood Khan, Jaffar Khan, Suhail Khan, Ameer Khan, Hanbia Khan and others were arrested from outside the club.
Talking to TNS, Mahmood Khan, a Pashtun student, says from the Racecourse Police Station: “The IJT goons attacked Pashtuns, Baloch, Seraiki students and those from Gilgit-Baltistan several times before also. On March 21, 2017, they [the IJT] attacked Pashtuns’ cultural show. We were not given security. We requested the PU administration for action against the miscreants but nothing came of it, because IJT was patronised by the former VC [Zafar Moin].”
Khan also says that the members of Jamiat have been working in administration as well as other departments of the PU, so they get support in every matter.
As per Jaffar Khan, 60-odd Pashtun and Baloch students have been put behind bars where they are denied food and water. “We have to sleep on death-cold floor.”
He also reveals that around 200 students of Pashtun, Baloch and Seraiki ethnicities were arrested. “183 [students] were presented before the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) which sent them to jail on judicial remand, and granted physical remand to the remaining 13 over charges of destroying the property of the university and attacking the police vehicles.”
In their defence, the IJT spokesperson Taimoor Khan says: “We were attacked by the Pashtun, Baloch and Seraiki students at the Pioneers’ Festival. They wanted to sabotage it [the festival]. We only defended ourselves. When we protested, our 55 members were arrested.”
He also blames the police as well as the PU administration for having a soft corner for the students with ethnic backgrounds. “These students use their ‘ethnic’ card, whereas we consider them our guests. After they complete their degrees, we expect them to go back to their hometowns.”
When quizzed about the video that has gone viral on social media, in which members of Jamiat are seen torturing the Seraiki students, Khan says, “They don’t belong to Jamiat. Period.”
The bloody clash has left many a question unanswered: why has the PU administration failed to rein in the roguish elements that have caused trouble on campus for so many years? Why were the students taken to the ATC?
Ammar Ali Jan, Assistant Professor at Punjab University, regrets the fact that the masked attackers were allowed in the varsity premises. “No one knows who they were and where they had come from. If they were outsiders, then who let them in, in the first place? For all we know, they might have associations with the Taliban!”
Jan says no government has ever meant to control the Jamiat. “If any one tries to control them, the Jamiat will create a law and order situation.”
Recalling how recently three Seraiki students were abducted and tortured in the name of Islam, he says that extremism is a major problem in the varsity. However, he insists that the media is wrongly portraying the fight at Punjab University as a battle between the Pashtuns and Punjabis. “In reality, Jamiat has many Pashtun students and many Punjabi students are anti-Jamiat.”
He says that it is totally unacceptable that terrorism charges should be brought against students. “Such charges need to be dropped against everyone, whether they belong to Jamiat or other groups. Instead of being punitive, we need to question the security on campus, and ask why the voice of the majority of students is missing from any policy decisions taken there.”
Khurram Shahzad, the spokesperson of PU, says that the situation on campus has returned to normalcy. “Almost 37,000 students are enrolled in the University of Punjab, Lahore,” he says. “Around 1,500 of them hail from Balochistan; they’ve been studying here on scholarships in different disciplines. The PU provides them a fair opportunity to get education.”
Both the CM Punjab Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minster for Punjab Rana Sanaullah are said to have taken notice of the clash at the PU, and asked the VC to ensure a peaceful environment.