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> PILDAT Concludes Consultative Sessions on Revival of Studentsí Unions
Consultative Session
September 16, 2008


A series of consultative sessions organized by PILDAT on the topic of Revival of Studentsí Unions in Pakistan were held in three major cities of Pakistan through the month of September. These consultative sessions involved the key stakeholders in discussion such as students; students organizations; academicians; parents; political partiesí youth wings; politicians and intellectuals in Islamabad on September 4, Lahore on September 11 and Karachi on September 15, 2008. While there was a general agreement that emerged from all three sessions that students unions should be revived through an acceptable mechanism to all stakeholders, there was near unanimity that political parties or student wings of political parties should have no role or link with students unions. However, it was also pointed out that at the time when political linkages of parties with students groups were at their peak, that was a time of strong stifling of the political process in the country. Parties, therefore, resorted to using students groups as their proxies. Given that the political process has undergone a transformation and liberalisation, there are lesser reasons today for political parties to consider using students groups as their proxies. Nevertheless, personal and group ideologies of students aside, unions, as elected representative bodies of the students at campuses must not espouse or have any political linkages whatsoever.


PILDAT also presented a specially prepared Discussion Paper on the Revival of Students Unions to facilitate a focused and constructive discussion and also help the participants emphasize on key questions, critical to the revival of Studentsí Unions.


The basic aim of these consultations was to bring together a cross-section of stakeholders and generate a constructive debate on the rudiments of effective and smooth revival of studentsí unions, which has, for more than two decades, been interposed by various legal and strategic impediments thus cultivating political indifference frustration and fear in the society for the Students Unions -the sole apparatus of political grooming for the youth. The phenomenon, participants felt, has brought up a generation of apolitical youth that sees politics as a power play of the corrupt whereas it is the highest and most venerable profession of public service.


The PILDAT-organised Consultative Session on the Revival of Students Unions at Islamabad concluded that a systematic and urgent revival of Students Unions was needed. Whereas the view remained divided whether or not political parties should have any linkage with Students Unions, with most participants against any apparent or otherwise political association, it was highlighted that students, as any other citizens of Pakistan, are well within their constitutional rights to align themselves ideologically to any political party or group. However, Students Unions, as forums of leadership development, should remain away from partisan party-based politics.


Representatives from the Government and the HEC also shared that a draft bill was ready to regulate functioning of the studentsí unions currently being vetted by the Law Ministry for introduction in the Parliament. However students and other stakeholders strongly criticised the non-inclusive manner in which such an important legislation was prepared without getting on board the views of stakeholders. There was also agreement that a comprehensively debated, transparently drafted and unanimously acceptable Code of Ethics must be there for the orderly revival of Studentsí Unions. For students unions to achieve their prescribed goal of leadership development for the future, it is necessary that tolerance and acceptance of differences based on ethnic, communal and sectarian grounds are accepted as a principal in these bodies.


In the Consultative Session held at Lahore on September 11, 2008, the participants stressed that Students Unionsí manifestoes should revolve around the affairs of students alone and not partisan ideologies of political parties. However, they also acknowledged ideological inclinations and right to association and expression as a fundamental human and constitutional right and maintained that denial of ideological reference points is not only far-fetched but would also impede the organic process of political growth of the youth. Participation of women was also stressed on basis of parity while some marginal elements denounced the participation, majority believed in proportional or parity based participation on competitive terms.


The Consultative Session held at Karachi on September 15, 45%8 mainly revolved around expression of fear and scepticism by youth and academicians on the need for revival of students unions. The academicians believed that one must not hope for push button solutions and must practice tolerance for a systematic growth of students unions. Participants maintained that the process needs to remain as organic as can be, save of any legal punctuations, in order to learn and grow in a natural manner; only then can etiquette of politics be inculcated into the minds of the youth.


PILDAT is preparing a report comprising a set of recommendations based on the three consultative sessions. The completed report will be shared with the Government of Pakistan and other authorities soon.