In the course of the 74-year history of Pakistan, we see that despite having different ethnicities from the same religion, unfortunately the divisions based on religious discrepancies proved to be much more acrimonious than the divisions based on ethnicity. This is because religion has been manipulated for political and other partisan or organisational interests.
In retrospect, the Jamati Islami (JI) and its student wing Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT) have strongly emphasised religion as the only main force for unifying the people while sidelining and degrading the ethnicities and national identities. It is a historic fact that the IJT members in Thunder Squad were used by the establishment to fight against the Bengali nationalist students in universities, especially in Dhaka University. And also, after the debacle of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh, this militant organisation was used to carry out violent activities in educational institutions of West Pakistan. Though IJT and progressive student organizations rallied against the Ayub regime, the former was more concerned with opposing what they saw as secularism rather than resisting dictatorship – as they later aligned with Yahya Khan, another military dictator. Yahya backed JI financially and logistically to curb the then leftist parties Awami League in the Eastern and PPP in the Western wing.
Nourished during the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, the IJT has been using religion as a tool to inculcate extremism and fundamentalist elements in the minds of young students. The right-wing student organisation also held study circles where newcomers from rural areas, most of whom already held conventional and orthodox beliefs, were further hardened in their attitudes. Infact, IJT was the first state patronised student organization that introduced arms culture in the varsities and colleges. Nadeem F Paracha has noted that the members of IJT were seen with AK-47s during a clash in Karachi university in 1979. Today’s situation is not distinct from that era of terror and violence, when IJT use to spread fear in the campuses.
The fact remains that the IJT faces a political crisis: its strict and distorted interpretation of the peaceful religion of Islam is losing support on a number of campuses
Today, the organisation remains a source of terror due to their coercion and intimidation. Hockey sticks, cricket bats and snooker cues were made for being used while playing those games, but goons from IJT turned them into tools for injuring and wounding an innocent student, whose only crime in today’s campuses might be affiliation with an “ethnic council” or other organisation that IJT disapproves of. What is more menacing and troublesome is their atrocious and horrifying attitude and behavior.
Their recent targets were the students of International Islamic University, where the goons of IJT unleashed terror on students who were sitting in a ‘Peace March’ arranged by different ethnic councils. The absconders as usual fled the spot where five students were beaten with sticks, leaving them with severe injuries. The culprits behind every such heinous act, instead of being apprehended, roam freely and the victims lose their faith in justice being delivered to them or sometimes succumb to death due to the injuries inflicted upon them. A week before the IIUI incident the goons of IJT damaged the government property when the violent group stained the buses of Quaid e Azam University by writing slogans like “Surkhoon ki Mayat Jamiat Jamiat” which means “Death of the Leftists is Jamiat.”
Many journalist and security analysts are of the view that Pakistani varsities are used by extremist groups for potential recruits. According to them, terrorist groups have found support from student groups like IJT, which are backed by religious parties.
The fact remains that the IJT faces a political crisis: its strict and distorted interpretation of the peaceful religion of Islam is losing support on a number of campuses. The IJT’s future is uncertain due to the rise of ethnic councils which are often of a progressive orientation on many issues. Violence, the core element of the IJT agenda, is the main reason why IJT is losing popular support in universities.
In such a situation, if the organisation fails to reconsider its methods and decides on a strategy of plaguing the peaceful and diverse environment of campuses – a space where there ought to be tolerance, argument, debate, inclusiveness, and mutual harmony – then it would be fair to say that the IJT may be simply hastening its own political and organisational demise.