Editorial: Treating Students like Terrorists in Lahore

Earlier this week clashes once again erupted between the students of Balochistan studying at Punjab University (PU) with members of the Islamic Jamiat e Talba (IJT), the student wing of Jamaat e Islami. As per reports, the clashes started when IJT held hostage Pashtun students in Islamia College Civil Lines. In retaliation, the Pashtun students attacked an event of IJT in PU. This sparked violent clashes between both groups and Police arrived at the scene.
Police started arresting all students of Balochistan rather than going after the members of IJT who started this problem in first place. Remaining students of Balochistan who escaped arrest in PU went to Istanbul Chowk of Lahore to Protest. They were joined by students of Balochistan student in Government College (GC), Forman Christian College (FC) and other institutes. Police again raided the spot of protest and arrested all those present including the students of GC and FC who had nothing to do with the violent clashes in PU. Subsequently, the remaining students of Balochistan again went to protest outside Lahore Press Club and once again police arrested all those present.
In total, more than 190 students were arrested by Lahore Police. Majority of them belong to Balochistan. Students from Siraiki belt, Sindh and Gilgit Baltistan who expressed solidarity with students of Balochistan are also among the arrested. As per reports, 15-20 members of IJT are also under arrest but a vast majority of IJT students who attacked students of Balochistan remain untouched. The situation was further aggravated when all the arrested students were booked under Anti-Terrorism Act, the provisions which are supposed to be used for hardcore terrorists.
According to the latest reports, a majority of the arrested students are languishing in Kot Lakhpat Jail. However, there are some students whose whereabouts are unknown and they are not being traced. The arrested students also include three contributors of Balochistan Voices. Police is not allowing the family and friends of arrested Baloch students to meet them and provide medicine to the injured students.
The way Lahore Police is dealing the matter is pure fascism and strongly condemnable. Clearly, IJT is the root cause of campus clashes in PU but Police is giving them a safe route and arresting any student from Balochistan they can get their hands on. Even a Pashtun lecturer of GC, Kamil Mandukhel, has been arrested by Police along with the students.
Furthermore, there are multiple things wrong with the way Punjab government has dealt this incident where students of Balochistan are the victims. Firstly, it’s totally unfair to arrest students who were peacefully protesting on Istanbul Chowk and outside Lahore Press Club. Snatching the right of peaceful protest from citizens is undemocratic and in line with fascist tendencies. Secondly, Police arrested several students of GC, FC and other institutes who had nothing to do with the violent clashes in PU. Their only fault was that they were present at the scene of Protest. The third issue is that Police went on an arresting spree and nabbed any student of Balochistan they can get their hands on. That’s racial profiling and ethnic discrimination which is again illegal and uncivilized behavior.
Moreover, the fourth point is the registration of Anti-Terrorism case against the students. How can one justify this approach of Lahore Police? How can a minor campus clash, started by IJT, be used to book almost all students studying from Balochistan in PU as terrorists? That’s not all, the way students have been treated by the police is also unfair. A large number of students were crammed into small rooms in Police stations. They were beaten and Police prevented their friends from meeting them. This should not happen to even the hardened criminals let alone innocent students who have traveled hundreds of Kilometers away from their homes for education.
Another disturbing news is the reported cancellation of Balochistan quota in PU. Previous Vice Chancellor of PU had created an admission quota for students of Balochistan which opened the doors for many students to study in PU. Now, there are reports that new VC has canceled the quota and will only allow admission through nominations from the government of Balochistan, a limited number student admission arrangement which already exists in all universities. This step of PU administration is again draconian in nature. Rather than taking action against the hooliganism of IJT, they want to close doors of education on students of Balochistan.
Ever since this crisis has unfolded the role of Balochistan government and political parties of Balochistan has been criminal. They have not bothered to contact Punjab government and take bold steps to rescue innocent students of their province. Arrested students of Balochistan are completely at the mercy of the whims of Punjab government which is dealing the matter irrationally from the outset. Even the ultranationalist political parties have not done anything for the help of students other than issuing mere rhetorical press statements.
It goes without saying that the way Punjab government is treating students of Balochistan is grotesquely unfair. This has exposed the good governance claims of Punjab government once again where there is no respect for rule of law and democratic values. This harsh behavior of Punjab government will do nothing but even create more resentment against the large provinces among the people of Balochistan and other smaller provinces.
It’s pertinent to mention that some of the arrested students were having their final exams and their entire academic year would be wasted if PU administration does not provide them relief. Therefore, the sanity demands that Punjab government should reconsider its approach to the matter and withdraw the draconian Anti-Terrorism case against students and release them as soon as possible. Students of Balochistan responsible for any clashes in PU can be punished in proportion to the violations that they have committed.
Lastly, Punjab government should also produce some courage and take decisive action against the troublemakers IJT who are single-handedly responsible for campus violence throughout Pakistan for more than half a century.
Balochistan Voices
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Adnan Aamir is founder and Editor of Balochistan Voices. He also works as an independent journalist covering politics, economy, and development. He is Digital Security Fellow of Reporters Without Borders 2019. He has also completed Chevening South Asian Journalism fellowship from the University of Westminster in 2018.