In early 80’s, when Zia had captured the throne after a coup, his loyal aides filled his ears with a notion that he ought to take few unpopular measures in order to consolidate his rule. The loyal aides put before Zia the conclusions of why Ayub Khan failed despite being so popular and having unbridled powers? In the light of those conclusions, Zia took three measures. First, he suppressed intellectuals by imposing ban on their literary activities. He was told that Awami movements in the past were made possible by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Habib Jalib through their critical writings. After banning literary activities, the intellectuals started gathering in coffee houses in Lahore and Karachi. Later, Zia shut down coffee houses as well. Second, he eliminated trade unions. He was pandered that labors still have liking for Bhutto and his PPP. Third, he banned student unions from educational campuses. Only right wing parties were allowed to operate in the campuses. This made the democratic culture in Pakistan anaemic and political structure asphyxiated.

Student unions have been serving as political nurseries to a mature democracy in Pakistan. Many of the political and democratic stalwarts emerged from student unions. These nurseries were turned barren when Zia shunned all the student unions except the right wing for his own political ambitions. He triumphed in manipulating the fragile minds of youth that democratic politics is not the answer to their miseries and hues. Resultantly, the youth distanced itself from the political system and started witnessing its functions as a mere spectator. Student unions that were once the emblem of promoting tolerance by practicing debates and dialogues, inculcating diplomacy by making alliances, assisting political parties in policy making, and learning management by managing finances and party matters; had become violent mobs when their political activities were banned. Careful statistics state that more disturbance, violence, and casualties took place on campuses after student unions were banned in 1984. Students used to spend their leisure time in political activities that refrained them from violence, had nothing much to do afterwards the ban was imposed.

One example is Islami Jamiat-e-Taliba. It emerged as a most organized student union by consecutively winning three elections in 1969, 70 and 71. After the imposition of martial law, Zia banned student unions and allowed only IJT to operate on campuses. IJT turned into a notorious organization after a ban was imposed on their political activities. It propagated phobia amongst students and staff of Punjab University, Karachi University and Peshawar University. The remnants of dictatorial rule still looms large as ban on student union elections still exists despite promises by democratic governments in parliament to lift the ban.

The youth of Pakistan feels that they are socially distracted when it comes to political understanding through political forums. Though there are many forums available for youth but they only foster leadership and debating skills whilst political and democratic upbringing still remains in oblivion. Understanding political functional dynamics is a lengthy process and it needs endurance and persistence. Debating competitions and leadership programs instill in youth the necessary skills yet these are inadequate to make a politically informed, democratically civilized, and ideologically pragmatic individual. PILDAT is one such private organization that works on youth to inculcate in them the democratic ethos but it has meagre resources to accommodate large number of youth. One recent excellent effort of PILDAT was to introduce “Young Politician Fellowship Program” for aspiring young politicians. This fellowship served as a bridge between practicing politicians and aspiring politicians to sit on each side of the table and discuss and formulate rational policies.

After the devolution of Youth Ministry in 18th Amendment, the role of youth in politics has further marginalized. Provinces have little capacity to engage youth in constructive dialogues. Youth, at large, has intentionally kept at distance from having a real experience of policy making despite the fact they have innovative ideas to resolve issues. Special Assistant to Prime Minister Mr. Usman Dar has recently announced to establish National Youth Council that will engage youth in different projects. But will it be able to engage even quarter of the total youth of Pakistan? Will it be alternative to student unions and elections?

A politically, divided country like ours, it is imperative to develop the culture of significance of vote among youth and it will achieve through political awareness. In order to involve youth in constructive politics and to develop a breed of better politicians in future, encouraging student union elections is mandatory. Moreover, such steps should be taken to involve students of madrassah as well. There is a large youth pool that study in madrassahs and no political party even JUI-F and other right wing parties ponder to devise policies for them.

As we have come out of dictatorial rule and war on terror, the incumbent government needs to revive student unions and their elections. The youth must decide their agendas by saying “Aye or Nay” rather than raising hate slogans and violence. The rhetoric that Pakistan has the largest brain drain in the form of 100 million youth shall remain a mere rhetoric if government couldn’t utilize them properly. The negative perception obscured many minds that student unions are all about brawls, sloganeering, boycotts, and violence. The statistics validate otherwise. Does PTI believes in the constitution that also states, “Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or Unions, subjected to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order or morality”?