The Prime Minister’s recognition of the positive role of student unions in grooming sections of the youth into politically conscientious citizens is a good first step by the government in addressing the concerns of students across the country. The Minister on Human Rights and the Minister for Science and Technology have also thrown their weight behind the idea of unions, which makes the next step much easier. The parliament needs to work on drafting federal legislation on this issue; considering that voices from the opposition have also issued support for unions, garnering support across party lines might just become a little easier.

The demand for student unions is not new, nor is it one that is impossible to fulfil. The ban was implemented in a bygone era when rights and freedoms were not protected well; this cannot be the case within a democratic set-up. As the ruling party probably recognises, its effort in galvanising the youth to take part in the political process must come with providing the forum for them to express themselves in an effective manner. Student unions are a healthy way for students to voice their opinions, stand together to ensure their rights are protected and provide a necessary counter to the violence of organised groups within public higher education institutions.

Prime Minister Imran Khan mentioned a code of conduct in his tweets; the government is well-within its rights to design one for student unions, but this should only be done by bringing all stakeholders on board. Opposition parties, members of the academia, but most importantly student collectives must be allowed to engage with lawmakers to chalk out a clear strategy for the role of student unions, as both representatives of students at universities and as future leaders of the country; in the political sphere and beyond.

The government must announce a precise timeframe for what comes next; and what steps the government will take to engage with students. Every regime in Pakistan has chosen to oppose a movement rather until negotiating is the absolute last option. This cannot be the case on this occasion; this is Pakistan’s future and the government must not be hostile to a legitimate set of demands. Just how quickly the government can manage to deliver is the only question remaining.