Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photo: AFP/ PTI
An aide to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been accused of hiding a family business empire overseas. Photo: AFP / PTI

Despite Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s claims that the provincial police force in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has been “completely depoliticized,” on Thursday we observed that same police force shamelessly and violently baton-charging students of Peshawar University who were protesting peacefully against a recent semester fee increase and financial mismanagement by the university’s administration. Similar protests took place last year against a 10% rise in university’s admission fees.

Lies, lies and more lies

It is the second consecutive five-year term of Imran Khan’s political party – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as it won this year’s provincial election.

We saw Khan raising slogans during his prime-ministerial election campaign in which he pledged that if the nation would give him the chance to form the government, he would bring reforms into Pakistan’s totally crippled education system by properly allocating budgets and by bringing in a uniform system and curriculum all across the country, so that students from both rich and poor backgrounds and those acquiring education from madrassas get the same quality education.

And in fact, he had a meeting on Wednesday with a delegation of ulema (Islamic religious scholars) in the Prime Minister’s Office, where he stressed his intention to bring an end to the division of the education system into three parts – for the rich, for the poor and the madrassa system – and to work hard to improve the educational curriculum.

But what happened the very next day alarmed the entire nation (especially those who voted for Khan). The way KPK police brutalized students at Peshawar University was blatantly inhumane and against the law and all the promises made by Imran Khan.

Will Khan bring tabdeeli (change) by torturing students who use their right to peaceful protest for a very genuine demand? They are the future of Pakistan. Were those promises made merely to lure people into voting for Khan’s political party so that after coming to the power he and his ministers could enjoy the perks and luxuries of public office? His actions say so.

No one in Pakistan wants to study in substandard public universities, where many of the teachers come in just to mark their attendance in the biometric system, so that at the end of the month can enjoy hefty salaries; where no proper facilities are provided to students – no proper laboratories, and classrooms that do not have clean restrooms and clean drinking water.

It is young people’s poor financial conditions that force them to study in abysmal public schools as they cannot afford to pay for private institutions. It was you, Mr Khan, who made lofty promises of investing in human development; now that you have turned away from your own words, let me grill you more so that you and your supporters can realize how painful it is when someone inhumanely and violently beats you with a danda/lathi (truncheon), just because you try to make your voice heard to the authorities in a peaceful protest against unjustifiable fee rises.

Demands of peaceful protesters (translation):

  1. Lower tuition, hostel and exam fees by 50%.
  2. Take action against financial corruption in Peshawar University’s administration.
  3. Provide hostel facilities to all students.
  4. Stop victimization/exploitation of students in the name of security.
  5. Protect students and take strict action against those who sexually harass students and also expose them.
  6. Affiliate the Electronics Department with the Pakistan Engineering Council.
  7. Provide deserving candidates with scholarships (not on the basis of nepotism).
  8. Allow students to pay fees in installments.
  9. Provide students with bus/transport service.
  10. Provide students with public mess facilities in their hostel.

Did students violate Section 144?

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Sahukat Yousafzai when asked about the matter said that students violated Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which is why they were subjected to violence.

Let me tell you what Section 144 is, Mr Yousafzai.

“Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers district administration to issue orders in public interest that may place a ban on an activity for a specific period of time. Such a ban is enforced by the police who register cases under section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code for violations of the ban. Section 188 carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison or fine or both.”

So which public interests were violated when students protested peacefully against unjust fee increases and asked authorities to take action against administrative corruption? “Shaukat Yousafzai has forgotten that his own party attacked the parliament, PTV, violated the same Section 144 and created chaos,” said Sajid Buneri, an injured student.

Imran Khan, believe it or not, your KPK police are indeed politicized.

At least five students were injured when cops baton-charged protesters. Also 28 students have been arrested.

The protest had been announced by the Muttahida Tulaba Mahaz. It was held at the university’s Pearl Lawn, where students from the Pukhtoon Students Federation (PSF) – the student wing of Awami National Party (ANP) – Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), and Muslim Students Federation (MSF) congregated to record their opposition to the fee increase.

Peshawar University spokesman Imran Ali Bangash told media that he believed the protests were in a reaction to an operation conducted by the university administration in July during which it vacated around 300 hostel rooms occupied by students belonging to various political organizations and movements.

First of all, to support a political party is not a crime. Second, to force innocent students to vacate hostel rooms just because they have affiliation with a political party is categorically wrong and unlawful. In a democratic republic, people have the right to support a political party and it is not a crime.

“These students were trying to blackmail us [the university administration]. Two outsiders, both of whom are graduates, are leading these protests. One belongs to the IJT and the other to the PSF. Their aim is to find a way to blackmail the administration whilst using innocent students as a shield,” Bangash said.

“We gave them five hours to register their protest. We listened to them, provided them with [campus] space. We asked them to sit down [for talks]. They staged their protest and raised slogans; the media also came to cover it,” the spokesman said.

It is crystal clear that because the students who were peacefully protesting in Peshawar University had affiliations with political parties or social groupings other than PTI, they have been termed as blackmailers.

As we Pakistanis condemn the Indian Army’s atrocities against our Kashmiri brothers and sisters when they protest and demand freedom, we should also condemn the brutal behavior of KPK police against innocent students of Peshawar University when they are protesting.

What has happened and what to expect?

Since Imran Khan assumed office, his fake austerity drive has made headlines in local and international media. While on one hand he uses a helicopter to travel from the PM Secretariat to Bani Gala, a trip that cost around 128,000 rupees of taxpayers’ money, on the other we saw him showing off austerity by auctioning PM House cars and buffaloes.

Furthermore, nepotism and cronyism are at their peak in Imran Khan’s government. For example, in a move to extend the cabinet, the government has inducted the son and nephew of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as parliamentary secretaries. A notification has also been issued for induction of son Zain Qureshi and nephew Zahoor Hussain Qureshi. As per the notification, Zain has been made  parliamentary secretary on finance and Zahoor parliamentary secretary on energy.

Recently, Imran Khan issued orders to appoint one of his close aides, Zulfi Bukhari as special assistant to the prime minister on overseas Pakistanis and human-resource development. Bukhari was also given status as a minister of state. All this while Bukhari is being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with establishing offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands.

So basically in Imran Khan’s government you can expect the poor, underprivileged and less powerful to be tortured for raising their voices against corruption and injustice, while the rich and powerful will have all rights to make the rules, amend them and break them any time, anywhere, whenever, whatever. If Khan cannot protect students’ right to peaceful protest, how can we expect him to bring revolution to Pakistan’s broken and corrupt education system?

Ali Salman Andani

The writer is a journalist and economic and political analyst and columnist for Asia Times and various online and print media outlets. His analysis focuses on economic, political, social and cultural issues, especially those related to corruption, human rights violations, the global market economy, foreign policy, and environmental crises. Find him on Twitter @an_alisalman