On 22nd April, the Progressive Youth Alliance held its Lahore city-wide convention at Al Hamra Hall, dedicating the event to Mashal Khan. More than a hundred students from various universities across Lahore participated in the convention, and delegates from other cities’ universities were also present to address the convention. A new executive body was also elected. The atmosphere was one of anger, directed at the killing of Mashal Khan, a 23 year old journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, who was lynched after he was falsely accused of blasphemy.
The planned lynching was carried out by the hired thugs of Islamic fundamentalist student organizations Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT) and the nationalist Pushtoon Students Federation (PSF). The students of Lahore are well aware of the tactics and methods of IJT, having faced this menace at the country's largest university, the University of Punjab, among other places. With the support of university administration and state authorities, IJT have harassed and intimidated students of the university with similar tactics. Just a week before the lynching of Mashal, there was a conflict with University of Punjab students, in which IJT targeted a student-organised cultural event, assaulting the students while the police and security guards watched passively or actively supported the assailants. Despite their aggressiveness, IJT has gained no support from students across the country, forcing them to hire professional assassins and thugs, and arrange illegitimate entry to universities to carry out these repressive activities. These thugs work in cooperation with university administrations to crush any voice of dissent against rising fees and other corruption.
The convention was attended by students from Punjab University, GC University, University of Engineering and Technology, University of Lahore, University of Management and Technology, Royal College, and others. There were delegates representing students of Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad, Islamic International University Islamabad, Bahria University Islamabad, Agriculture University Faisalabad, BZ University Multan, Emerson College Multan, and Government College for Women Gujranwala, many travelling long distances from other cities to attend the convention. Several progressive writers, poets, singers, and musicians also attended, bringing enthusiasm and a determination to carry forward our struggle. The convention spanned five hours, filled with fiery speeches and bold songs, and punctuated by passionate proclamations of revolutionary slogans from the audience. Many participants were spurred to attend from seeing posters we had placed around educational institutes and prominent areas of the city prior to the convention. The poster featured a picture of Mashal Khan, accompanied by the rallying cry that “Mashal’s path is our own” and our struggle continues. Hundreds of pamphlets were also distributed among the students to spread awareness.
Messages of solidarity from students around the world were received and read out to the audience, from the Marxist Student Federation in Britain, the Marxist Student Association in the USA, Révolution in France, Fight Back in Canada, Révolution in Sweden, Rivoluzione in Italy, as well as from students in Belgium, Greece, South Africa, Spain, Brazil, and more. These messages were met with enthusiasm and thunderous applause.
The convention was opened by Zain ul Abideen, who explained the situation faced by students in Pakistan and related the planned lynching of Mashal Khan. He described how the state supports such harassment and intimidation on campuses, in order to discourage students from protesting for their rights. But, he added, the situation has now changed: the student protests after this incident have signified the birth of a new student movement in Pakistan. There have been spontaneous protests in various educational institutes across the country following the incident, condemning the state and those involved in the killing. These protests continue and students are beginning to challenge their own university administrations over various issues. But this is just the beginning, as we need to organize these movements on one platform, and the PYA is putting all its efforts into achieving this.
Zain also explained the involvement of university administration, police, district administration, university security, and other law-enforcing authorities in the murder, which was planned well in advance. The stamp of the IJT on this incident is clear from every angle: they have used these methods – falsely accusing students of blasphemy – hundreds of times, in many universities, and have consistently received the support of university administrations. But this time, due to the open rage of protesters, the attackers were identified and arrested; though it is still not certain whether they will be punished or freed through dealings with the corrupt and rotten courts of this country.
Zain also said that, due to the repression of the student movement and bans on student unions in the last three decades – since the start of the American backed “Dollar Jihad,” under the dictatorship of Zia – education has become a luxury for a select few, while millions of students from working class families are denied this basic right. This is why the PYA struggles for free education and an end to the class-based education system prevalent in this country. Finally, he affirmed that we will continue to fight until our demands are met.
The first speaker of the convention was Shay Razai, a student atUET Lahore. He highlighted the problems faced by students in his university and said that to fight for their demands, against fee hikes and other issues, students will have to unite and move forward in their struggle.
The next speaker was Mahbloos Asad, from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad. She said that the spontaneous protests after the killing of Mashal Khan show that students are ready to fight for their demands. Our aim should be to organize these scattered struggles on one platform. No political party or student organization called for protests after the killing; students had organized these protests themselves. This incident has also lifted the veil from so called progressive nationalists. The involvement of PSF clearly shows that these nationalist parties, and their student wings, have become rotten and are now simply stooges of the ruling class. This situation demands new student organizations. PYA stood out in these protests with the most radical slogans, calling for an end to state sponsorship of terrorism, demonstrating that PYA is based in correct ideas and that it is carrying forward the struggle for student rights.
Abid Hussain Abid, progressive poet and general secretary of the Progressive Writers Association, then took to the stage to congratulate the students for organizing such an event, as he had not seen such a gathering of revolutionary students in many years. He then recited his poetry, which was met with enthusiastic appreciation from the audience.
The next speaker was Suhail Rathore, from the University of Lahore. He noted that today education is one of the most profitable businesses in the country – yet, after spending millions of rupees on their degrees, youth still cannot find employment. With no hope left in the rulers of this country, we must take the struggle for our rights upon ourselves.
After this Umer Riaz, from Islamic International University Islamabad, talked about the criminal role of IJT on campuses. He explained that the presence of IJT is the result of state sponsorship and that these goons have no support base among the students. He said that the murder of Mashal clearly shows the real character of this “Islamic” organization. IJT is based on reactionary ideas which serve to support the ruling class and can only be challenged by an organization based on revolutionary ideas. He reminded us of the need to understand why the state supports such organizations: because it is in crisis and cannot provide for the basic needs of the masses. Their fear of a mass movement rising against them compels them to use such organizations to crush any dissent. But these rulers will fail in all their tactics. Despite all their repression, intimidation, and harassment of the student movement, they cannot halt the eruption of this political volcano. The protests after the killing of Mashal are just the first sparks of the stormy events to come. Umer noted that solidarity messages from students of other countries show that, even in advanced countries, students are facing serious problems and are resisting the capitalist system. He stated that the solidarity of PYA with students across the world is rooted in the internationalist ideas of Marxism, and will continue to strengthen this bond. He also related his experiences of the struggle against IJT at his university, in which a protest against the administration was attacked by IJT hands.
After this speech revolutionary songs were performed, creating an electrified atmosphere, and revolutionary slogans were proclaimed against the injustices discussed. Nasir Khan, a worker and a beautiful singer, performed a new song adapted from the revolutionary poem “I am also Mashal,” written by Paras Jan after the killing of Mashal Khan. The song instantly became popular among the students, who requested it be played again. This song also became a slogan shouted in the rally after the convention.
A number of resolutions were also passed during the convention. These included the resolution to punish all those involved in the killing of Mashal Khan with the death penalty, free education for all, an end to the class-based education system, employment for all or a universal unemployment allowance of Rs. 15,000, as well as solidarity with oppressed nationalities and support for their right to self-determination. Resolutions for solidarity with the struggles of the students of Balochistan and Kashmir were also passed.
After that Abrar Khan, from the Pushtoon Council, and Jan Muhammad, from the Sindh Council, at Punjab University took to the stage to address the gathering. They highlighted the criminal role of IJT at Punjab University and vowed to carry forward the struggle for student rights. Hamid Raza, from the student organization Students Collective, also came on stage, criticizing the position of the left in the country and their division on how they can fight against the state. He advocated that we accept that the left has failed the people of this country, and look forward for new methods to talk about rising fees and other basic issues. He also mentioned that IJT is working on welfare projects for students, something we we need to look into.
This speech was not received well by the audience, with some students challenging him from the audience. After, Alamgir, from Punjab University, was allowed to come onstage and express his views. He condemned the view that the left has failed, arguing that this convention stands as proof that the left is alive and moving forward in this country. He rebutted that, if IJT is organising welfare projects for the students, then what is the role of university administration? If IJT has to take responsibility for the moral values of students and organize events, then why are university administration receiving salaries? He argued that IJT has the full backing of the state, and that we must fight against these reactionary elements with full force. At this point, Alamgir endorsed the positions of PYA and announced his joining the platform.
The next speaker was Giand Baloch, from BZ University Multan, who was elected president of PYA Multan at a convention held in February. He highlighted the plight of Baloch students and the atrocities of military operations being carried out in Balochistan.
After that, students of PYA presented a piece of theatre highlighting the problems faced by students. The play was written comrade Safdar, a young textile worker from Faisalabad.
The next speaker of the convention was Faiza Rana, leader and office-bearer of the Professors and Lecturers Association. She criticized the curriculum currently being taught in educational institutes, arguing that it is designed to crush the creative ability of students. The role of the teacher is to encourage students to think and criticize things around them – if they are not fulfilling this responsibility, then it is up to students to bring these debates onto campuses once more.
The new executive body of PYA Lahore was also elected during the convention. Jan Sher Liaqat from GC University was elected as president, Mustaeen ur Rehman from UET as vice president, Suhail Rathore from the University of Lahore as general secretary, Faiqa from Punjab University as women’s secretary, Aneeb from Royal College as finance secretary, Faris Ali from GC University as joint secretary, Rehan Baloch from Punjab University as cultural secretary, Hameed Baloch from GC University as in charge of the study circle, and Shay Razai from UET as information secretary. The new body took oath to carry forward our struggle.
The closing remarks of the convention were given by Farhan Gohar, central chairman of PYA. He said that the system we live under has nothing to offer the youth. Using accusation of blasphemy to silence dissent is nothing new in this country: it is a familiar tool of the reactionary state, which it employs pet organizations like IJT to use. But, he stressed, we must learn from the sacrifice of Mashal and carry forward his struggle. We do not need to trade in abstract ideas but instead to organize on campus and fight for basic issues, such as fee hikes, employment, and the right to organise student unions. The Progressive Youth Alliance provides students with the revolutionary ideas of Marxism and the methods and tactics necessary to fight reactionary forces on campus. The only way forward, and the only way to avenge Mashal Khan, is socialist revolution.
After the convention, comrades sang the revolutionary song “I am also Mashal” and conducted a rally from Al Hamra Hall to Lahore Press Club. Participants throughout the rally raised revolutionary slogans, bold and outspoken, along with demands to punish the killers of Mashal Khan. Banners supporting the struggle for free education, full employment, and restoration of student unions to fight terrorism were also present at the forefront of the rally.
After the rally, the participants dispersed peacefully.
The next city-wide convention of the PYA will be held in Bahawalpur on 9th May. On 10th May, PYA Karachi will organize a public meeting in memory of Mashal Khan. Further events will be organized in various universities across the country, to carry forward the struggle for the rights of students.