National Students Federation

The National Students Federation (NSF) is a Left-wing students federation in Pakistan.

Its predecessor, the DSF (Democratic Students Federation), had links to the Communist Party of Pakistan. It had power base among progressive students from Dow Medical and DJ Science Colleges. It dominated student politics in Karachi, the then Federal Capital of the country. In a convention at the national level of students, held in Khaliqdina Hall, Karachi(1953), the DSF renamed itself to APSO (All Pakistan Students Organisation), laying claim to being a national movement and hoping to spread the student revolution to the whole country. Demonstrations and strikes had already paralysed the federal capital for several days. The government apparently gave in by sacrificing the federal minister of education, Mr Fazlur Rahman, hailing from the eastern wing. He was sacked from his post. It was not much of a victory for the students. APSO was banned and the leaders were thrown in Karachi Central Jail. NSF (The National Students Federation) a nationalist and right-wing group which had been propped up by the help of secret service to counter DSF's activities, was invaded practically overnight by the now banned DSF party members, who were still outside. The ex-DSFites had enough muscle and organisational skills to take over the control of NSF in 1956, thus its new "left" leaning profile emerged. Right from the start, DSF was infested with the presence of double agents/informers from the secret service.

NSF saw its first major split in 1965,between the so-called pro-China and pro-Moscow factions, better known as the NSF-Miraj Group and the NSF-Kazmi Group. While the NSF-Mairaj group supported the PPP, the NSF Kazmi group was the student arm of the National Awami Party (NAP), which today is the ANP.

NSF is active in many Pakistani universities and colleges. It played a major role in the popular student and labour uprising against the pro-US dictatorship of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in 1967 and 1968. NSF activists were among the first major supporters of future Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his populist/Socialist Pakistan Peoples Party. One of the leading leaders of NSF, Meraj Muhammad Khan, was made a minister in Bhutto's first cabinet but both NSF and Meraj fell out with the Bhutto government in 1973 when Bhutto started to compromise on his socialist agenda.

Meraj Mohammad Khan remained president of NSF till 1967 and was later replaced by Rasheed Hassan Khan (student of Dow Medical College Karachi) in a council session held in Lahore in 1970.

The following are the main reasons which contributed in withdrawing NSF support from the PPP.

1- After the PPP won the 1970 election and emerged as the single largest party in West Pakistan, it refused to acknowledge the mandate of the Awami League and their demands of greater autonomy and furthermore its policies regarding army operation in East Pakistan. The NSF and Mazdoor Kissan Party were the main left organizations who strongly opposed army operation against Bengalis.

2- Differences further deepened when the NSF realized that Bhutto was backing off from his promises of radical changes which he made to students and the working class.

3- Bhutto wanted to silence his dissidents so he cracked down on the workers and students. The breaking point between Bhutto and the NSF came when Bhutto crushed the labour movement in Site on 7–8 June and in Landhi on 17–18 October in 1972. Several workers were killed and hundreds arrested. Rasheed Hassan Khan, then a president of NSF, had to go underground.

Consequently the NSF withdrew its support from the PPP and exposed Bhutto’s hypocrisy and opportunistic politics. Miraj Mohamed khan decided to remain in the PPP. His theory was that the establishment was trying to create conflicts among the working class and the PPP. In later years due to his differences with Bhutto, Miraj Khan left the PPP. Miraj later formed Qumi Mohaz-e-Azadi and his own faction of NSF. And once, a flambount student leader like Miraj fell in to political isolation and he never regained his previous political credibility and popularity.

NSF saw a further split in 1980's when USSR invaded Afghanistan. A majority faction condemned the soviet invasion, believed that revolution can not be exported. It was said that this will provide opportunity to imperialist powers to use religious extremist to curb progressive movements.Within Afghanistan various Marxist parties and groups were also divided over the issue. The small faction headed by Zahid Hussain took the position that criticizing so called 'Afghan soor revolution' would meant to be supporting the Mujahideen and see this as support to the Army Junta and dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, playing into the hands of the USA. That gave birth to a small dissident group headed by Zahid Hussain liquidated soon and member of this faction later joined various pro soviet groups or took positions in establishment.

These splits and the state crack down on NSF helped NSF's arch rivals, the right-wing, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, gain ground in the many student union elections held in the country's campuses in the 1970s and the 1980s. Till then the NSF had been sweeping student union elections in the 1950s and 1960s. NSF was also affected by the creation of the Pakistan Peoples Party's student wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF) whose main purpose was to counter the NSF opposition to PPP in the early 1970s.

When left leaning and progressive parties were persecuted and harassed by the right-wing dictatorship of President General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, dozens of NSF activists were arrested, tortured and expelled from the campuses. NSF joined alliance of progressive student parties that included DSF, PSF and many secular nationalist student groups like Baloch Students Federation in students' union elections across the country. NSF gained significant victories in students unions elections before they were banned by General Zia-ul-Huq in 1984. When students’ union elections were banned the NSF joined hands with all student organizations against this oppression and announced 100 days of protest on campuses. Islami Jamiat Talaba and NSF were the two biggest components of this alliance of students.

NSF suffered heavily from the trend of violence once pioneered by IJT and later adopted by APMSO, and MSF which was intensified in the late 1980s and 1990s. Progressive students were banned from entering or holding their political activities on campuses. Subsequently major campuses have become no go areas for progressive students and NSF is now overshadowed by pro establishment and other regional groups like APMSO and PSF and by Islamic fundamentalist student parties such as IJT and Pakistan Muslim League's student wing, Muslim Students Federation (MSF). NSF is not strong as it used to be however its reorganising and have active units in Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Sailkot and some other cites. It has taken part in Lawyers' Movement against the dictatorship of General Pervaiz Musharraf.

NSF is now regrouping and has recently seen activities associated with re-organisation taking along some of the old comrades as well as new ones.

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