Pakistan’s first military dictator General Ayub Khan planned to celebrate 1968 as decade of development. This was his tenth year in power marked by rapid industrial development financed by lavish American Aid. During these ten years Pakistan emerged as a shining example of take off for third world economies with high rate of economic growth, urbanization, export earning and import substitution. However, this growth was accompanied by rural-urban, regional and class inequalities. The architect of Pakistan’s economic planning Dr. Mahbub ul Haq was so dismayed with the results of his own growth strategy offinancing growth by creating income inequalities- that half way through this decade of development he accused 20 families of accumulating national wealth in their hands. It is then that Habib Jalib wrote his famous poem Bees Gharane Hein Abad aur Karoron Hei Nashad.
I was a high school student and I personally heard Habib Jalib singing that poem in Qasim Bagh stadium Multan during Mohtrma Fatima Jinnah’s election campaign. Mohtarma made a very powerful and defiant speech. For the first time in my life I heard someone saying before a large gathering “ Ayub Khan tum ghddaar hey, ghaddaar hey”. End of Ayub Khan’s dictatorship, usurpation of national wealth by 20 families and “humiliation” Of Pakistan in Tashkent became the rallying cry of the mass movement against his rule in 1968. Mass demonstrations and marches of students, workers, lawyers, journalists ,religious leaders and opposition political parties started in big urban centre of Dhaka, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi and spread to small towns and rural areas. Protesters were calling for repeal of Press Ordinance, University Ordinance, Basic Democracy and a host of black laws and discriminatory economic policies. All the political parties; left, right and centre were united in their struggle to overthrow Ayub Khan’s rule.
These mass demonstrations eventually dislodged Ayub Khan. Students were a very important part of this movement as many students lost their lives during protest marches and fueled anger and sense of vengeance against brutality of Ayub’s regime. Soon after the fall of Ayub Khan the honey moon period between left and right wing students struggling for democratic rule came to an end. Students played a very important role in the opposition politics because it was very easy to inspire, motivate and mobilize them for mass protests given the relative inexperience and weak mass following of opposition parties. Democratic opposition included nationalist, socialist and religious parties and their student wings as well as their allies among writers, journalists, trade unions, and urban and rural poor. Since Communist Party was banned in Pakistan in 1954 after the trial of communist leaders for hatching a conspiracy to overthrow the governmentby military take over; Pakistani communists carried out their organizational and political work through democratic and nationalist parties, trade unions, writers, journalists, students, lawyers and farmer organizations. These outfits were called Open Front of the “mother party” and clandestine communist groups were considered the “core groups”; these groups assumed the role of recruiting party cadre, providing them ideological education, carrying out class analysis, designing political strategy and providing party line to Open Fronts to carry out resistance under changing political circumstances.
During this time of turbulence I enrolled as a student of B.A. honours (economics) at Punjab University. The Honours Programme had started one year earlier and young students enrolled in the programme actively participated in mass protests. Soon after we joined the classes, university was closed for indefinite period. When the classes resumed various left wing groups started initial contacts to form left wing student organizations. My major was economics but in my economics, English and statistics classes I interacted with students from other departments. In one of these joint classes I met Shuja ul Haq and we became very close friends due to our common interest in poetry and literature, and an inclination to laugh loudly on absurdities of life including our own absurdities. Shuja introduced me to Arif Raja and Manzur Ejaz and we started talking of revolutionary politics. These initial conversations got mixed response from different students. Shuja and I initially had pangs of guilt on getting involved because we thought that our parents had sent us to Lahore to study not to indulge in politics. Finally, our idealism overcame our middle class guilt and we decided to become part of the effort.
Professor Aziz ud Din’s younger brother Tariq was also an economics major and we soon became good friends. When I tried to ‘recruit’ him he did not show much interest. He told me that his brother had once asked him “ If he considered himself to be one of those who lived for themselves or those who lived for others”; his reply was tart and simple; he did not belong to either of those categories. But there were many whose eyes would twinkle on listening about a utopia where everyone would be equal to everyone else. We soon got a sizable group interested. We therefore planned to call a meeting to discuss the formation of a revolutionary student organization. Our thinking was that nationalism would be much closer to the hearts of many students than socialism and we should therefore strive for connecting to their nationalist aspirations as a strategy for organization building. That is how the name Nationalist Students Organizations was selected as one of the proposed names for the new organizations.