Earlier this week, several students were injured when a brawl broke out at the campus of the University of Punjab. As University administration and law enforcement agencies tried to gain control over the violence, it was discovered (unsurprisingly) that members of the Islamic Jamiat-e-Taliba (IJT) were involved in the violence. Reason? Some weeks back, during Kashmir Day celebrations, certain members of the Punjab University student body (mostly pathans) shouted slogans in favour of Kashmir’s freedom (as opposed to its merger with Pakistan). And this irked the IJT, which claim to have sole dominion over what can and cannot be said about Kashmir at the University of Punjab. In response, therefore, IJT members found an occasion to perpetrate violence against students who had raise slogans in favour or Kashmir’s ‘independence’.

This is not the first time that IJT has demonstrated its proclivity for violence on university campuses. In private conversation, members of university administration narrate stories about how IJT members influence student life, oppose free speech, carry weapons on campus, distribute hate-literature, and continue to impose their intolerant views across our culture of academic learning.

In fact, about year and a half ago, intelligence and law enforcement agencies arrested students, as suspected terrorist with links to Al-Qaeda, from the campus of Punjab University in Lahore. At the time, photographs of al-Qaeda leaders, along with banned substances and ‘important’ documents, were also recovered from the hostel room of an IJT student at Punjab University. That arrest lead to the tracing of six other members of Al-Qaeda in the following week, including several who had received special jihadi training in Miramshah, having expertise in improvised explosive devices and automobile technology. The ‘handler’ (read: leader) of the group was a ‘student’ of the Punjab University, member of the IJT, living in the University hostels. Soon thereafter, two more arrests (of suspected terrorists of Al-Qaeda) were made from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), also alleged members of the student group IJT. While the IJT was quick to deny any affiliation with the suspects, the law enforcement agencies maintained that Jihadi literature, NATO jackets and explosive materials had been recovered in different raids at hostel rooms belonging to IJT members.

Who is the IJT? What is their mandate? What kind of influence do they exert over the universities and the student lives? How are they funded? How do they exert such damning influence over our university culture? And why are the university administrations so impotent in the face of IJT powers? Does the government have any responsibility to step in and fix this rot of our educational culture? Or should we simply sit quietly at the side, surrendering the hot boiling pots of academic life to a culture of violence and extremism? Can we allow our universities – the very engine of populist revolutions all across history – to turn into breeding grounds of intolerance? Or do we – all of us, individually and collectively – have a responsibility and a stake in the issue?

A brief history first: formed on 23rd December, 1947, by an initial membership of 25 students, the IJT, as a student body, had three declared objectives: 1) “to organise Students in order to serve Islam”, 2) “to produce the fondness of studying Islamic literature in students”, and 3) “to prepare students for certain field for future Islamic Society” (as quoted from the website of IJT). Benign in substance and innocuous in theory, the IJT soon grew out of these stated objectives to reach into the nefarious pulse of extremist sentiment. Having grown to a nationwide organisation by the mid-1950s, IJT’s demands expanded to include introduction of a complete ‘Islamic education system’ in all universities and colleges. In the years that followed, this demand, fueled by publication of Jamiat literature and pamphlets, started to take on issues such as opposing military cooperation with the US and peace talks with India, as well as support of religious regimes in Iran, Afghanistan and Arabia. IJT leadership, in pursuit of these ‘non-academic’ goals, started to periodically visit foreign nations, frequently with a message that was fully discordant with the stance of the State of Pakistan.

As the group developed a taste for politics and militancy, members of IJT started to actively participate in the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Simultaneously, on the domestic front, the IJT members started to use campus activities and resources to mobilise campaigns against such ‘worthy’ causes as celebration of Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, conducting “Amreeka murdabab” campaign, organisation of nationwide “Jehad Conference”, declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims, banning of New Year celebration, opposing Valentine’s day (declaring it to be “Haya Day”), supporting the ban of Youtube and several other internet websites, and forbidding progressive literature from University libraries. Their wide membership and grass-root network (in most educational institutions) naturally encouraged extremist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ud-Dawa to develop links with the militant sentiments within IJT’s student body, providing IJT with virtually unlimited sources of funding and organisation. And, from time to time, as claimed on the official website of IJT, “Government terrorists” (read: law enforcement agencies) have tried apprehending such links, but with little success.

We, as a nation, can choose to shut our eyes to this ticking time-bomb. We can continue to ignore the extremism brooding within our cathedrals of education. And wait for the day, that a generation is lost to the darkness of intolerance and violence.

Or instead, perilously, we can start to climb out of this darkness that has all but taken over our youth. We can decide, today, that while militancy continues to exist in certain dark and despotic corners of our country, we will not allow it to fester and breed in the places of our children’s education. That while we might be tentative in venturing into the turf of the extremists, we are not so impotent as to allow them to walk into our homes and schools, and hold hostage the entire project of national education through the barrel of a misguided religious philosophy.

We must open our eyes to the fact that the destiny of a nation – all through history, in each popular revolution – has been written by the students and the scholars: students overthrew the French Monarchy in the 1700s; students that trailed Jinnah and Gandhi against imperial power; students followed Khomeini to his messianic assent; students formed the foundational support of Bhutto and Mujeeb-ur-Rehman. And if today, we lose our students to an organisation of conservatism and hatred, we might forever lose the chance of turning a fresh page on the tide of violence in this country.

The official Facebook page of IJT, a part of its media cell, declares the following:

“Make your facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all other social media and evidence FOR you and not against you on the day of judgment! Even when “Write” online or “post” a pic, it is still being recorded by the angels and we shall be held accountable for everything.” (grammar mistakes, as quoted)

You better believe it, IJT. For once, we agree: you will have to answer for it. You better believe it!