As Maulana’s supporters sharpen their batons and do their military parades (with a guard of honor to Maulana), people have started asking who these bearded baton-wielders are, and what is their political ethos. Are they peace-loving students of Madrassas – trained primarily is matters of the faith – who are now being asked to present themselves as human shields for Maulana’s political ambition? Or, do some of them, have a history of (and training in) combat? Are they all members of JUI(F) or its madrassas, or does Maulana’s force also include more nefarious elements of student militancy?

Members of the government claim that, while most of Maulana’s uniform-wearing guards are members of JUI(F), there are also other (more ‘militant’) elements who have joined Maulana’s cause. Specifically, in closed circles, law enforcement agency personnel reveal that members of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), from across universities and colleges in Pakistan, have been inducted in Maulana’s baton-wielding force. And that some fraction of such IJT participants have training in combat and militancy.

After all, just a few years back, intelligence and law enforcement agencies arrested a student, suspected of links to militant organizations, from the campus of Punjab University in Lahore. From his room in the University hostel, allegedly under the control of IJT, banned substances and ‘important’ documents were also recovered. In the weeks to follow, two more suspects were arrested from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), both alleged members of the student group IJT.

Who is the IJT? What is their mandate? What kind of influence do they exert in our society, and in particular over the universities and the student lives? How are they funded? How do they exert such influence in 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? In a country already at war against the menace of religious terrorism, can we allow our student organizations to become the 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 organize 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” (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 organization by the mid-1950s, the IJT demands expanded to 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, as well as support of religious regimes in 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 government of Pakistan.

As the group developed a taste for politics and militancy, members of IJT actively started to participate (and some were killed in) the Jihad in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, on the domestic front, IJT members started to use campus activities and resources to mobilize campaigns against such ‘worthy’ causes as organization 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 widespread membership and grass-root network (in most educational institutions) naturally encouraged banned organizations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, to develop links with the militant sentiments within IJT’s student body, providing IJT with virtually unlimited sources of funding and organization. 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 factionalism and intolerance brooding within the cathedrals of our educational empires. And wait for the day, that a generation is lost to the darkness of conservatism and violence.

Or instead, courageously, we can start to climb out of this darkness that hangs over our formal education institutions. We can decide, today – nay yesterday – that while intolerance and extremism exists in certain dark and despot corners of our country (even as we fight a war against it), that we will not allow it to fester and breed in education seminaries and institutions. That we are not so impotent as to allow extremists fester our schools, and hold hostage the entire project of national education through the barrel of a misguided religious philosophy. We can open our eyes to the fact that the destiny of our nation – that the destiny of all nations, throughout history, in each popular revolution – has been written by the students and the scholars: students overthrew the French Monarchy in the 1700s; it was the university and college students that trailed Jinnah and Gandhi against imperial power; it was students who followed Khomeini to his messianic assent; it was students who formed the foundational support of Bhutto and Mujeeb-ur-Rehman. And if we, today, lose our students to an organization 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!