Dirty student politics: First university bomb opens new chapter in radicalisation

Published: December 29, 2010
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The explosion did not do as much damage as it created fear at the University of Karachi. It took place at around 1pm outside the cafeteria as some students were preparing to say their prayers. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

The explosion did not do as much damage as it created fear at the University of Karachi. It took place at around 1pm outside the cafeteria as some students were preparing to say their prayers. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: The explosion did not do as much bodily harm as it could have. But the first-ever bomb blast on a university in Karachi’s history certainly struck the fear that our campuses are being radicalised in ways that we have yet to understand.

On Tuesday, as students went back to sitting exams at the University of Karachi, a group of about one dozen Imamia Students Organisation (ISO) members prepared for midday prayers. The boys have their own spot called the ISO stand, much like other groups around campus.

“I had given the call to prayer and nothing seemed to be out of place at that time,” said Computer Science student Himayat Ali, an ISO activist. “But as soon as I knelt down to prostrate, the blast took place.” A short-branched tree in front of the prayer mats was uprooted by the force of the explosion.

At least five boys were injured, three critically, as everyone sat up in panic for miles. Mehdi Hasan, an ISO activist and 24-year-old second-year History student, was standing in the first row. “My ears are still ringing.”

Ali was worried for his critically injured 23-year-old friend Haider who had come only to sit his BSc exams. “He was standing behind me and had I not gone into prostration, it would have been me in hospital.” Haider was taken to the nearby Patel hospital by his friends. The ISO general secretary Wajid Hussain was also badly injured.

According to KU ISO unit incharge Muhammad Fayyaz, Maulana Ameer Abbas usually leads the Namaz-e-Zoharain. He was taken to Jinnah hospital, where accident and emergency chief Dr Seemin Jamali said that he was out of danger.

According to witness Hifazat Hussein, an ISO activist and final-year MA Statistics student, there was no ambulance or medical support available so he fled with the injured to a private hospital on a motorcycle.

Anger against Rangers

An angry crowd of ISO sympathisers attacked the Rangers jawans when they turned up at the scene. Slowly ambulances trickled in and two badly injured boys, Irfan and Wajid, were admitted to an ICU ward. At least three others were discharged after first aid.

Undeterred, young men recouped and offered the Zuhr prayers at the same place soon after. Student Muzaffar Rizvi made an emotional call to prayer as angry tears ran down his face. The ISO has about 300 registered members.

Students shouted slogans against the administration, demanding the elimination of people who were trying to bring a sectarian fight on to campus. How come explosives were making their way inside when no vehicles without identification stickers are allowed past by the Rangers, they said.

“Even though an entire Rangers platoon is at the university, none of them are doing their duty and people freely bring guns and now even explosives inside,” said a professor from the sociology department.

“They are getting more and more allowances and extra pay as well as living quarters,” said a student. “The university is giving them everything, so why can they not give us one thing — peace. Clashes have become part of our routine. What, are bomb blasts also going to be routine?”

The nazim of the Islami Jamiat Tulaba at the University of Karachi, Mohammad Tehseen, condemned the explosion.

Not a single person present spared the Rangers, who are vastly unpopular on campus as it is. Even the police joined in. “It was the Rangers’ failure,” said Gulshan SP Naeem Sheikh. “It could have happened because of an internal issue or some people could have wanted to create panic and fear.”

A high-ranking Rangers official at the university admitted on the condition of anonymity that security needed to be enhanced. But he blamed student unions for violence.

A Rangers spokesperson who reports to the DG said security was the primary responsibility of the university administration that has its own guards. The role of the Rangers is just to maintain law and order if a situation goes out of control. So to say that it is because of Rangers inefficiency that not only guns but explosives are slipping inside KU, is unfair and baseless.

The bomb

Investigators nearly heaved a sigh of relief; highly explosive material was used but apparently because the bomb was placed at the wrong angle, its impact area hit beyond the boys standing to pray.

DIG East Zone Shaukat Ali, CID SP Mazhar Mashwani and Special Investigation Unit chief SP Raja Omer Khattab arrived as well. The Bomb Disposal Squad also reached the site but was frustrated by so many boots on the ground. “Everyone there was trying to examine the site and collecting evidence,” complained one BDS official. “We only found ball bearings and some other parts were collected by other officials.”

According to the preliminary report, the BDS said that the blast was of a low intensity but the bombmakers had used locally-made highly explosive material weighing about 200 grammes. They had apparently used a timer device and a 1.5 foot wide and one foot deep crater was blasted into the ground.

“The culprits definitely planted the bomb to target the ISO men,” said a BDS staffer. “But fortunately, the position or angle was wrong or the person was not an expert or trained.”

Banned outfits

ISO central leader Ali Raza told The Express Tribune that he strongly suspected some anti-Shia elements inside the university. “The KU administration had already been informed about some banned outfit members,” Raza said.

Religous scholars, clerics and leaders arrived at KU as well. A delegation of Allama Abbas Kumaili, Mirza Yousuf Hussain, Maulana Sadiq, Shabbar Raza and others staged a protest and later met the administration with vice-chancellor Prof Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui.

They demanded a safe place to pray, a matter that has been pending since 1993. The high-ranking Rangers official said that he was looking into the mosque angle as the ISO had moved an application for one at the spot where the blast took place. “However, their request was opposed by a student union belonging to a religious organisation and even the university administration,” he said.

The ISO delegation also spoke to the VC and administration about the presence of banned outfit members being sheltered by some student wings. According to sources, the presence of radical group members on campus became an issue about one and a half years ago when graffiti surfaced. Then, when a student of the Political Science department was caught with banned literature, he disclosed the presence of other banned outfit members.

with additional reporting by Salman Siddiqui & Irfan Aligi

Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2010.

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