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For Pakistani Students, a Reawakening: 'We Can't Just Sit Idle'

"The students are the most passionate force in society," he said. "It's the idealism of the young. They are the force for change. They have to come out. If you have to give sacrifices, this is the time."

After the protests at LUMS and other schools this past week, an editorial in the English-language daily Dawn declared a "new era of political excitement on campus."

"The students of these elite institutions were least expected to speak up," the editorial said.

Some students, including Samad Khurram, 21, a Harvard junior who by coincidence had returned to his home town of Islamabad this semester to engage in student activism, have started blogs offering students advice on what to do if they are tear-gassed and media contacts in case of arrest, and stressing the importance of wearing closed-toe shoes to protests.

"For so long, students were absent from Pakistan's political life. It's really significant that the students are rising up now," said Khurram, whose blog is called Emergency Telegraph. "These students are going to be leaders of Pakistan."

So far, there has been no violence during the student rallies. Some opposition leaders, including Khan, predicted that the government would lose sympathy among the general population if it cracked down on the students too harshly.

Khan said he had rallied students before, raising money for a state-of-the art cancer hospital he built and named after his mother, who died of the disease after being unable to find the right treatment in Pakistan.

During construction, Khan said, he ran out of funds and called on university students to help raise more than $25 million. The hospital, in Lahore, offers free treatment to patients who cannot afford it, particularly children. Authorities sealed it off last week as part of their bid to capture Khan.

"They created a revolution," Khan said of the students. "Stopped people on streets, asked for money. Within months, not just the money that poured in, but the exposure. They were walking, talking advertisements for the hospital.

"They were all turned into mini-me, mini-Imrans," he said, laughing and adjusting his long flowing shirt. "So it is a force in this country which I have already tapped once. . . . The young have one thing, which is passion and idealism."

Khan said he would not participate in Bhutto's march because he believes she is too deeply involved in a power-sharing deal with Musharraf. He said he would hold a separate protest on campuses in Lahore this coming week.

And many students say they will join him.

In numerous cases, students have joined the protests in defiance of their parents, who have warned them about the potential for arrests and violence.

"I've seen many students suffering from spoiled careers after indulging in politics in their student life," said Malik Aman, a father of two students in Mardan district, near the northwestern city of Peshawar, adding that he was afraid his children would clash with police. "No father wants that."

Fayaz Tahir, a former student leader who led protests against Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq during his 1977-88 rule, said that "today, the world fights a dictator so differently -- with the media, with international pressure."

"But if you add to that even a small movement on campuses," Tahir added, "well, then you will see that Musharraf will have to bow down to demands."

Special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.


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