Students and civil society activists in Karachi rallied against a ban on students’ unions on November 29, 2019 [File: Fareed Khan/AP]

In cities across Pakistan, students dressed in black with red motifs held placards and shouted slogans demanding the restoration of student unions and an end to sexual harassment on university campuses.

The Students Solidarity March, which took place in at least 50 locations on November 29, came in the wake of a 37 percent cut to the country’s higher education development budget in June.

But the story began much earlier, in 1984, when, unnerved by the growing student resistance to his regime, military dictator Zia ul-Haq banned student unions across the country. In more than 30 years since then, this ban has effectively

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