Comic book creator Gauhar Aftab who has found a unique way to counter terrorism recalls his decision to choose the medium was not sudden but a result of various events in his life.
English-language script writer Aftab recalls how at the age of 12 he was approached by an extremist – his own teacher – who coerced him to leave home and join their “activities”. “I met him in 1997, back when the western world had forgotten the Taliban in Afghanistan,” said Aftab, a Knox College alumnus.
“The wave of funded violent extremism in Pakistan was entering its second decade, and children like me were told tales of conflicts where Muslims were the target of war crimes and ethnic cleansing,” he said. “The world view being peddled to children, the majority poor and illiterate, was that it was either us or them, kill or be killed.”
Fortunately, Aftab was saved by his family who soon discovered his intentions. He was locked down in his home and put under supervision of his elders.
The decision taken by the family saved the then teen’s life.
In 2001, he travelled to the United States to study at Knox College, finding out that extremists in his homeland had twisted the Islamic principles and represented the cause of jihad for their own benefits.
On his return to Pakistan, he realised that the menace of terrorism could not be resolved by bullets and bombs but it had to be fought with ideas.
Thus, Aftab wrote a comic book, Paasban: The Guardian, along with his friends. The book is remarkable for countering terrorism and is now available in over 400 schools in the country.
Writing this seminal and much-needed book was not something that Aftab had decided instantly. Rather, there were events in his life, such as the one that involved his teacher, which made him carry out this task which was indeed direly needed by the Pakistani society.
Aftab then started this project with his friends and wrote a rebuttal of terrorist ideology. “It’s a one of a kind project,” said Aftab, “and so far we’ve had great results in terms of behaviour change.”
So far, 15,000 of Paasban copies have been sold out and his team is working in tandem with the military and the government to bring about a grass-root change in the country against terrorism.
“The children we speak to have trouble coming up with reasons to reject violence or extremism, even if they know it’s what makes terrorists stronger,” Aftab said. “Once they read Paasban and discuss it among themselves, they gain an understanding of basic humanistic values, common to all religions, which create natural psychological barriers to hatred, otherisation, and the coercive use of religious concepts for dark purposes.”
Aftab’s aim is to protect young minds from going astray and getting inclined towards radicalisation.
He wants children to become guardian so that they can save others from this menace.
“Those are the ones we like to call Paasban,” said Aftab, “or true ‘Guardians’ of the world’s future.”
The article originally appeared on Knox College Website.