Civil society members, political parties’ workers and residents of the twin cities gathered at various places across the capital to mark 30 days after the brutal killing of schoolchildren in Peshawar last month.
People from all walks of life reiterated their resolve to fight extremism and terrorism, and placed over a hundred coffins at Aabpara Chowk as a symbolic reminder of the horror witnessed on December 16 in Peshawar.
The participants at Aabpara — who remained present at the site for over three hours — left behind the coffins, which also symbolically included those of other Pakistanis including former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, former minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian couple burnt alive over blasphemy charges in Kot Radha Kishan, Aitizaz Hassan of Hangu, 66 polio workers killed in the line of duty and all others who fell victims to religious extremism.
“We hope state authorities will come and collect [these coffins] with respect. We also hope they will do justice to these victims,” announced Jibran Nasir, the rights activist who initiated a campaign titled ‘reclaim your mosques – arrest Abdul Aziz’ following the Lal Masjid cleric’s refusal to unconditionally condemn the Peshawar massacre.
Representatives of trade unions, political parties, students of various universities, members of Christian, Ahmadi and Hazara communities, lady health workers, railway union, rights activists and the PIMS Joint Action Committee also participated in the event.
Referring to an army colonel’s killing during the Red Mosque siege in 2007, Nasir appealed to the army chief and DG ISPR to ‘not let SSG Lt Col Haroonul Islam’s sacrifice go in vain’.
Suleman, the six-year-old son of the slain Kasur Christian couple, also joined the gathering along with his grandfather.
The participants not only remembered the Peshawar school victims in their speeches but also paid special tributes to polio workers who died performing their duties across the country, as well as the Hazaras who have been constantly facing persecution in Quetta.
The participants also called for appropriate legislation to remove disparity in terms of basic fundamental rights to different groups on the basis of their religious beliefs.
“This time around, we need a strong counter terrorism narrative. This is the time to reclaim not only our mosques but the lost diversity and colours of our society,” said Rubab Mehdi, chairperson International Human Rights Association.
Dr Changaiz of Progressive Youth Alliance said it’s high time to loudly name all the sympathizers and supporters of terrorists sitting in the ranks of politicians and military.
A representative of the Ahmadi community, speaking on the occasion, called upon the state to end its biased policies against the community.
Shan Taseer, son of slain governor Salman Taseer, said the government gave a 20-point agenda under the National Action Plan. “The nation is awaiting practical implementation of the first point of the agenda. Sentimental statements will not serve the purpose anymore,” said Taseer.
He added that the biggest supporter of terrorists, Maulana Abdul Aziz, has openly been preaching hatred without fear of authorities.
A collective prayer was also offered at the end where Nasir announced to move the Islamabad High Court soon against the capital administration for not taking action against Aziz who has been acting as the chief cleric of Lal Masjid without any legal authority.
A group of street theatre artists also performed on the occasion, while singer Arieb Azhar recited Faiz’s poem Bol ke lab azaad haen tere.
Call for Aziz’s arrest
Demonstrators who had gathered outside the Parliament included some whose purpose to protest was to demand an immediate arrest of Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz.
Rights activists held lit candles during a vigil for the schoolchildren and teachers killed in the December 16 attack.
While praising the fact that the country was on the same page following the brutal assault, activists could not hold back their sentiments against the government when Information Minister Pervez Rasheed began to address them.
People shouted slogans against Abdul Aziz, demanding his ‘instant’ arrest and forced the minister to cut short his speech and eventually leave the venue.
In his address, Rasheed, while condemning the Peshawar attack, said whoever became a victim of terrorism in the entire world was part of humanity, adding that the government was marching in the direction where the nation wanted it to move.
His assurance that ‘Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan will return’ faded into the hue and cry of people shouting slogans against ‘terrorists, their sympathizers, Aziz and the ruling party’.
In the next few minutes, protesters divided into two factions after which several others began to leave but those left reorganised themselves and continued the vigil.
Earlier, activist Marvi Sirmed said residents and political parties were united against extremism as ‘Team Pakistan’ and would not let terrorists go scot-free. “We are here to remember [the attack] and will continue organising such events after every 30 days,” she said.
While expressing solidarity with the Peshawar attack victims, child speakers wearing school uniforms challenged terrorists while shouting slogans against their inhumane actions. “We are not afraid of you,” said one child while another stated “We will fight against terrorists by getting more and more education.”
Others said the sacrifice [of Peshawar] lifted the nation’s morale and it was ‘our responsibility to give them back schools and education’.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2015.