Civil society rallies to 'reclaim' Pakistan

Published: January 17, 2015
A protester carries a placard during a protest by civil society activists in Islamabad featuring pictures of students who died in the Peshawar school attack. PHOTO: AFP

A protester carries a placard during a protest by civil society activists in Islamabad featuring pictures of students who died in the Peshawar school attack. PHOTO: AFP

A protester carries a placard during a protest by civil society activists in Islamabad featuring pictures of students who died in the Peshawar school attack. PHOTO: AFP Muhammad Jibran Nasir, a 27-year-old lawyer who has played a key role in organising demonstrations, speaks to civil society activists in Islamabad on January 16, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: One month on from a Taliban school massacre in Peshawar that left 150 dead, a new movement is growing among marginalised urban liberals rallying to “Reclaim Pakistan” from violent extremism.

Carrying placards and candles, their stand against religious fanaticism is an unusual sight in a country more used to mass demonstrations by extremist groups filled with chants against the West or India.

Muhammad Jibran Nasir, a 27-year-old lawyer who has played a key role in organising demonstrations, said he and others felt they could no longer stand by following the brutal killings of schoolchildren in the country’s northwest on December 16.

“I never felt so overwhelmed. I felt pathetic as a human being, as a Muslim, as a Pakistani. I felt very, very small,” he said.

While Pakistan’s military has been engaged in heavy offensives in the country’s tribal areas, progressive critics believe the state — including both the army and political parties — must do more to tackle those Islamist groups that have traditionally received official backing.

In an effort to highlight the discrepancy, Nasir, who happened to be visiting Islamabad at the time of the Peshawar assault, led like-minded activists to protest outside the radical Red Mosque, whose imam is known for his pro-Taliban views and who has refused to condemn the attack on the school.

Maulana Abdul Aziz led an armed insurrection against the military in 2007, but was acquitted of all charges against him by 2013 in a case which analysts say highlights weaknesses in Pakistan’s judicial system and sympathies for militants among parts of the security establishment.

The “Reclaim” movement’s first small victory was the re-opening of an investigation against Aziz, said Nasir.

“There’s an arrest warrant out, police say they are doing their own investigation,” he told AFP, adding he was hopeful that more pressure could result in firm action.

He now says he has been threatened not just by Aziz but by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban over the phone. But, as someone who considers himself an observant Muslim, he felt he could no longer see his faith hijacked.

AUDIO: Lal Masjid protesters receive threats from Taliban 

“I’ve got some views on my religion, I read on it, I research on it to an extent. I can’t seem to reconcile the preachings of my Imam and the teachings of the Holy Quran,” he says.

The movement has spread over social media, particularly Facebook, with like-minded groups in the major cities of Lahore and Karachi coordinating their protests and condemning local militant groups that operate in those areas.

Analysts believe some militant groups receive backing from the state because they can be used as assets by Pakistan to exert influence in India and Afghanistan — a strategy which progressives are keen to see ended.

“We are basically people who are concerned for our own humanity. If we do not take some kind of stance we may very well stay alive but we lose our own humanity by being lazy. It makes us complicit,” said 36-year-old Taimur Khan, an entrepreneur who is part of the Reclaim movement in Islamabad.

Progressives remain a relatively small minority, confined to the educated upper and middle-classes — a fact bemoaned by Nasir.
He contrasted the crowds of hundreds at Reclaim rallies with the estimated 1.6 million Parisians who took to the streets to condemn the deadly attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

“Pakistan is desensitised. But in Paris, millions came out. That has made those 12 lives the centre of attention for the entire world,” he said.

“We have lost 55,000 people to terrorism but we struggle to justify our case to the world that we are doing enough to curb terrorism.”

But he also sees hope for a broader coalition involving the working class. On January 16, exactly one month after the attack, the Reclaim movement held its biggest events to date across Pakistan’s major cities.
The few thousand people who turned out included female polio workers who have come under attack by the Taliban, relatives of fallen soldiers, and the father and child of a female Christian bonded labourer who was burnt to death for allegedly committing blasphemy along with her mother.

In Islamabad, protesters laid out symbolic coffins carrying the names of each of the children who died in Peshawar.

Sundas Hoorain, a 29-year-old lawyer from Lahore, said the event could prove a turning point.

“More and more people are joining in because they agree with us. The narrative now resonates beyond the elites… People are saying ‘When you attack children, that’s it’,” she said.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • HZ
    Jan 17, 2015 - 11:57AM

    Until people like Jibran Nisar are alive hope shall remain alive as well. Hats off to him!


  • Karachiwala
    Jan 17, 2015 - 12:04PM

    kudos to you all, who are now standing up.
    i wish iwas there to support you guys.
    this must be stopped!
    55,000 might take a breath to say…but its
    fifty five thousand lifes god dammit.
    fifty five thousand innocent lifes!


  • ali
    Jan 17, 2015 - 12:10PM

    These are the brave people whose conscience is alive and they have taken the first step. They should also teach the same courage to the rest of Pakistanis who are coward, submissive and hypocrites.


  • Parvez
    Jan 17, 2015 - 12:59PM

    An active civil society is the answer to forcing this inept, corrupt government into doing what is right.


  • vaqas
    Jan 17, 2015 - 2:03PM

    I have been put to shame by people like jibran and his fellows who had the guts and the moral strength to stand up against these hooligans who call themselves the army of Islam and also their sympathizers. May I find the courage to stand up for what’s right just as jibran has showed us. Let’s reclaim our country from fanaticism and religious terrorists.


  • Bewildered
    Jan 17, 2015 - 2:16PM

    A bit late, but it is never too late to do the right thing. I fully support their (true) ‘Jihad’ against jahil Mullahs and bigoted barbarians.


  • raider
    Jan 17, 2015 - 5:43PM

    why are they going to conduct rallies, they should go to parliamnt and to judciary for soultion,


  • Siraj Ahmed
    Jan 17, 2015 - 5:59PM

    Civil Society and PTI are the one’s who will bring change in Pakistan. Please let us mobilise and change Pakistan.
    Its in our interest to support people like Jibran Nisar and Imran Khan now.


  • Javid
    Jan 17, 2015 - 6:40PM

    Stand up now. Together we may yet save Pakistan.


  • Toba Alu
    Jan 17, 2015 - 6:49PM

    kudoz, change can only come from within your own society, your own hearts and minds.


  • rohit950723
    Jan 17, 2015 - 9:01PM

    Pakistan needs thousands of Jibran Nisar…


  • Rizwan
    Jan 18, 2015 - 5:48AM

    Thanks to Jibran who has shown that there is a silent majority in Pakistan that do not support mullahs. Recommend

  • Sid
    Jan 18, 2015 - 7:48AM

    Finally, the majority Pakistanis are finding voice against extremist few. Good luck Pakistan. Khuda Hafiz for your journey to freedom from these barbarians.


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