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We are not a nation of Taliban apologists

Sambuddha Mitra Mustafii | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on February 20, 2015

Disarming the terrorist: Mohammad Jibran Nasir leads a demonstration against the Taliban in Islamabad, in a bid to ‘Reclaim Pakistan’

mohammadjibrannasir

A young Pakistani lawyer’s brave attempts to counter extremism within Pakistan



It was December 17, 2014. Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a young lawyer, was restless in Islamabad, haunted by the memory of the 145 children massacred in Peshawar’s Army Public School the day before. And that’s when Nasir took the biggest risk of his life.

The 27-year-old went to the Capital’s Lal Masjid, notorious for indoctrinating and training hundreds of young jihadists. There he lit a flying lantern in memory of the slain children, daring to show his contempt to the hardline cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, who had refused to condemn the massacre. When Nasir returned home and posted the pictures on Facebook, with the hashtag #NeverForgetPakistan, the response was overwhelming.

The next time Nasir went to Lal Masjid, scores of people accompanied him to offer funeral prayers for the slain children. They were stopped by the police from entering the mosque: and that is when the vigil turned into a protest and then into a much larger civilian movement against terrorism in Pakistan. Now the #NeverForgetPakistan protests have spread to over 25 cities in the country and across the world, from Karachi and Lahore to New York, Berlin and Perth.

Civil society members staged a 31-hour sit-in near the CM House in Islamabad and ended it with the government accepting the protesters’ demand to publicly ban activities of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).

Nasir, meanwhile, has received death threats from the Taliban and an FIR was registered against him by the ASWJ. He was arrested on February 5, but freed a day later.

Pakistan has lost thousands of lives in terrorist violence over the last decade, with some of the most high-profile targets being liberal Pakistanis like Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer, who had challenged the Taliban and other religious conservatives.

Here Nasir talks about the need to redefine the boundaries of civil activism in Pakistan. Excerpts from the interview:







Being an anti-Taliban activist in Pakistan must be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. What prompted you to take it up?

Where we are right now as a nation, at war with an enemy that lives deep inside our home, you don’t opt for jobs depending on how dangerous they are. You take up the job realising how necessary it is. At this point, one cannot stress enough the need for highlighting a counter-extremism narrative within Pakistan and within Islam.

Our faith has been hijacked, our country is being hijacked, because we as a people chose to sit quietly at the side for more than 35 years and let Zia-ul-Haq’s policies perpetuate. It’s not that the realisation to reclaim this lost space hit me after the Peshawar attack. I have been working on this narrative for over three years now, but I guess the Peshawar tragedy shook the nation and added momentum to this cause.





Has the government provided you or your colleagues security?

Various state institutions got in touch with us regarding the threats and mentioned their concerns. Some officials even unilaterally offered security. However, no security was provided, and we didn’t follow up on requests.

I expect the same security for me that I expect for the Sikhs in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, for the Christians and Ahmadis in Punjab, for the Hindus in Sindh, for the Shias and Zikris in Balochistan and for any section of the population that is targeted for its religious persuasions.

Our movement is the common man’s movement. We are redefining the boundaries of civil activism in Pakistan and we want to do it with as few resources as possible, so it can resonate with the masses in Pakistan. We want to instil the belief in every child, man and woman in Pakistan that they too can fight this war against terrorism.





Will you continue in the civil society space or move into the political space?

Pakistan is facing terrorism due to perverse politics, and the solution has to come from within political quarters. We need a sane and comprehensive counter-terrorism policy, which can only come from politicians sitting in our Parliament.

I have always been a political activist and believed in the power of the Constitution and our Parliament. I contested elections for the National and Provincial Assembly back in 2013, and stood for the exact same issues that I am advocating today. My manifesto was titled ‘Co-Existence’ and that concept, for me, is our solution. Though I believe in the power of politics, I do not see myself joining any of the existing political parties of Pakistan.





In many ways this battle is for the hearts and minds of Pakistani youth. Do you think the extremists are winning that battle now?

Never before did the Pakistani youth step forward like it has done now against the Taliban. I am not talking about political parties and their members here. I am talking about common young men and women. We got an overwhelming response to the #ArrestAbdulAziz Challenge online, where people proved they are not afraid of showing their face, saying their name and demanding action against Taliban and their supporter Abdul Aziz.

More than that, when I got the direct threat from the Taliban and people got to know about it, we had a bigger and stronger crowd in our protests, which is only testament that the tide is turning. The terrorists thrive on our fear. We are ridding ourselves of that fear. We are disarming the terrorists. We are not a nation of Taliban apologists and we will not let the world label us as one.









It was December 17, 2014. Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a young lawyer, was restless in Islamabad, haunted by the memory of the 145 children massacred in Peshawar’s Army Public School the day before. And that’s when Nasir took the biggest risk of his life.

The 27-year-old went to the Capital’s Lal Masjid, notorious for indoctrinating and training hundreds of young jihadists. There he lit a flying lantern in memory of the slain children, daring to show his contempt to the hardline cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, who had refused to condemn the massacre. When Nasir returned home and posted the pictures on Facebook, with the hashtag #NeverForgetPakistan, the response was overwhelming.

The next time Nasir went to Lal Masjid, scores of people accompanied him to offer funeral prayers for the slain children. They were stopped by the police from entering the mosque: and that is when the vigil turned into a protest and then into a much larger civilian movement against terrorism in Pakistan. Now the #NeverForgetPakistan protests have spread to over 25 cities in the country and across the world, from Karachi and Lahore to New York, Berlin and Perth.

Civil society members staged a 31-hour sit-in near the CM House in Islamabad and ended it with the government accepting the protesters’ demand to publicly ban activities of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).

Nasir, meanwhile, has received death threats from the Taliban and an FIR was registered against him by the ASWJ. He was arrested on February 5, but freed a day later.

Pakistan has lost thousands of lives in terrorist violence over the last decade, with some of the most high-profile targets being liberal Pakistanis like Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer, who had challenged the Taliban and other religious conservatives.

Here Nasir talks about the need to redefine the boundaries of civil activism in Pakistan. Excerpts from the interview:







Being an anti-Taliban activist in Pakistan must be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. What prompted you to take it up?

Where we are right now as a nation, at war with an enemy that lives deep inside our home, you don’t opt for jobs depending on how dangerous they are. You take up the job realising how necessary it is. At this point, one cannot stress enough the need for highlighting a counter-extremism narrative within Pakistan and within Islam.

Our faith has been hijacked, our country is being hijacked, because we as a people chose to sit quietly at the side for more than 35 years and let Zia-ul-Haq’s policies perpetuate. It’s not that the realisation to reclaim this lost space hit me after the Peshawar attack. I have been working on this narrative for over three years now, but I guess the Peshawar tragedy shook the nation and added momentum to this cause.





Has the government provided you or your colleagues security?

Various state institutions got in touch with us regarding the threats and mentioned their concerns. Some officials even unilaterally offered security. However, no security was provided, and we didn’t follow up on requests.

I expect the same security for me that I expect for the Sikhs in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, for the Christians and Ahmadis in Punjab, for the Hindus in Sindh, for the Shias and Zikris in Balochistan and for any section of the population that is targeted for its religious persuasions.

Our movement is the common man’s movement. We are redefining the boundaries of civil activism in Pakistan and we want to do it with as few resources as possible, so it can resonate with the masses in Pakistan. We want to instil the belief in every child, man and woman in Pakistan that they too can fight this war against terrorism.





Will you continue in the civil society space or move into the political space?

Pakistan is facing terrorism due to perverse politics, and the solution has to come from within political quarters. We need a sane and comprehensive counter-terrorism policy, which can only come from politicians sitting in our Parliament.

I have always been a political activist and believed in the power of the Constitution and our Parliament. I contested elections for the National and Provincial Assembly back in 2013, and stood for the exact same issues that I am advocating today. My manifesto was titled ‘Co-Existence’ and that concept, for me, is our solution. Though I believe in the power of politics, I do not see myself joining any of the existing political parties of Pakistan.





In many ways this battle is for the hearts and minds of Pakistani youth. Do you think the extremists are winning that battle now?

Never before did the Pakistani youth step forward like it has done now against the Taliban. I am not talking about political parties and their members here. I am talking about common young men and women. We got an overwhelming response to the #ArrestAbdulAziz Challenge online, where people proved they are not afraid of showing their face, saying their name and demanding action against Taliban and their supporter Abdul Aziz.

More than that, when I got the direct threat from the Taliban and people got to know about it, we had a bigger and stronger crowd in our protests, which is only testament that the tide is turning. The terrorists thrive on our fear. We are ridding ourselves of that fear. We are disarming the terrorists. We are not a nation of Taliban apologists and we will not let the world label us as one.







( Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi is the founder of The Political Indian)

Follow Sambuddha on Twitter @some_buddha

Published on February 20, 2015
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