Civil society rallies to ‘reclaim’ Pakistan

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.


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