NOTE: This is the first blog post I’ve done since Feb 21, 2015. That day a beloved, courageous and wise childhood friend lost her fight to cancer. I dedicate this post to Poppy, Shayan Afzal Khan, always so incredibly supportive, bold and outspoken for the liberal, progressive, secular Pakistan she believed in. She was there at the first Global Vigil in London in January. “A defiant figure in bright red lipstick and a yellow bobble hat, she yelled anti-Taliban slogans,” as Moni Mohsin wrote. Miss you and love you forever. We will keep the torch alive and see your dream come true, Inshallah.
Since the barbaric massacre of school children and teachers in Peshawar on 16 December, 2014, Pakistanis in the country and abroad have been converging for monthly global protest vigil around the 16th of every month. The third Global Vigil is taking place in several cities on Sunday 15th and on Monday 16th March in the following cities we know of so far:
Houston: Sunday 15th March – 2.30pm – Mezban restaurant and Caterers
Detroit: Sunday 15th March – 4pm – Heritage Park
Boston: Sunday 15th March – 4pm – Harvard Square
London: Sunday 15th March – 3pm– Pakistan High Commission
Washington DC: Sunday 15th March – 6pm – Dupont Circle
Jhelum: Monday 16th March – 6pm- Major Akram Shaheed Park
Karachi – Monday 16th March – 6pm – Gurumandir, in front of Blue Ribbon Bakery
Lahore: Monday 16th March – 4pm – Charing Cross Mall Road; also 5.30 pm at Liberty Roundabout
Abbottabad: Monday 16th March – 4pm – Press Club
Islamabad: Monday 16th March – 5pm – Press Club
Also see this Statement of Pakistanis against terrorism: Minimum common agenda against violence in the name of religion, that I and others have signed including activists, teachers, lawyers and other professionals as well as students. Prominent signatories so far include: Asma Jahangir, Anis Haroon, Mohammad Jibran Nasir, Mohsin Sayeed, Nazeeha Syed Ali, Raza Rumi, Shaan Taseer, Zakia Sarwar, Zahid Ebrahim to name a few.
On March 13, civil society representatives in Lahore held a press conference. After the attack at Peshawar APS, they said, the establishment was finally forced to sit with the politicians “and at least appear as if it was committed to resolving the terrorism riddle”. This was followed by a list of “fancy broad-brush promises of doing what was needed. At the twilight of 2014, this list of promises was issued as the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism. A constitutional amendment was hurriedly passed in the Parliament to give way to the Army to lead the process of justice with Military Courts.”
Civil society will hold a vigil on the 16th of every month in protest against the attack. While committed to stand with the state at this important juncture, there is also concern over the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) reportedly having diluted the National Action Plan (NAP) by deleting three important points from the original 20-point NAP:
1. Constitute action against proscribed organizations;
2. Regulation and Registration of Madrassas;
3. Repatriation of Afghan refugees.
Civil society organization representatives, human rights activists and representatives of several public interest organizations strongly condemned the unilateral and undemocratic dilution and undermining of NAP. In the absence of any action against the deadly terrorist organizations already proscribed by the government and without registration of madrassas, any pretense of countering terrorism would be a mere cosmetic.
The government has not moved forward on registration and regularization of religious seminaries even after losing an estimated 50,000 innocent lives of its people, says the press statement. Civil society demands the formulation of a systematic roadmap to carry out a scrutiny of all madrassas regarding their engagement with militant activities, sources of funding, background of the teachers and syllabi.
“Moreover, if Madrassas are, as claimed by religious forces, contributing to filling the education void for the downtrodden segments of society that does not afford or have any access to modern education, all these madrassas should come under the Ministry of Education rather than that of Auqaf.
“Civil society raised concerns on the way ‘hate speech’ was being interpreted by the government by apprehending random people for using loudspeakers, while those openly spewing venom against the Shia and the Ahmadi citizens. We demand strict action against this open and public hate speech.
“Civil society called for activation and affectivity of NACTA as well as urgent reforms to improve criminal justice system. Civil society also demand a Judicial Commission to investigate the negligence and security lapse that resulted in the tragedy of Army Public School in Peshawar last year.”
Pakistan has been in a state of war for decades, says the statement. However, “high authorities and champions of multiple committees that are established to ensure security and safeguard its people are merely talking about war on terror”.
Civil Society representatives said they would continue to monitor the state’s implementation of NAP and will give it a score card every month. “On a scale of 1 to 10, the state of Pakistan gets the score of 1 (least) for this month based on its dismal performance on every point under NAP and for removing three most important points from it.”
Participants included Irfan Mufti, Shabnam Rashid, Naeema Malik, Taimur Rehman, Suleman Abid, Farooq Tariq, Sajjad Anwar Mansoori and Shazia Shaheen. They concluded with the announcement that they will gather again at 4 p.m. on March 16, at Charing Cross, The Mall.