Lahore’s civil society is alive to the threat of extremism

LAHORE, April 4: A large number of rights activists, civil society members, lawyers, workers and students marched on The Mall here on Saturday to condemn terrorism and especially the public flogging of a girl in Swat, vowing to counter Talibanisation and urging the government to refrain from surrendering to terrorists.

Starting from the GPO crossing, the marchers carrying banners and placards raised slogans against those who they said were unleashing a reign of terror in the name of Islam. The marchers were led by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairperson Asma Jahangir who warned that the civil society would come out to topple the government if any more woman was flogged, replacing it with a ‘genuine democratic setup’.

Prominent among the protesters were IA Rehman, Hina Jilani, Dr Mehdi Hasan, Saleema Hashmi, Syed Iqbal Haider, Akmal Husain, Shahid Kardar, Shafqat Mehmood, Intizar Hussain, Jugnoo Mohsin, Samina Pirzada, Nighat Saeed, Khawar Mumtaz, Farooq Tariq, Nasreen Bhatti, Masood Ashar and Dr Sohail Zafar.

The protesters marched up to Charing Cross where they dispersed peacefully after listening to the brief speeches by their leaders.

In her speech, Ms Asma Jahangir said the civil society had to show its strength on The Mall because the rulers had surrendered to Taliban, handing over the people of Pakistan to barbarians. “We have come here to announce that women in Pakistan will not allow Taliban to terrorise them,” she said.

She said Interior Adviser Rehman Malik should see reason otherwise the women would take him to task. “They (the government) have repeatedly been asking us to refrain from taking out processions,” she said.

She said Taliban were killing people and the government and army had bowed before them and the so-called peace accord with them was tantamount to betraying the people. “Can one say Swat is peaceful when Taliban are killing people and harassing women and children there,” she asked. She also said those claiming to have imposed Sharia in Swat were hoodwinking people. “We will not allow Pakistan to become a graveyard,” she said.

Criticising the NWFP government for its stance on the flogging of Swat girl, she asked as to why it compromised with Taliban if the incident took place before the peace accord with them. And if the incident took place afterwards, which type of peace had been restored in Swat, she asked.

Ms Jahangir said the people, particularly women, would continue to challenge Taliban till elimination of the latter.

HRCP Co-chairperson Iqbal Haider said the procession reflected the collective will of the people of Pakistan to fight Taliban and terrorism. Those considering Taliban as Pakistan’s frontline defenders were living in a fool’s paradise, he said, adding they would have to change their priorities to save the country from destruction.

PPP’s Ghulam Abbas said terrorism started in Pakistan after Gen Zia killed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The retrogressive forces then took over the country and were now unleashing terror in the name of religion, he said.

Dr Mehdi Hasan said by taking out the procession the people had made it clear they would not be defeated by those indulging in terrorism in the name of Islam. The rally would encourage common people to rise against Taliban, he added.

Farooq Tariq said by taking out the rally, the people of Lahore had started their struggle against Taliban who were the stooges of America and Pakistani establishment.

Jugnoo Mohsin condemned the flogging in Swat and terrorism in Lahore, paying tribute to the policemen killed in the terrorist attack on their training school.

Yousaf Baloch from Balochistan, Sher Muhammad from Swat and Parveen Soomro from Sindh also spoke on the occasion.

CPHD: The Commission for Peace and Human Development (CPHD) has condemned the flogging of a woman in Swat and attributed it to the loss of writ of the state in the area.

Expressing grief at the incident in a statement issued here on Saturday, CPHD spokesman Waseem Anthony said the disgusting incident took place as a result of introduction of a parallel system of justice in Swat.

“What else can be expected from having peace deals with the criminals who capture police stations, destroy girls schools and create an atmosphere of insecurity?” he asked.

The spokesman criticised the new code of conduct being preached by local religious leaders through the local radio stations, contending that this would undermine the fundamental rights of the citizens and writ of the state.

He praised the Supreme Court for taking suo motu notice of the incident and expressed the hope that the government pledges to take the culprits to the task would translate into action.

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