The Forum for International Relations Development (FIRD) held a candle light vigil in commemoration of the Pakistanis that lost their lives, majority of them children, in the recent attack on the public army school in Peshawar, Pakistan. Leaders of the Pakistani community from across England attended the vigil. Umar Mahmood welcomed the guests and speakers to the event and the vigil was hosted by FIRD Chairman, Toaha Qureshi MBE.
Key guests and speakers at the vigil included the Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad (Quaid-i-Azam Chair, University of Oxford), Dr Z U Khan, Zubair Gul (President, PMLN UK), Mushtaq Lasharie, Zareena Shamsul Hasan, Umar Mahmood, Sibghatullah Kadri QC, Dr. Hassan Rabbani (Third Secretary, PHC), Tariq Dar, Saad Mahmood, Mufti Khalid, Qari Tayyab, Afzal Akram, Shaukat Ashfaq, and Rana Khan.
Reciting verses from the Quran, Toaha Qureshi MBE said that the killing of one person is like the killing of the whole of humanity and the saving of one life is like saving the whole of humanity. There is a need to do more than just condemning of these tragedies; we need to find a way forward. We need to be united against these people. Taking the examples of the British response to terrorism, Mr Qureshi asserted that then Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that without the support Muslim community, radicalisation could not be countered. The community was empowered to work with the authorities and perhaps this is something the British government could support Pakistan with to bolster its response to terrorism. Recalling the visit from Pakistan’s then home secretary, he conveyed the message that a strong deradicalisation programme would be implemented and offered further support if necessary.
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad stressed that public support for the Taliban and other extremist groups in Pakistan is at an all time low in current times. There needs to be a wide range of counter terrorism strategies employed to deal with this menace. The civil military relationship needs to develop further so it is strengthened. Sibghatullah Kadri QC lamented over the deaths of the people of Peshawar by adjusting the famous statement “First They Came” (attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller) to Pakistan’s situation. The essence of his statement being that no matter what religion a person belongs to; everyone has a duty to stand up for injustice since we are all born humans.
Dr Robin Brooke Smith, Former Principal of Edwards College Peshawar, sent his message to be read out; stating “it is time for concerted action to build something new, and a key force in the frontline of the struggle for the soul of Pakistan will surely be education. I would like to see the formation of some sort of federation or foundation of committed and effective partners to pursue this end, maybe led by the Malala Foundation and/or the likes of FIRD. We need to think carefully about what an enlightened education looks like and what values would underpin it.” Former Bishop of Rochester and member of House of Lords, Rt Revd Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, also sent a message saying “Christmas provides a counter narrative to terrorism … shows us that it is through peace with God that we are able to bring peace to our communities, our countries and the world itself. Let us pray that this message will be heeded by all of us at this critical juncture in our national story”. The messages were read out by Afzal Akram, PPC for UKIP.
Mushtaq Lasharie said that lessons should have been learnt from the previous attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar which happened last year – had the right steps been taken then, perhaps there could have been a different outcome on this occasion. Zubair Gul said that we needed to get rid of an ideology here rather than tackling any specific people.
Dr Hassan Rabbani, representing the Pakistan High Commissioner, said that the government of Pakistan is committed to tackling extremism and militancy as well as going after the terrorists without any discrimination. He thanked FIRD for their solidarity in this time.
Tariq Dar conveyed his condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives. He requested that all communities should focus on their commonalities rather than the differences in order to stop divisions amongst people. Dr Z U Khan said that Pakistan needed help by both overseas and domestic Pakistanis – everyone should be taking on this responsibility.
Shaukat Ashfaq said that no religion has supported, preached or condoned terrorism. Tolerance is something that is lacking in today’s world and no one is willing to accept this. We need to take back our identity of being anti-extremism and accepting people.
All the guests lighted red candles shaped in the word “Pakistan” during the vigil. It was concluded by the passing of a resolution by FIRD which read as follows:
The Forum for International Relations Development (FIRD) held an emergency meeting of the leaders of Pakistani community in the UK on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 to offer condolences for the victims of terrorism at Army Public School in Peshawar, and suggest a way forward to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the country. The meeting resolved to:
- Offer unequivocal support for the initiatives undertaken by the Government and the Army in Pakistan to combat terrorism and extremism;
- Support a resolute security crackdown against outside forces operating in the country;
- Stress the immediate initiation of counter-extremism, de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programmes in the country based on lessons learned from other countries, especially the UK;
- Urge the Government of Pakistan to pursue an effective national security and counter terrorism policy that recognises the nature and gravity of the problem;
- Urge the Government of Pakistan to implement the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) without jeopardising fundamental human rights;
- Urge the Government of Pakistan to practice a zero tolerance policy against all those forces who promote hatred and intolerance in the country;
- Urge the Government of Pakistan to disallow any individual or a group from preaching and practicing violence in the name of religion, sect or ethnicity;
- Urge the Government of Pakistan not to let any proscribed organisation to register again under a new name;
- Express unwavering commitment to the Rule of Law and democratic process Pakistan; and
- Offer consistent input to the Government of Pakistan on how to tackle terrorism and extremism by holding quarterly seminars at FIRD
The vigil was attended by people from all faiths and backgrounds including students, religious scholars, researchers, community leaders, activists, businessmen, etc.