March 21, 2017 was a big day in the history of University of the Punjab, Lahore, in the sense that a peaceful cultural festival organized by Pushtoon students of the university was ambushed by a fanatic lot of Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT), which considers itself to be moral police of the university. The group was equipped with sticks and canes and attacked the festival in the face of heavy contingent of Police deployed over there on that day to prevent such mishappening; a lot of media channels that had come to cover that festival and apathy of administration reflective from the IJT students’ making a stall on the same cultural day beside the venue of cultural festival without taking any permission from the university administration. The script of the post-clash episode was the same like the past scuffles in the sense that university administration became active to play the role of mediator, and tried to engage the two parties to the conflict so that a solution can be figured out through amicable means. But what outstood this scuffle in its unfolding is that Pushtoon students in alliance with students from other areas of Pakistan came out to the roads, and demanded depoliticizaton of student groups in the university. Being an active participants in all these protests, I saw one common feature and that was, every time, this protest took place, Pushtoon students made an Attan, which is actually a Pushtoons cultural dance, in order to impress upon the extremist elements that they were not going to bow down, and they would protest the onslaught of canes and sticks with Attan, testifying to their conviction in peace rather than violence.
Post March 21 incident, students across Pakistan in general and Pushtoon students in particular stood in solidarity with Pushtoon students in University of the Punjab and held protests against the hooliganism of Jamiat students in universities across Pakistan. All these protests were followed by Attan. Thanks to the media coverage of March 21 incident, the day has now become a global cultural day for Attan.
Attan has become a new symbol of protest against extremism. The credit for setting this precedent goes to students of the Punjab University. In promoting Attan as symbol of protest, students of the Punjab University have set an example, from which our state and society at large should learn a lesson. And that lesson is: fight extremism proactively instead of reactively.
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan has been ripped apart by the menace of extremism, which has reflected itself in the shape of terrorism. We have lost thousands of citizens in fighting this war. Every time we are struck by this menace, the state, as is reflective from its modus operandi to cope with the menace, comes up with oppressive legislative measures in the sense that we have almost lost our civil liberties. Our cities are gradually becoming militarized. This is what one comes to know when one roams in Peshawar and has to go across a lot of military checks. For the sake of security against the menace we are battling with, it seems that the state is trying to monitor our lives more and more closely. Though such measures should be part of the strategy designed for coping with the menace of extremism, but this is totally a reactive approach which means that all our options to cope with a problem are being decided by outside forces, in other words, extremist forces.
What can be a proactive approach to curb extremism? The approach has been set by Pushtoon students of the Punjab University. Proactive approach to counter extremism means that options being relied on for coping with a problem are not solely dictated by outside environment rather they are intrinsically defined. In other words, extremists’ attempt to create a fear prompting state to be heavy-handed in its approach for the sake of security, which is a reactive approach, can be turned into a proactive approach if state, instead of getting bogged down by fear of insecurity, comes up with an approach in which its citizens fully embrace their lives. This can be made possible through holding cultural festivities, sports galas and through re-embracing all those features of our cultures that make us united. Through this approach, the state can impress upon the extremists that it is not going to bow down. Through it, a state can make a point that in the face of insecurity there are so many things that can make its citizens united. How to fight extremism proactively on the part of Pushtoon students in the university can be illustrated from the fact that, instead of believing in violence, which would have been a reactive approach, for their fight against extremism, they registered their protest in the shape of Attan and their mode of protest resonated across Pakistan, almost bringing on same page every one against IJT’s hold on campuses.
The point that I am trying to make is that, in our crusade against extremism, we, as a state and society, have become so reactive in our approach to curb this menace that, with each passing day, we are becoming militant in our approach, thus providing a conducive environment for extremism to thrive. In the precedent set by Pushtoon students to register their protest in the form of Attan against extremist tendencies, there is a lesson for the state and society about how to curb this menace in a peaceful way, and the lesson is, instead of getting daunted by the menace and solely resorting to hawkish means,to battle with extremism by re-embracing the diverse cultural fabric that this society used to enjoy prior to getting infected from extremism.