In the heart of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, lies Lal Masjid; a state-owned mosque headed by ‘Maulana’ Abdul Aziz; a radical preacher and supporter of terrorism, whose students attempted to implement his vision through force in Islamabad, which resulted in a military operation against the mosque in 2007. What followed is history. Today, as the country and the wider world grieves for the children massacred by the Taliban in Peshawar, Abdul Aziz has called them his “brothers” and refused to condemn the barbaric attack. As he continues to spew venom on television and his sermons, the state refuses to intervene. Instead, it protects him. However, things are changing following the Peshawar attack. While the state continues to demonstrate impotence and complicity, the civil society has come forward and in an unprecedented development, it held a candlelight vigil and protest outside Lal Masjid on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Jibran Nasir, an activist, is leading the campaign, which calls for confronting Taliban supporters and apologists across the country and demands that citizens reclaim their mosques and compel clerics to condemn terrorism. His decision to confront the Lal Masjid, along with other members of civil society, has a lot to do with symbolism among other things. The protests have understandably irked militants and Taliban sympathisers, and violent sectarian organisations such as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) have begun to issue threats against peaceful citizens. On Wednesday, they took pictures of protestors to intimidate them. On Thursday, the protestors returned with greater numbers as they chanted slogans against Abdul Aziz and the Taliban despite the very real possibility of violent retaliation. This, what is unfolding in Islamabad, adequately summarises Pakistan’s dilemma. A house of worship occupied by fundamentalists and militants, the common citizens, enraged and deeply hurt over the murder of children, attempting to confront them, while the state watches, only to intervene to protect the killers.

The role of the civil administration, especially the Police, has been shameful throughout the episode. Helpless in the face of Lal Mosque and ASWJ zealots, it has registered FIRs against protestors and arrested five of them. As of now, the protestors are standing their ground outside Aabpara Police Station, refusing to budge unless the SHO registers an FIR against Abdul Aziz. The SHO is not cooperating citing “pressure from the top”. Will Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan stop siding with terrorists against citizens? Will the Prime Minister? Extremism will not be defeated unless citizens reclaim their mosques. Terrorism will not be curbed unless the state doesn’t take on terrorists residing in the capital and elsewhere in the country. The media must also stop giving airtime to Abdul Aziz and others of his ilk. They justify the massacre of our children when they are not carrying it out themselves. The people must never forget what happened, and they must rise up as Jibran has.