On my May 7, 2016 we lost our comrade Khurram Zaki to a cowardly attack by Takfiri Deobandi militants. He was Pakistan’s leading rights activist, journalist and my co-editor at Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP) blog.
Zaki’s tragic martyrdom has been an incalculable loss to all progressive and peace loving Pakistanis. It’s been devastating to his family and especially his young children. His loss has also been shattering to us who had the honour to be his colleagues at LUBP, Pakistan’s alternative media aimed at promoting values of tolerance, pluralism and democracy.
Zaki was a part of LUBP since 2010 year but formally joined us as an editor in 2013. Under his leadership and direction, LUBP established itself as a powerful alternative media voice in Pakistan with a discourse that was both simple but rare, i.e., clear and vocal opposition to attacks on all persecuted groups in Pakistan. In particular, LUBP was and is the only platform that clearly and explicitly highlights the common Takfiri Deobandi identity of ALL suicide bombers and terrorists in Pakistan who operate in various names and avatars such as the Taliban (TTP), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) etc.
Zakidecided to boldly and openly challenge these terrorists and also called on senior Deobandi clergy to either clearly and unconditionally disown and condemn them or be ready to face criticism.Sadly, Deobandi clergy ignored such requests and continue to embrace ASWJ and other militant outfits.
From the very beginning to his death, Zaki refused to be pigeonholed into taking up populist causes and being an opportunist. He was a journalist, qualified IT professional and inter-faith peacescholar rolled into one.And he used all these skills and his limitless generosity for the cause of standing with the disenfranchised and the dispossessed.
Previously, writers in Pakistan’smainstream media, including a few self-proclaimed liberals, refrained from highlighting the common Deobandi ideological roots of terrorism within the South Asian context. Zaki broke that silence. Thus, instead of selective and celebrity-driven activism in 5-star hotels, he took his causes to the streetand raised his voice against theentire spectrum of faith-based violence in Pakistan. From the massacres of Christians in Lahore and Peshawar, the anti-Ahmadi violence in Punjab as well as the anti-Shia violence in Quetta, Khurram Zaki provided a clear discourse and stood in solidarity with the victims. His most challenging campaign was his bold and uncompromising stance against thesectarian hate speech by Lal Masjid’s ISIS-affiliated Deobandi cleric Abdul Aziz.
In this way, Zaki distinguished himself from the dominant ‘liberal elite’ and stood with the disenfranchised of diverse faiths (Shia, Sunni Sufi, Christian) and ethnic backgrounds.
In his own video recordings and blog posts, hestood steadfast for EVERY Pakistani and every human facing violence and oppression. Henever obfuscated his discourseand specifically identified and called out the Takfiri Deobandi monopoly onterrorism and violence in Pakistan.
Before LUBP and before Zaki, the discourse on human rights in Pakistan was riddled with false binaries and insensitive obfuscations. The systemic genocide of Shia Muslims in Pakistan was obtusely misrepresented as a “Sunni vs. Shia” or “Iran vs. Saudi proxy war” – even as those radical Deobandi terrorist groups like ASWJ / LeJ who were massacring Shias were also massacring Sunni Sufis, Barelvis, Christians, Ahmadis as well as school children, soldiers and cricketers.
Zaki was having none of this obfuscation. His activism was not limited to the air-conditioned drawing rooms of Pakistan’s urban chattering class nor was it limited to Laptop-istan. He was the perfect example of the “Street Fighting Man” described in the Rolling Stones classic. Just a year ago in 2015, he and a few other colleagues led by him peacefully stood down a hate rally by proscribed Deobandi outfit, ASWJ. The ASWJ is interlinked with Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Harkat ul Mujahideen as well as the Taliban, Jundallah and Al Qaeda.
Owing to his clear, bold and principled stance against militants, there was a tangible threat to his life. Since the last three years, there was a sustained hate campaign against him by Deobandi radicals linked to ASWJ, Lal Masjid and certain sections ofJamaat-e-Islami. Last year, this hate campaign against Zaki and LUBP was also bolstered by a fringe section of self-proclaimed liberals who could not tolerate Zaki’s bold narrative in comparison to their wishy-washy and populist inspired discourse.
Only a year ago,Takfiri Deobandi killers managed to kill Sabeen Mahmud, another rights activist in Karachi. Zaki was at the forefront in lending his shoulder to her coffin. A year later, after a sustained hate campaign directed against him, he too was martyred.
The response to Khurram Zaki’s tragic martyrdom was truly global. Almost allmainstream media outlets like CNN, BBC, Sky News and Al Jazeera highlighted the thrust of hisuniversalist campaign for human rights and his bold and articulate discourse against the Takfiri Deobandi terrorists who are at the root cause of this violence. These mainstream news outlets ensured that LUBP’s statement was not omitted from their reporting on Zaki’s death. This statement was in keeping with the spirit of hisdiscourse as well as his own published statements, videos and articles.
At LUBP, our approach has always been holistic and we seek to engage constructively with the State and its various institutions as opposed to advocating for their destruction.We feel that the selective and exclusive bashing of the Pakistani State on the issue of religious extremism is both counterproductive and acts as obfuscation. These kinds of selective analysis blind us to the actual common thread of foreign-sponsored Salafi and Deobandi violence that cuts across Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Indonesia and Bangladesh and involves not just geopolitics but also totalitarian and oppressive ideologies disguised as “reform movements”.
In the year leading up to his tragic martyrdom, LUBP, Khurram Zaki and myself were routinely threatened and slandered by radical Deobandi social media fronts linked to Jamaat-e-Islami and Sipah-e-Sahaba. Not once did the self-anointed champions of liberalism in Pakistan speak out on this public intimidation campaign against LUBP.Similarly, we wish that some of Pakistan’s jejune liberals reflect on their own uncritical role in the reinstatement of a compromised judiciary that went out of its way to release and therebyfacilitate thousands of takfiri terrorists.
While Takfiri Deobandi militants have been able to physically eliminate Khurram Zaki, as his colleague and co-editor, I herebyaffirm that they will not be able to eliminate his discourse and ideology. LUBP will continue to work not only for the Sunni-Shia unity within Islam but also for inter-faith peace between people of diverse backgrounds including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs etc. LUBP will continue to hold Takfiri Deobandi militants and their sympathisers to account for their crimes against all communities.I take this opportunity to reiterate our demand to the Government of Pakistan and seek the international community’s help in bringing Zaki’s killers to justice. In accordance with his stated will, the leaders of these proscribed hate groups (Aurangzeb Farooqi of ASWJ and Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid) must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.