Social, political, human rights activists and civil society members gathered outside the Karachi Press Club on Friday, June 2, 2023 to demanded the immediate and safe release of Advocate Jibran Nasir.

Jibran Nasir's homecoming

His bravery and values came to his rescue at a time when even the much more privileged were unable to evade crackdowns

Raza Habib Raja June 05, 2023

I found out through a video message, forwarded by a friend who ironically supports Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), about the abduction of Jibran Nasir. In the forwarded video, Nasir’s wife Mansha Pasha informed about her husband’s arrest. The thing which struck me was that despite having witnessed her husband abducted at gunpoint merely half an hour ago, she was remarkably calm. She ended the video message by appealing to all to pray and raise their voice for his release.

I was shocked beyond belief. While in recent times, and particularly after the May 9th incidents, the state has retaliated by abducting some key media persons rumoured to be sympathetic to the PTI as well as its high-profile party members, but I was not expecting a person like Nasir to be abducted. While extrajudicial abductions are always condemnable, some hit you harder than others. Those who have been abducted in this manner in the past few days have a very different profile than Nasir. They support PTI and are also involved in inciting violence against the state, something which Nasir is not accused of.

Moreover, some individuals like Sami Ibrahim and Imran Riaz Khan ironically used to cheer when the same kind of extrajudicial abductions during PTI’s tenure. Their abductions, though condemnable (as no one should be subjected to such a fate), could not evoke much sympathy in me. For me, they were now victims of the practice they had themselves cheered and encouraged, and while I still condemned their abductions but just could not feel the kind of emotion I was feeling at Nasir’s disappearance. Moreover, such individuals had instigated a violent protest which now everyone knows was, in fact, a coup attempt aiming to sow divisions within the armed forces. No state in the world would tolerate such misdeeds, and therefore, at least for me, the extrajudicial steps taken in the aftermaths of the May 9th riots, while condemnable, could still be understood in that context.

But then, I am not as good of a person as Jibran Nasir is. Compared to an armchair activist like me, he is not only braver but far more consistent. I recall the first time I heard about him. It was way back in 2015, and the infamous Lal Masjid clerk Abdul Aziz Ghazi was once again trying to assert his presence. Nasir, at that time, was at the forefront of a protest movement against Ghazi. It took a lot of courage because the first time he protested, he was accompanied by only four people. It was from that point onwards that I started to pay closer attention to him.

I was amazed by the number of times I witnessed him at the forefront of social issues ranging from missing persons to gender rights. He gained a lot of fame when he was a prominent face in the persecution of Shahrukh Jatoi, the son of an influential landlord involved in the murder of Shahzeb Khan. Although back then I had disagreed with his tactics of trying Jatoi under the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) as I thought that it amounted to stretching the definition of terrorism, which in turn could set a dangerous precedent. Nevertheless, I was impressed by his intent.

He won my respect again when he was running for the 2018 elections and refused to call Ahmadis as non-Muslims despite the mob pressure during his campaign. That was the point when I became his permanent admirer. I have already written that there is an Ahmadi exceptionalism in Pakistan in the sense that no one is willing to express or give them any public support.

I remember how vocal he was when similar human rights violations were taking place during PTI’s own tenure. He also unequivocally condemned extrajudicial abductions in the Indian-occupied Kashmir too. I also remember the way he raised his voice consistently over draconian laws which the PTI government was passing to harass the opposition and curb personal freedoms.

And yet the same Jibran Nasir, who was trolled mercilessly by PTI social media, became one of the most prominent liberal voices condemning the state’s crackdown on the party in recent weeks. For him, upholding liberal and humane values was way more important than any other consideration. Despite at times disagreeing with him on some stances, I was in awe of his bravery and single-mindedness. In some ways, he reminds me of the late Asma Jehangir, who, for me, was the ultimate symbol of bravery. While he has always been critical of the Pakistani establishment, in recent weeks, he became particularly vociferous in his criticism, bravely going where few have gone before. This perhaps became the reason for his abduction.

Luckily, the reaction to his abduction was across the board and so loud that he had to be released within 24 hours. The fact that he had spoken up for so many who were voiceless and shown remarkable consistency in upholding liberal and humane values perhaps came to his rescue at a time when even the much more privileged and connected were unable to evade crackdowns. If his abduction depressed me, the ensuing reaction and his return lifted my spirits. Pakistan may be going through very troublesome times, but it is nevertheless still breathing and alive. There is a lot of despair but also hope, and as long there is hope, there is every reason to be optimistic about Pakistan’s future.

Welcome back, Jibran. May Allah always keep you safe and continue to give you strength to be the moral compass of Pakistan.

Raza Habib Raja

The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University. He regularly writes for the Express Tribune, HuffPost, Daily Times and Naya Daur. He tweets @razaraja

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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