She became the UK’s first female Muslim Lord Mayor for Bradford in 2011 and was the first female of Pakistani origin to become a Councillor in Bradford, which probably makes Naveeda Ikram one of the most prominent female British Pakistani politician’ in Bradford. Coun Naveeda Ikram has been a Labour councillor for Little Horton ward since 2004 and was recently re-elected in her ward last May. The mother of three, born in the UK spent some of her teenage years growing up in Pakistan and was just like the rest of the world saddened and shocked with the catastrophic news of the 100’s killed by Taliban militants in Peshawar on 16 December.
In an exclusive to Asian Sunday, Coun Ikram speaks about the shocking and disturbing scene of events in Peshawar, as a mother, a woman of Pakistani heritage and in politics!
“The smallest Coffin’s are the heaviest “
The school attack on Tuesday 16 December was a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in the city of Peshawar Pakistan allegedly by seven gunmen affiliated with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who entered the school and opened fire on school staff and children. The attack claimed 145 lives, including 132 school children, mostly between eight and eighteen years of age.
As people in the UK woke up, the news of these barbaric and unjustified attacks became viral mixed with shock and horror.
An attack that is so barbaric and vicious against innocent children shook the world.
I read the news (a ritual) I do every morning as I wake up, but on that fatal morning tears rolled down my face, I had to wake my children up for school, mortified I entered their bedrooms unable to do my usual chirpy talks “ time to get up , it’s time for school, you’re getting late… hurry up.”
Thoughts flashed through my mind , “ a school “ school where we mothers know we are sending our children for the betterment and good, for learning, for education, how blessed we are in this country to know our children are safe. But what had the children of Army Public School done to deserve this? What was their fault and that of their parents? As a mother all I could think of was a mother’s plight.
Being from an army background, (including my father in law Major (rtd) who was Prisoner of war in 1971 and brother in law currently serving Major in the Pakistan army, my cousin brothers who have children that attend APS) I started making calls to family in Pakistan and everyone was mortified and grief stricken.
As my children were getting ready to go to school more footage and stories came in. Images of children in smart uniform covered with blood, bodies laying in the auditorium and class rooms, my heart bled and questions after questions raced through my mind. How can the murderers be so callous and cold blooded?
What is the world coming to? What does the future hold for our children? How do we measure security and peace for our own children? What is the real cause for the barbarians to injure the most vulnerable without remorse and carry out these senseless killings?
These are just innocent children who were seeking education. They are innocents who do not understand the concept of conflict, or the evil face of terrorism
How many more Malala’s are to be born?
However, since many narrations have come on surface, many conspiracy theories have been created, many have vented their anger and rightly so, as so many questions are unanswered
As a politician and a community figure I was approached by many organisations and members of the public to share their sentiments and thoughts, their sense of disbelief at the horrific killings, the injustice to parents. The calls for condolences and solidarity were coming in fast.
As a community we all needed to get together and stand in solidarity with the loss of lives and the families in Pakistan. I contacted the Consul General in Bradford and other organisations. I was contacted by Overseas Pakistan Solidarity team in Bradford and a joint decision was made to arrange a candlelight vigil in the memory of those we had lost. Also women from the community and families I knew in Bradford began to offer prayers by reciting from the Quran “Surah” and “ Ayat al Kursi “ and Darood shareef .
I contacted the leader of the council, and informed him of the first candle light vigil to take place on Thursday 18 December at Centenary Square, City Park Bradford, to start at 6.30pm in collaboration with OPS Bradford, Consulate of Pakistan, Council for Mosque, The Pakistan Society of West Yorkshire, South Asian Peoples forum UK to continue till 8pm. I requested the Pakistan flag to be flown at half mast outside city hall.
On Thursday at 6pm I left Bradford College from the Governors meeting to make my way towards centenary square, The Chair of Bradford College Richard Wightman on behalf of Governors, staff and everyone at Bradford College gave the message of sympathy and condolences to me to extend on behalf of the college. It moved me tremendously as the college decided to do a two minute silence the next day.
As I walked towards City Hall, many people had already arrived, and soon the crowds started to grow in phenomenal numbers, wherever I set my eyes across the square all I could see were heads bowing and candles lit.
In the treacherous weather on Thursday at the candle light vigil hundreds of people from Bradford came together, in solidarity, waiting to show the people of Pakistan that we shared their sorrow. The sorrow of a terrorist attack, a terrorist war that seems to have no beginning and no end.
People of Pakistan have suffered the most in the war against terror, loosing lives on a daily basis, including civilians and military.
As I stood with others, I saw flicker of hope for the future. Through faces amongst the crowd at the vigil I saw representation from all backgrounds. Religions and communities of Bradford united against terrorism and loss of innocent lives. As the rain poured on our faces, the tears rolling down the cheeks, the pain of mankind joined and as a human race we became one.
Representation from the Hindu Temple, Sikh Gurdwaras, Churches including Gerry the Dean of Bradford, The Pakistani Christian community Mr Dutt , Rudi Leavor from the Bradford Synagogue all stood together in silence to condemn the attack and condone the unstable situation in Pakistan. Children stood there with candles and as I spoke to a few, they told me how sad they were to lose their brother and sisters. Clearly our children do not need to see this, but they did and bravely at that. Many of our children offered prayers and supported their schools in their two minutes silence to pay respect to those children who tragically didn’t return home alive from school.
It’s heartening to see celebrities and sport icons such as Amir Khan generously donate money to rebuild the school in Peshawar, and many people who are from Bradford from the KPK region and nearby are willing to go out there to do whatever they can to help rebuild the unimaginable loss in Peshawar, even if that means donating their own blood.
Bradford has a community that is known to be the first to respond to any international or natural disaster. Ours is a community that is compassionate and generously contributes towards charities.
But the question arises of the security issues in Pakistan? What is the solution?
I hope the government of Pakistan and military will not just condemn but will have to change their strategy to ensure the safety and safeguard the people of Pakistan. In Pakistan schools are on high alert and shut down. Mothers fear the lives of their children. The scepticism of what more attacks on Taliban or TTP may bring or does it mean more suicide attacks in Pakistan or an all out war?
In my view the West needs not to send troops or carry out drone attacks but allow Pakistan with a strong army to deal with its challenges. The intervention from the West can only cause further anger that vents out on the Pakistanis. The ‘super powers’ need to give the right intelligence and other moral or financial support to the military without direct involvement. As we have seen hatred breeds hatred and no terrorism should be carried out in the name of religion. There has to be conjoined effort towards a political solution uncontaminated of external interference. A cease fire that will protect Pakistan from further destabilisation and spreading in other continents! An “all out war “ of extermination against TTP will only cause a costly tit for tat “warfare that has been witnessed across the globe since the US led war on terror that has so far failed . Peace talks are vital and many attempts for this before have failed but I am certain that all political parties of Pakistan and Pakistan Military will join forces to assure people of Pakistan and overseas Pakistani’s who have families back home that right decisions and actions will be carried out.
Till then we will continue to pray for the deceased, the little angels and their families. Living with this grief stricken memory is already proving to be hard, I can therefore only get a small glimpse of unimaginable pain of what the families of the deceased and the survivors who have injuries and scars that won’t let them ever forget this horror story.