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KARACHI, Dec 5: Friends, colleagues and family resolved to carry on with the causes close to the late activist lawyer Iqbal Haider’s heart at a reference organised by the Joint Action Committee at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday.

Speaking on the occasion, Senator Raza Rabbani said it was very difficult to comprehend the fact that Mr Haider was no longer around. “He was a proud, upright and courageous man of convictions, who never compromised on his principles. As a tribute to him, we should carry on with the movements championed by him,” he said.

Senior politician Meraj Muhammad Khan spoke about Mr Haider’s exceptional behaviour as a political prisoner. “Prison is a strange place that can break people, but Iqbal never lost his composure,” he said.

Speaking about his efforts for peace between Pakistan and India, he said the late Mr Haider wanted the money being spent on weapons to be used for better things such as education.

“He used to say that children needed to go to school, women needed security along with so many other things that the people could use through the funds being channeled for better things than weapons. Now it is due to him that other like-minded people on both sides of the border have moved beyond the idea of war,” he said.

Retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid said Mr Haider was always ready to fight cases for free. “In doing so he had hurt his own practice. This country is still standing because of selfless people like him,” he said.

Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour and Education Research appreciated his fight for fishermen.

“After getting the biggest batch of 450 Indian fishermen released from Pakistan, he decided to go to India for the Pakistani fishermen imprisoned there. There through his sources he even met Sonia Gandhi. When they agreed to release 25 Pakistani fishermen, he threw a tantrum saying that he had got 450 Indian fishermen released and was hoping for as big a number to be released from India in return. He said he would not leave if they did not agree. “It was only on his insistence that we eventually returned home with some 75 Pakistani fishermen,” he said. “In the end he was building a case for the confiscated boats of these fishermen which he wanted returned to them.”

Chairperson of the Young Women Christian Association Nuzhat Williams said that whenever a minority issue came up, Mr Haider was at their side. “He never saw minorities as second citizens. He was a visionary with a missionary zeal. I urge you to carry forward his torch and go for the secular Pakistan that Iqbal Haider dreamed about,” she said.Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Zohra Yousuf said they had witnessed two gross human rights violations in the form of destruction of a Hindu temple due to commercialisation and damaging of Ahmadi graves after the passing of Mr Haider. “Had he been around, he would have for sure called me up to issue a statement immediately, which did not happen. That’s when the reality that he has really gone hit me,” she said.

Anis Haroon of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) said that Mr Haider never had any qualms about protesting with them in public. “He has left a big void by his departure,” she said.

“In 1991, he was the only one to move a resolution against karo-kari. There were so many progressive people there who I feel ashamed to mention who didn’t support him because the father of a victim killed by her family, Samia Sarwar, was a very influential man. I remember that only Nasreen Jalil was on his side then. Later, another girl, Shaista Almani, who married of her free will and who had been sent abroad through Iqbal Haider’s fight for her rights called to say that she wanted him to name her first child, a son. And Iqbal named him Mehtab.”

About the last time they spoke, she said that when she and her husband (Dr Haroon Ahmed) tried to call him, he only answered the phone briefly to say that he was in hospital with some heart problem. “His daughter Alizeh tells me that they had to forcibly take away his phone from him so that he could rest a little. But when he died the family found another second phone under his pillow,” she said.

Poetess Kishwer Naheed recalled how he would keep calling her off and on with requests for her to recite her poems, especially the one she had penned about the Taliban, which he would then record in his mobile phone.

Ex-mayor of Rugby James Shera, Manisha Gupta and Tapan Ghosh also called in to register their messages. WAF, too, presented a documentary about other colleagues and family members who could not be there sharing their memories with the audience.

Finally, Mr Haider’s daughter Alizah Iqbal Haider, also a lawyer, thanked every one of the members of the Joint Action Committee for holding the programme in memory of her father.

“My father was a transparent, open book. We knew him as much as you all,” she said.

Some of the memories she shared about his involvement with his work made everyone laugh, especially when he described how he would be yelling at the TV set if he saw some news he did not like. “He was a humble, self-made man. We have been looking at his case files in his office and more that 80 per cent of his cases are the ones that he took on for free. And the 20 per cent that he was fighting for money were really those that’ll help him make some money to fight the ones he took on for free,” she said. “We have to fight together for his causes,” she concluded.