The ThinkFest 2018 kicked off with an opening night at the historic courtyard outside the famed Wazir Khan Mosque in the old city of Lahore. Hosted by Destinations Magazine and Daewoo Pakistan, the ThinkFest used, for the first time, the stunning courtyard for a night of mesmerising qawwali which was historically used for such events but had been long encroached upon. This majestic setting served as the perfect starting point for two days of rigorous discussions, thought, and action.
The first day of the ThinkFest started with an opening speech by Dr Umar Saif, Vice Chancellor, ITU, where he emphasised the need for such open and safe spaces in Pakistan. ‘The real struggle in Pakistan is that of the narrative, and we are now providing the space for the
creation of a more progressive and inclusive narrative,’ Dr. Saif noted. ‘We must question what we can do in our personal capacity to put our country on the path to democracy, peace and progress,’ Dr. Saif argued. Explaining the need for such events, Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash, the founder of the ThinkFest, said that ‘the youth
of our country need direction and engagement, and this festival does exactly that.’
On the first day Mrs Tawakkol Karman, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Yemen, delivered the first keynote. Mrs Karman who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Arab Spring in Yemen argued that ‘Every dictator is a terrorist and every terrorist a dictator.’ Therefore, she emphasised that all must work for the rule of law, freedom and democracy, as that is the only guarantee against terrorism. ‘Islam is a religion of peace, but we must demonstrate it through our commitment to the rule of law, tolerance and love,’ she stated.
The second keynote of the ThinkFest was delivered by the Rt. Hon. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the former Chairman of the UK Conservative Party and lately a Foreign Office minister. Baroness Warsi spoke passionately about her work in the United Kingdom, and underscored the need for an open and honest dialogue between countries, peoples, religions and civilisations. She also stressed that we should first question ourselves before judging others. ‘Have Muslim majority countries given full and equal rights to non-Muslims?’ she asked, noting that in the United Kingdom there is no distinction in terms of law between people. Baroness Warsi, who resigned from the UK Cabinet due to its silence on the Gaza atrocities a few years back, also focused on the issue of principles and standing up for them. ‘Ask your politicians what their principles are and hold them accountable,’ said Baroness Warsi, referring to the upcoming general elections in Pakistan.
The Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest featured a total of thirty five panels and two keynotes, and attracted an engaged audience of over 16,000 over two days, which featured people from all walks of life. The ThinkFest was also enriched by an exhibition on modern Pakistani art by Asad Hayee, a film festival featuring films from six continents, and several impromptu talks and discussions in the Speakers Corner.
The two-day Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest ended with a resolve that such activities must continue, so that young minds might find a place to come discuss, engage and learn. It was also hoped that the ThinkFest would hold similar events in other cities and towns across Pakistan, in order to establish more creative and safe spaces.
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