In March of this year, Ahmad Nawaz, a survivor of the 2014 Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, was elected President of the Oxford Union. The Oxford Union, also referred to as the Oxford Union Society, is a debating society, which is mainly derived from students attending Oxford University. In history, it has only had two Pakistani presidents, one being the late Benazir Bhutto and the second now being Nawaz.
But, Ahmad’s story started long before his election. Ahmad and his brother, Haris, both attend the Army Public School, which was attacked. Ahmad had been shot in the arm and had to play dead for hours before he was rescued. There was no treatment for his wound in Pakistan, which was why he was flown to Birmingham. Fate was not as kind to Haris, as he was one of the 141 kids killed. The death of his brother was one of the strongest forms of motivation for Ahmad to try and spread awareness on extremism and prevent similar occurrences from happening.
After recovering, Ahmad went on to discover the truth about many schools across the UK: many kids were traveling to countries such as Iraq or Syria in hopes of joining extremist groups such as ISIS. This led him to visit various schools in the UK, speaking to thousands of kids about his experience. His speeches were an attempt to get children to change their minds and understand how lucky they were to get education without the fear that they would be killed. He talked about his realization that the reason TTP were killing school kids was because educating them would make them less susceptible to brainwashing and propaganda.
For his work, Ahmad was recognized by then Prime Minister Theresa May, who appointed him a ‘Point of Light’ in 2019. She commented on his work in a letter saying: “The work that you do to educate young people about extremism and radicalisation is invaluable – and the fact that it comes from your own experience is testament to your incredible personal strength and resolve. Your recent appointment to the National Counter Extremism Advisory board demonstrates the positive impact of your work. You should feel tremendously proud and I wish you the very best with your continued endeavours.”
His response to this letter was: “I am deeply honoured to be recognised as a ‘Point of Light’ by the Prime Minister. It has propelled me to do more of the positive work that I do for the society. I would like to encourage other young people to do the same in order to have a society free of extremism and violence.”
Through all of this, Ahmad has been subject to death threats by TTP, yet he had not let that get in the way of him spreading his message, encouraging communities to unite and fight extremism together. This has gotten him to become a member of the National Counter Extremism Advisory board, as well as being a winner of the No2H8 Crime Young Upstander Award for his courage and conviction.
In 2020, Ahmad got into Oxford University, the alma mater of many Pakistanis such as Imran Khan, Malala Yousafzi, and Benazir Bhutto. In an attempt to find a place that discussed and debated topics that weren’t a part of the curriculum, Ahmad joined the Oxford Union. Last year, the 21-year-old was elected to the Governing & Standing Committee of Oxford Union, and in March of this year, he climbed the ranks, becoming the President of the society.
He assumed his position officially on June 21, taking to Twitter to say: “Immensely proud to have finally assumed my duties as the President of @OxfordUnion In my time as President, I look forward to having world leaders debate the most pressing issues, empowering young people through this platform & upholding freedom of speech! A long way to go….”
Since getting elected as President, Ahmad has been recognized by many, including President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, as well as former Prime Minister Imran Khan.