• Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

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LONDON: A Pakistani student who fled to Britain after surviving a Taliban school shooting has become president of the Oxford Union, the famed college debating club that helped launch the careers of countless world leaders.

Ahmad Nawaz, 21, arrived in Britain aged 14 after his brother was killed in the attack. Since taking over the union, he has said he wants to make it more attractive to marginalized groups such as ethnic minorities and students with disabilities.

He told The Times he wept with joy at the news of his election, adding: “It was the most emotional race I’ve had in a very, very long time.”

Nawaz was hit in the arm by bullets when the Taliban stormed his school in the city of Peshawar, northwest Pakistan. Nearly 150 children and teachers were killed.

The Taliban fired on the injured survivors and burned down the school. Claiming to be among the dead, Nawaz survived the attack only to spend weeks recovering in a hospital in Peshawar.

His arm needed urgent surgery to be saved, so he was sent to Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city, for emergency treatment.

He won a place at Oxford University in 2020, having arrived in Britain in 2014. He has spoken at major events alongside Nobel laureates and world leaders, and delivered lectures in the UK on extremism and its risks.

But Nawaz is not the first Pakistani president of the Oxford Union. Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister assassinated in 2007, led the debate group in 1977, becoming the first Asian woman to hold the title.

Nawaz reads philosophy and theology at Lady Margaret Hall, the same college Malala Yousafzai attended, who also suffered at the hands of the Taliban in her famous story of a school bus attack at an Oxford education.

Nawaz’s rise is equally remarkable, with the student earning an A grade in GCSE English, a high school diploma in Britain, despite arriving with limited English less than three years before taking the exams.

“I was determined and when I came to Oxford I was quite ambitious but never thought I would get involved in the union,” he said. “It shows that there are no limits, whatever your background.”

Nawaz said the union is “one of the biggest free speech platforms in the world”, adding: “When I was a kid I heard about the Oxford Union. I just wanted to enter this institution, rub shoulders with those of Eton, Harrow and Westminster.

He said: “We will work to bring about institutional changes, to make more people from disadvantaged backgrounds feel comfortable and involved, rather than feeling like it belongs to children in public schools.

“I want people to feel included, not just based on where they’re from, but also different types of societies.

“I would also like to diversify the speakers and the discussions that take place within the union, so that we can, for example, focus on human rights and social issues in different parts of the world.”

He said committee members should get more involved in community work, adding, “I couldn’t have been more grateful for this trip.”