My first interaction with her was back in late 2010. I read her letter to the editor in an English newspaper expressing her disappointment with fellow students’ indifference to the prevailing conditions in the country and how her university’s administration, which boasts of maintaining a non-political environment on campus fails to take notice of political wall chalking done by a specific political group.

The audacity of those words had an impact on me. After finding her online on Orkut, I dropped her a message appreciating her bold stance and hoped that I would get to meet her as my first year at NED was about to start in few months .

Those were the days when the dictatorship under Musharraf was in full swing and the crackdown on the media and the judiciary had just begun.

A lot of activism was seen from civil society in different parts of Pakistan but hardly any reaction was found in Karachi. There was this apathetic attitude in the educational institutes here about what was happening around, something that was in sharp contrast to the students’ protests we saw in Punjab University, LUMS etc.

Starting off with discussions on online forums by some like-minded students, including Nabiha baji, the efforts eventually culminated with the formation of the Constructive Students Network – not with the aim to carry out violent protests but to create a thought provoking process in the younger generation that could have much more long-lasting effects.

The CSN was in no way similar to other organisations operating in the university at that time – its basic objective being to spread the ideology that we, as students, represent the educated class of Karachi and hence we should rise above our differences of ethnicity, race and religion to work for the common cause for the betterment of Pakistan. And Nabiha baji no doubt succeeded in instilling this belief in hundreds of people.

I became a part of this journey when I attended one of their first meetings and was inspired by the passion and determination that I found in this small group. In contrast to the pessimism commonly found with engineers about the future of their country and their allegiance to personal goal of moving abroad at the first provided opportunity, here was a person who was trying to convince others that Pakistan is all we have.

Instead of lamenting over the dismal situation in the education sector, we were made to realise how much investment was being done on our engineering degrees by the government. These degrees were accepted world-wide but still how little we had to pay for that because of the subsidised fees. Thus, the educated youth had to recognise their role and responsibility as citizens of the state. We had to enhance our capacity in terms of leadership, decision-making, policy implementation and firmness of principles in-order to be able to work towards progress.

And all this came from the brave girl who had witnessed her father being killed because he had made efforts to end all political influence in the educational institution he was heading. And to top it all, her family never got justice on that case from the prevailing system. There existed no apparent reason for her to continue to have faith in this country and the system that it was running. But despite that, all her efforts were directed towards the cause of developing a strong sense of nationality and patriotism among the youth of Pakistan and making them prioritise the objectivity of national interest over subjectivity of individual gains.

My first (of many) project under her leadership was a seminar on ‘How to counter brain drain in Pakistan’ in early 2008, where we tried to give the students of our university the hope that despite the air of nepotism and corruption that surrounds us, there were practical examples of people who through their ingenuity made their way forward and were now excelling in their respective fields in Pakistan.

Seven years later, I am now pursuing a fully-funded MS degree from one of the largest university networks in the US, from a department that is highly funded and top ranked in the world. Residing near the energy capital of the world where the headquarters of major oil and gas companies are located, I see many fellow graduates easily getting enticed by the high salary packages and lifestyles that are offered for working in the US or in the Middle East.

But despite all that, I am still trying to carry the spirit and message that I got from our first project and look forward to returning to Pakistan after my graduation.

Why, one may ask? It is all because of working around and getting inspired by Nabiha Baji who implanted in me, and numerous others, the belief that no matter how dark the night somehow the sun rises once again and all shadows are chased away. I recall that once, after an extended power outage in Karachi, she told us

“… and hope you all are not just cursing the KESC but probing the matter and deciding in yourselves that there will be a day these problems will no longer exist. We will bring that morning to our country, Inshallah! Hum dekhein ge, laazim hai k hum hi dekhein ge!

There are speculations in the media relating to her death with some absurd theories circulating that she burnt herself to death. The only thing she ever ignited was this spirit in the hearts of her family and friends to firmly believe in Allah, never give up against the obstacles life offers, have an optimistic frame of mind and work for the cause of a better and sustainable future for Pakistan.