Bloodstains on the merry-go-round

The >suicide attack in Lahore on Sunday marks a further escalation by extremist groups in Pakistan. At least 72 people were killed, including a large number of children, and over 300 injured in the attack at a popular park where many were out on Easter day. The attack shook one of Pakistan’s most tolerant and cosmopolitan cities. Photographs showed blood-soaked human remains, families of the dead weeping as they held each other, the injured being carried away, and children, bloodied and clearly in shock, lying on hospital beds. The provincial government in Punjab denied that the attack, which was all the more deadly as the bomb was packed with ball bearings, was aimed exclusively at Christians. However, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the bombing, underscored its intention to target the minority group. JUA spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan was quoted as saying, “This is a message to the Pakistani Prime Minister that we have arrived in Punjab.” The warning possibly forebodes a creeping wave of extremist violence, witnessed most violently in the attacks on churches and a school in Peshawar in recent years, into the home state of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

There is justifiable alarm over the spread of a narrow, intolerant view of religious minorities in Punjab province and across Pakistan. Sunday’s attack in particular appears to have been timed to capitalise on the anger of ultra-conservative groups at the execution on February 29 of Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard-turned-assassin of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Taseer was gunned down in January 2011 for defending Asia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned and sentenced to death by a court under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. This was the same reason cited for the murder two months later of Shahbaz Bhatti, at the time the only Christian member in the federal cabinet. Earlier this month a rally of more than 100,000 people attended the funeral of Qadri in Rawalpindi, and riot police had to use tear gas to disperse protesters. On Sunday, thousands of supporters of Qadri broke through barricades and began a siege of Islamabad’s high-security Red Zone, where key federal government buildings are located. Their sit-in continued into Monday, to their demand that Qadri be declared a ‘martyr’. It is reported that at a meeting chaired by Pakistan’s Army Chief Raheel Sharif a decision was taken to give the Army and the paramilitary forces special powers in anti-militancy operations in Punjab. It will take more than that. After Sunday’s attack many Pakistanis said on social and mainstream media that jihadis do not represent all Pakistanis. Yet if Pakistan is to survive this onslaught against soft targets, it must reshape the country’s political system to stamp out intolerance of minorities. Or else the carnage in Lahore may be just another atrocity paving the way for extremists to become the dominant voice.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 9:36:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/bloodstains-on-the-merrygoround/article8406164.ece

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