Sectarian Violence

By Beena Sarwar


29 May 2010

We are reeling with the massacre of some 100 Ahmedis at two Friday congregations in Lahore. This was not an isolated incident but cold-blooded murder, conducted by trained gunmen with suicide vests. (Only one was caught alive – wonder how much he’ll be allowed to reveal).
The incidents brought together various strains that have been tearing apart Pakistan in the bloodiest way. Several recent incidents are part of this continuum, all of which claimed many innocent lives: the Rawalpindi army mosque, Gojra, the Christian village accused of `blasphemy’ (and much earlier, Shantinagar), Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, Sri Lanka’s cricket team and police academy in Lahore, the Ashura Moharram procession, followed by widespread arson and l87ater the blast that killed Shi’a mourners in a bus in Karachi.

Each of these attacks, and more, are seared into our consciousness. There are many other incidents, at places where the TV cameras did not reach in time, like the mosque bombed at the frontier, the girls’ schools blown up in the tribal areas. And of course the target killings and attacks on women teachers, journalists, politicians, Ahmedi and Shi’a doctors… Not to mention all those murdered for alleged ‘blasphemy’ (as well as the robbers lynched for stealing)… The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has for years been documenting these violations, demanding legal action, and warning of threats, including to the Ahmedi mosque in Model Town, which was provided no police protection.

In this age of 24/7 television, I feel almost apologetic confessing that I wasn’t watching the drama unfold on live TV. I was out and about, started getting the news much later. Just as well. Dr Haroon says he wanted to throw up, watching the gory scenes on TV. That’s another issue – the violence brought into our homes through blow-by-blow accounts on TV and the "oxygen of publicity" (as Bharat Bhushan, editor of Mail Today put it) it gives these murderers.
The day had already begun with bad news: the Maoist attack in West Bengal that derailed a passenger express train. Some 80 innocent people lost their lives in that attack. Rajdeep Sardesai made a comment about `red terror’ that he was going to focus on in his show that night. My response: "Terror has no colour. Red terror, green terror, saffron terror – basically they are all criminals & should be dealt with as such."

The Ahmediyya community has blamed Pakistan’s policies for the attack <>. I agree, but add the US and Saudi Arabia’s policies to the list of those responsible. This trajectory of violence fuelled by religious bigotry took a life of its own when all these countries used religion as a tool against communism after having drawn the Soviets into Afghanistan.
Perhaps in the same way India’s policies can be blamed for the Maoist attack. But in the end, the responsibility for the attacks lies with those perpetrating the violence, whether state or non-state actors.

There are those who justify the Taliban’s violence as a reaction to America’s drone attacks, everything will be fine if only America left the region. Sorry, no. The scale of violence is certainly linked to the American presence but the extremists’ agenda was always clear – they were target killing Ahmedis, Shi’as, blowing up girls schools, attacking music shops, de-facing billboards with women on them, long before America returned to the region in the wake of 9-11.
Meanwhile, we’ve reached the point where no one will in public refer to an Ahmedi as a Muslim or their places of worship as mosques, or those Ahmedis killed in such attacks as `shaheed’ (martyr).

Still, there is widespread condemnation about the Lahore attacks – there was even a minute’s silence observed at Blogawards ceremony in Karachi last night. But some remain in denial about the ‘Muslim involvement’ – "They can’t be Muslims, they can’t be Pakistanis". Theoretically, yes, they are not Muslims because Islam means `peace’ and its followers should adhere to the belief that to kill a human being is to kill all humanity – but they consider themselves to be Muslims. For those who say that the perpetrators were RAW agents – that’s some zeal being exhibited by employees of an intelligence agency, to blow themselves up in their government’s service.

For years we have treated the Ahmedis as non-humans. I remember my shock at the discrimination they faced when I moved to Lahore in 1988 – since the community does not live in Karachi in large numbers, it was never an issue here. I wrote a long, researched piece about the discrimination but no one would publish it. "First make it part of a series," the editor of a then newly launched weekly magazine told me.

I remember an argument with an otherwise reasonable former newspaper editor who had become religious. His reaction to the Ahmedi issue was visceral: he thought they deserved no rights because they were "imposters". That’s what differentiates them from other religious minorities – they claim to be Muslim, have Muslim names, observe Muslim rituals, but are not recognised as Muslims, according to Pakistan’s constitution – thanks to Z.A. Bhutto and his policy of appeasing the right-wing as his power faltered.
There’s a religion column in the passport application form that is meant solely to distinguish ‘Muslims’ from Ahmedis – you tick on the religion box, and if you’re Muslim you have to sign a declaration saying that you believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (the Ahmedis’ spiritual head) was an imposter. The only person I know who got away with not signing this was Dr Eqbal Ahmad when he was applying for his passport in New York after the ‘return of democracy’ – he threatened to hold a press conference and make a big noise about it.

archaic views are now entrenched into the psyches of many – thankfully still a minority. "I had a customer come in, the TV was on showing these attacks," my DVD wala told me yesterday. "He said, `They’re doing the right thing’. We can’t argue with customers, but I was stunned. I just turned the TV off. What kind of beast can justify the killing of innocent people, that too during prayer?"
I hope and believe that most people share the DVD wala’s views more than his customer’s but I don’t know.
There is a press conference about the incident in Lahore today at 6 pm, and a protest at Karachi Press Club at 4.00 pm.
Here are some important points raised by advocate Asad Jamal in Lahore:

1) Punjab Govt’s inaction after intelligence reports received from the Interior Ministry are condemnable. Even more condemnable is the way Commissioner Khusro Pervez has tried to divert attention from criminal negligence of the provincial govt by pointing finger at RAW.

a) We need to ask the Govt and the Commissioner on what evidence has he made the allegation that it is the handiwork of RAW? This is causing confusion in the minds of the people as to who the real "enemy" is. We can see that there is ambiguity in the stance adopted by the provincial govt. This practice should stop.

b) We must demand a totally independent enquiry into why necessary steps were not taken? And how is it that even after receiving intelligence nothing is done? If there are systemic problems, those should be identified and necessary steps be taken that no such information goes unattended and un-responded.

c) The interior ministry, if it had the information and conveyed it to the province, must be asked if it followed up on its instructions to the province? Did it ask the relevant quarters in the province what steps were taken for the protection of the Ahmedis? If it did not then the Interior Minister cannot be absolved in the matter?

2) What happened in Gojra? Has the Enquiry Tribunal report made public? If not, why should we not demand it to be made public? And was the enquiry an exercise intended to divert focus from the real issues. And then classify the report as confidential. The High Court was quick to order for the withdrawal of Pervez Rathore’s nomination as DPO Lahore. What was the LHC doing when he remained DPO elsewhere and did anyone bother to ask if the incidents of Gojra were so simple that a DPO could be made a scapegoat and the real causes not be addressed?

3) May I suggest that we need to also express our anger publicly. I propose a protest gathering on Sunday/Monday evening/afternoon outside Punjab Assembly, without blocking the thoroughfare and causing trouble for ordinary people (if it has to be on the road then no more than 10 minutes). If we can get together in large numbers, we can put up a good show even on the sidelines/pavement, especially just outside the assembly hall.

4) It will be great if we could visit hospitals in groups to express solidarity. There are many survivors of the tragedy in Mayo, Services, Jinnah and other hospitals.

5) We must demand compensation for the survivors/victims.

May I also mention that compensation to the earlier Model Town/SI unit bomb blast survivors has not fully materialised. We need to think of litigation in public interest in this direction as well. Professor Nadeem Omar Tarar has already mobilised some people to act for the help of the victims of the ‘terrorist acts’.

Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group UK, has issued a strong statement on yesterday’s carnage. The Parliamentary Human Rights Group after its earlier mission to Pakistan to investigate the treatment of religious minorities had already called attention to the widespread intimidation and violence perpetrated against the Ahmadis.

"In Punjab, and Lahore in particular, the Muslim League provincial government is aligned with extremist groups such as the Khatme Nabuwwat, which openly incite religious hatred and violence. This atrocious attack on worshippers at their Friday prayers was an organised crime waiting to happen, and the federal government must take responsibility for its failure to deal with the incessant barrage of hate speech by these groups against the peaceful Ahmadiyya Muslims.

"It should be noted that Pakistan has enacted specific anti-Ahmadiyya laws – the 1984 Ordinance XX of the dictator Zia ul-Haq – and this is the root cause of the universal discrimination and repression which culminates in assassinations of Ahmadis and repeated acts of terrorism against their places of worship.

"I shall be asking the Foreign Office to mobilise the international community to assist Pakistan in combating the sources of terrorism, starting with reforms of the law which incites it."


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